As cycling borrows from Formula 1 with the unveiling last week of its version of the popular Drive to Survive series, the still perplexingly-named Unchained, another innovation that has transformed F1 as both a sport and viewing experience is also coming to road racing: the opportunity to listen in to team radio communications in (almost) real-time.
At the men’s Tour de France this summer, messages exchanged over the radio between riders and team cars will be broadcast on live television coverage, according to Ouest France.
Teams have been offered €5,000 for their troubles, and “an internal moderator will be responsible for filtering what can be broadcast” and therefore everything will go out on a slight delay. The idea is, as ever, to bring the viewing public as close to the race as possible, who will now be able to gain an insight into how riders and teams are reacting to what’s going on in the race and also maybe hear tactics being deployed mid-race.
Most of the 22 teams that will line up in Bilbao for this year’s race have opted to take part, although French squad Groupama-FDJ are one that have opted out.
“Do you imagine that we will reveal our exchanges on TV? Can we imagine a camera filming a football coach at half-time giving his instructions to his players?” was Groupama-FDJ boss Marc Madiot’s reaction, presumably forgetting that half the time he can be spotted hanging out of his team car window bellowing instructions to his riders for everyone to hear.
The Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift already utilised the technology last year, and the innovation has been used in races put on by other organisers at the Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem. Incorporating it into the Tour de France, however, by far the biggest bike race on the calendar, means the stakes and scrutiny will be much higher.
While the time delay and curation will lead to a somewhat filtered serving of the conversations that take place between riders and sports directors, this could be an important step to eventually gaining more complete insight into the mid-race conversations in the future.
When F1 rolled out this broadcast technology years ago, there were complaints from drivers that what was cherry-picked to be shown on television skewed views of what was really happening within teams.
However, as listening in to the radios has evolved to become a crucial aspect of the live Formula 1 viewing experience, the race now allows fans to listen to the unfiltered radio channels of their favourite team and driver and is a key part of Formula 1’s own broadcast live-streaming package.
Additionally, the opportunity for rivals to listen in to a team’s radio communication means a new level of tactics has been created, with teams having to use codes to securely deliver messages to their drivers as well as the opportunity to try and trick opponents by saying they will do something and then not actually do it.
Imagine UAE Team Emirates telling Tadej Pogačar to attack every five minutes to leave Jonas Vingegaard a mentally exhausted shell of a man by the end of the race, having been on high alert for the entire race. For those who’ve watched the Unchained Netflix series, we already know “I need a new bike” is the only thing Jonas Vingegaard ever says to his Jumbo-Visma team car. Nevertheless, the Netflix series has shown that more insight from the team car is rarely a negative when trying to understand and enjoy bike racing.
What did you think of this story?