Behind the Scenes: How Does Communication Work in the Tour de France?

Modern technology has revolutionized this regularly overlooked aspect of the race

You may not have given much thought to the communication systems used by riders, the support and team vehicles, and even the press. The Tour de France has been more crowded than ever before in recent years – 22 teams of eight riders now compete in this prestigious competition. The 176 participants would simply be lost without a fool-proof way of communicating with their teammates and the support vehicles carrying spare parts and even whole new bicycles for emergency use.

Team Communications

Each of the 22 team’s requires their own unique and exclusive radio frequency on which to communicate, and setting up these channels is an essential step when preparing for the race. The director of each team needs to be able to communicate with their riders, perhaps to inform them of their current position, or to assist in developing a strategy for the current stage of the race.

The communication between team members and their directors must be kept private. This is because radio will often be used to communicate each rider’s role in the current team strategy. No matter how well you plan for each stage of the Tour de France, the ability to communicate updated strategies to your teammates is essential to the modern race.

If there are dangerous patches ahead, unexpected obstacles, or even the occasional pile-up involving several riders, team directors must get this information to their riders as soon as possible. The current leader from each team will often want to know how far ahead he is in comparison to both his rivals and the other members of his team.

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Emergencies and do occur during the Tour de France, and whether it is a rider in urgent need of medical attention or hydration or perhaps a broken-down bike, instant communication is more vital than ever in these scenarios.

Who are the teams to watch this year?

Last years winner Tadej Pogacar and his UAE Team Emirates are currently way ahead of the pack according to bookmakers such as Unibet Indiana. A bet on Tadej to win is currently priced at -305 – worlds apart from his nearest competitor David Gaudu, who is presently priced at +450.

It’s not just the bookmakers who believe Pogacar will cruise to victory in this year’s race. Respected cycling news sites have been monitoring Pogacar’s performance in early season WorldTour races, the rider has been on excellent form during these early races.

Those who watched last years Tour de France will no doubt remember Pogacar’s breathtaking finish when he dramatically denied Jumbo-Visma’s Primož Roglič a win, snatching his yellow jersey with a remarkable finish at the last possible moment.

Of course, the full Tour de France does not begin until Saturday, June 26th, and the bookmaker’s odds are likely to become extremely volatile once the race is in full swing. If you believe in Pogacar and his ability to repeat last years performance, you are unlikely to get better odds than what is on offer right now!

Ensuring team communications are fair

Several days before the start of the race, the organisers will assign a specific frequency to each team and set up tiny 200-gram radio transceivers for each rider. These transceivers are locked to a specific frequency, ensuring that teams cannot listen in on communications between other competitors and their support cars.

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Each support car is also equipped with a race radio. In case of an emergency, the support cars can request permission to break away from the procession to assist the team member who requires assistance. Support cars are usually required to organize themselves according to the current team standings. If a rider has crashed and requires urgent medical assistance, or is currently in a breakaway with a lead of at least one minute over the peloton, permission will usually be granted for the support car to break away from the procession and go to the aid of their team member.

Other communications, and why these systems are so important

Each team is allocated a second frequency for direct contact between the two cars that serve each team. This is essential, as team directors need to be able to speak to each other to establish who is in the best position to help a rider. If one support car doesn’t have the necessary bike or equipment that a team member needs, they can use their second channel to talk to their second support car to make sure their team member receives what they need as quickly as possible.

It’s hard to imagine the Tour de France without these communication systems. In truth, the system in use today is the culmination of decades of hard work on the part of the organizers, keeping up to date with the latest improvements in technology and passing on their findings to the teams who are competing.

Whenever you see a rider with a punctured tire receiving a new bike just seconds after dismounting, or the leader of the pack stopping to drink some water after making a breakaway, all of these things are only possible thanks to years of research and investment in the perfect communications system.

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You’ve got to hand it to the French – they have done a superb job of ensuring their premier cycling event takes full advantage of the latest technology. And on that note – it will be fascinating to see what improvements they make to the communications systems over the next few years.