As a cycling enthusiast, I follow the Tour de France (which starts today) closely, and while reading up on this year's edition, I came across a number of media outlets and apps claiming "live GPS tracking" of all Tour de France riders as part of their coverage. Really? Providing that level of coverage would require every rider to have a GPS device on his body or bike that is capable of determining his coordinates and transmitting them at frequent intervals during the many long stages of Le Tour. An impressive technical feat, but do-able. But surely I would have heard the buzz about this new mandatory GPS receiver/transmitter for all Tour riders? A check with some Tour teams didn't turn up any evidence of such devices, and as it turns out, riders aren't GPS-tracked individually (although it's of course a cool idea).
NBC, which is providing in-depth online and TV coverage of the Tour this year, replied to my inquiry very promptly with this description of how rider locations are being tracked for coverage this year:
"1. The Tour de France Organization provides real-time coordinates for all riders and groups in the tour which is verified by all the support vehicles via relay signals - the relay system sits in all official vehicles, motorcycles, and support cars to ensure gaps between groups and riders is accurate minute-by-minute.
2. The relay system feeds data back to the official Tour de France servers that send the data out to media organizations worldwide in real-time.
3. The MapMyFitness servers integrate the data into our core mapping and elevation technology to visually plot riders location including breakaways, chase groups, key riders (i.e., the Yellow Jersey), favorite riders, and the peloton in real-time via our mobile and web platforms that are being delivered to NBC Sports.
4. MapMyFitness has integrated all of the rider profile data, team information, photos, and video using this core location data to bring a completely new experience to cycling fans in the U.S."
No doubt this system will provide us cycling fans with all we need to know about rider positions in real time, but it's not quite individual-rider-level GPS tracking. Image © Tour de France