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Tour de France

Mapping the Climbs

We’re fascinated by maps and data and the stories they tell, and also the Tour de France. So we’re combining these fascinations to explore the major climbs from this year’s race, in our first live R&D Lab project.


Digging for data

The Tour has always been about the “parcours”, with certain climbs steeped in the history of man and bike vs terrain. Capturing a sense of how the climbs unfold, hairpin-by-hairpin, as the roads rise up towards the finish, relies on an understanding of the topography. Prompted by the frequent lack of meaningful context in online route guides, we decided to visualise the climbs in 3D, and dig for data that would explain how these race-defining stretches of tarmac affect the general classification.

3D model of the Col d’Izoard

La Planche des Belles Filles

The first notable climb in 2014 is stage 10’s summit finish on La Planche des Belles Filles, where Chris Froome won two years ago. It’s a short but 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, enough for Bradley Wiggins to take the race lead.

As the Sky train pressed a high tempo all the way up the climb, the peleton split, the breakaway was caught and riders were dropped one by one until only five remained at the flamme rouge, 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 started by mapping the events from 2012 onto a 3D model of the climb shown in the video above, in order to understand which riders cracked where. When the race passes through here this year, on Stage 10, we’ll repeat the process with this year’s data in an online visualisation, which we’ll continue to refine as the race progresses.


Stay tuned

We’ll be posting regularly throughout the Tour, with updates of how our visualisation develops through stages 10, 13 (Col de Palaquit and Chamrousse), 14 (the legendary Col d’Izoard, opposite, and Risoul), 16 (Port de Balès), 17 (Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet) and 18 (Col du Tourmalet and Hautacam). Watch this space for some cycling data uses that matter!

Wikimedia Image, shared under Creative Commons CC BY 3.0 license