How the Tour de France Goes from Cycle to Screen

As the peloton makes its way through France each summer, a fleet of aircraft take to the skies to make sure that the Tour de France makes it way onto screens around the world. To see how it all comes together Ito World Design Lab put together a visualization of the Tour’s airborne assets using Flightradar24 data. Combined for the first time with race data, the visualization shows how the aircraft maintain position above the riders.

Calligraphy of the Sky

‘What am I watching?’

As the riders begin each stage, a fleet of motorbikes, helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft spring into action. The motorbike-based cameras and the lower-level helicopters broadcast their camera signals to the relay aircraft circling above, which then send the signal to relay trucks in the area. Those signals are fed into a production truck where the director makes decisions about which camera to show. The production signals are then sent out via satellite and on to your screen. All of this happens in more-or-less real time. Visualized here by Ito World are the relay aircraft circling above the camera crews. The aircraft arrive on station over Eymet as coverage starts and follow the peloton to Pau.

A Beechcraft 200 Super King Air used for television relay

This Beechcraft 200 Super King Air is generally representative of the type of aircraft used for television relay flights. When on station, an antenna folds down from the aft fuselage to collect the signals sent from the cameras. Also used in the Tour de France are helicopter relay aircraft which fly closer to the race, typically between 4,000 and 5,000 feet. The fixed wing aircraft operate on two levels, one at about 10,000 feet, and a second level between 20,000 and 25,000 feet.

How did the visualization happen?

When we tweeted our track of Stage 3 of the Tour de France aircraft on 3 July, Craig Taylor, manager of the design services team at Ito World, saw an opportunity to combine Flightradar24 data with a visualization of the riders on course to bring a holistic picture together. Once combined, we see the patterns emerge.

Taylor tells us that Ito World can visualize anything that moves, so our question to you is: what should we do next? Let us know on twitter or Facebook!