A new device was tested for the first time en masse at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour on Friday, a rider GPS tracking device which has the potential to change the way that teams, media and fans look at a race.
While GPS technology is not new, the management of the data in this case makes this product unique. Adapted from a real-time tracking device used in North American and European ski schools, flaik, the company which owns the device, is now looking at further developing the product specifically for road cycling with a signal beamed off a satellite every four seconds painting an extremely accurate picture of what can't be seen in the convoy or on television.
Specific levels of data can then be accessed by the user, with the fans having the ability to look at positioning within the race, with more options available to teams.
At the Sun Tour's third stage, all but one team agreed to have the device, which is about the same size as your average mobile phone but around three centimetres in thickness, worn in either the back pocket or radio pocket of their riders with radio communication not used in the UCI 2.1 event. With timing gates placed intermittently on the 172.6km stage, the rider's individual positions within the race could then be shown on the company's website where both teams and fans not at the race were invited to log into.
Watching the devices live feed, each rider's progress is shown on a map in minute detail so gaps are displayed by the metre, or more.
Cyclingnews understands that several ProTour teams, including 2012 hopefuls GreenEdge were investigating the potential of the product earlier this year when it was unclear if radio communication would be banned. Australian domestic outfit Jayco-2XU was the first team to trial the product at the Tour of Toowoomba, part of the National Road Series.
Pat Jonker, sports director with Jayco-2XU and also the Australian National Team which is competing at the Sun Tour, is impressed by what he's seen.
"If you're in an eight-hour stage in the Giro, a lot of the time the DS has got no idea where his riders are in the stage because you don't have communication all the time," he explained. "With this I can tell if a rider's going to struggle to make time limits or not. In that case I could ring in to a soigneur to get to a particular point and warn the rider."
Jonker also believes that the device, which is currently going by the working title of ‘Velotracker' has the potential of filling some of the gaps in information that occurs within communication from the convoy itself.
"With race radio you only get information for the first riders really," he said. The product allows the user to select specific riders to watch their performance.
One example where the product could have been quite useful, not only to teams but also to the fan watching at home, or even media commentators, was the 2010 Road World Championships where the group containing eventual winner Thor Hushovd seemingly appeared from nowhere to swallow the lead group just ahead of the finish line.
"What this technology does is allow the media to have a better perspective on the races, certainly in mountain stages where you've got riders everywhere," explained Victor Popov, who is acting as a consultant for flaik at the event. "You watch the Tour de France and the moto picks up a group and you see who's in it. This will allow anyone who's got access to the technology to see where everyone is at any given time so you don't have the mystery of who's in what group."
Also, the data is then compiled and stored so teams, media or fans can watch the race in complete replay after it's been run and won.
Flaik is currently in discussions with the UCI in regards to the device's further use while feedback will be taken from teams and riders alike. The next generation is likely to be a smaller product, so that it's more suitable.