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Applied Maps: a 3D mapping project inspired by cycling

Our self-initiated work gives us the opportunity to develop new skills and follow our interests, whilst also revealing our process. Applied Maps is an R&D project we’ve been running since the 2014 Tour de France, which draws on our fascinations with maps, data and cycling.

Inspiration, 1987

Stage 21 of the 1987 Tour de France became one of the most memorable days in the history of the cycling, as a fascinating duel between Irishman Stephen Roche and the Spanish climber Pedro Delgado unfolded on the 18.5km Alpine climb to La Plagne.

Time-trial specialist Roche had lost the yellow jersey to Delgado on the previous mountain stage to Alpe d’Huez, and needed to finish within 30 seconds of the Spaniard to stand a realistic chance of reclaiming the race lead in the final time trial on stage 24. At one stage, Roche was over 1’30” down and losing the race, but staged a dramatic off-camera comeback in last 4.5km, appearing in the background just before the finish line having clawed back all but four seconds of the deficit, spawning one of sport’s greatest pieces of commentary as Phil Liggett described “Just who is that rider coming up behind? Because that looks like Roche… that looks like Stephen Roche… it’s Stephen Roche who’s come over the line! He nearly caught Pedro Delgado, I don’t believe it!”. Roche went on to win the race by just forty seconds.

Full blog post: Roche v Delgado, 1987.


Mapping the Tour, 2014

27 years on, we set out to create a route guide that focused on the mountain stages of the 2014 Tour de France, run as a live R&D project during the race. We focused on the mountain stages since they were most likely to determine the overall winner (along with the cobbled stage 5 and stage 20’s time-trial), whilst also providing the most interesting terrain for 3D modelling in WebGL.

We knew most of the action was likely to occur on the final climb of the day, probably in the last 5-10km, but we didn’t appreciate how the scale of the climbs would relate to attacks and time-splits. Significant events were occurring at intervals of a few hundred meters, within stages well over 100km in length, so a high level of tracking and fidelity was required to map the key points of the race onto the terrain.


Real-time prototypes

We created maps of seven Tour de France stage finishes, with the live race position mapped in 3D – this was a world first at the time, and something we’ve still not seen replicated since. We also created individual markers and time splits for specific riders for two stages, a year ahead of race organiser ASO’s real-time 2D rider tracker solution provided by Dimension Data. You can see how the prototypes evolved below through our blog posts from that time:

Prototype #1.0: Digging for data
Prototype #1.1: La Planche des Belles Filles
Prototype #1.2: The Alps
Prototype #1.3: The Pyrenees


Mapping the Giro, 2016

In 2016, we built on the success of our original Tour de France prototype by expanding the terrain data beyond the immediate canvas of each individual route. By pulling in information from OpenStreetMap, including roads, place names and water features, we were able to auto-generate maps on the fly using GPX route data. We mapped the whole of Western Europe at varying levels of zoom, allowing us to easily create maps for individual stages of the Giro d’Italia, Italy’s three-week grand tour. The 3D map below is of Stage 14 – 214km from Alpago to Corvara in the Dolomites.

Prototype #2.0: Giro d’Italia


Integrating Strava

We also connected Applied Maps to Strava’s API, allowing Strava users to see all their activities and routes in 3D along with rolling physiological data.

The latest version of Applied Maps can be found at appliedmaps.net – if you’re a Strava user, you can connect to your account and view all your activities and routes in 3D (Europe only). If not, you can still see Applied Maps through one of our preconfigured routes such as the Granfondo Stelvio or Milan San Remo.


Applied Maps: Granfondo Stelvio


Applied Maps: Milan San Remo