Mapping the Tour: Prototype #1.0

We’re fascinated by maps and data and the stories they tell, and also bike racing. So we’re combining these fascinations to explore the major climbs of the 2014 Tour de France, in our first live R&D Lab project. Our aim with this R&D project is to showcase our process through a live event – mapping the climbs of the Tour provides the perfect platform.

Digging for data

Our work frequently takes us deep into different (often complex) topics, requiring meticulous research, data exploration and prototyping, before the end product emerges. Initial prototyping has centred around what data is available, in what format and with what potential. The elevation data we’ve used comes from the European Environment Agency, which itself is based on NASA’s Shuttle Space Radar Topography and Global Digital Elevation Map. We’ve sliced them into given areas using the Geospatial Data Abstraction Library. We’ve then taken the route data from the official event website, and mapped that onto our 3D model.

We decided to pick stage 10’s ascent to La Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges Mountains as the first climb to map in 3D. As well as being the first climb likely to create significant time gaps, the Tour finished here in 2012, meaning we have some historical data to play with. On that day, Chris Froome won the stage and Bradley Wiggins took the the race lead. It’s a short, steep climb that enabled Team Sky to distance the yellow jersey of Fabian Cancellara by a minute and fifty-two seconds over the final 5km of the stage. As Sky pressed a high tempo all the way up the climb, the peleton split and riders were dropped one by one until only five remained 1km from the finish. Cadel Evans attacked with about 300m to go but was caught and passed by Froome as the gradient hit 20% just before the line. We’ve mapped the events from 2012 onto a 3D model of the climb shown in the video below, in order to understand which riders cracked where.

Physiological data

Training Peaks’ social media co-ordinator Bryan Alders, has granted us access to physiological data from 2012, including Janez Brajkovič, who finished 8th on stage 7. Its difficult to be completely confident of the accuracy of the elevation data – we know the finish is at 1035m, while Brajkovič’s data reaches 1108m (quite a discrepancy even if he continued up the road to the team bus) – interesting further reading here. This process is trial and error, and all part of prototyping: digging for data and pulling out the most interesting sources. We’ve synced the Brajkovič data to the climb visualisation at the bottom of this post, and can observe fluctuations in his cadence (RPM), heart rate (BPM) and speed (KM/hr) over the route.

Prototype #1

By calibrating the route backwards from the finish, in 100m sections, we’ve been able to manually add key events onto the map from the TV coverage. Whilst not as ideal as having an official live data stream, it does provide a really good editorial tool. It’s not perfect, since the race distance marker counts down kilometres to the finish for the leading rider on the road, not necessarily the riders of interest (who may be further back). But acceptable estimates can be made based on the time splits at each point (this is a prototype, after all). The prototype is the basis of what we’ll be using to track the race live on Monday (a few final bugs aside), including an extended section back to include the penultimate climb of Col des Chevrères. The map uses WebGL, so will not work across all browsers or devices.