A report was published by the Pew Research Center recently which found that only 6% of ALL Americans use Twitter (8% of Internet using adults). And of that 6% who use the service, 1 in 5 are members in name only, never checking the site for new updates. However, it was also interesting to see that while 21% of Twitter users never check for updates, 24% of users check more than once a day. So an almost equal percentage check never as check all the time. Anyway. Enough stats. Check out the full report for more information.
I’ll gladly admit that not only am I one of the 6%, I’m also one of the 24%, having every Twitter update sent to me as they happen through TweetDeck. However, before July of this year, I wasn’t really sure what the point of Twitter was. Sure, my wit is quite suited for 140 characters, but what can Twitter offer me that Facebook can’t? However, the deeper I got sucked into cycling, the more I realized the value of Twitter. Twitter became a way for me to be part of the cycling community, pro and otherwise. My increased Twitter activity was directly related to my increased interest in cycling! And now, not only do I have to defend my obsession with cycling, I also have to defend my addiction to Twitter! So, what about Twitter makes it such an integral part of the cycling community? Let’s explore.
(a brief note before we begin: for some, this might seem elementary. However, I write so those not familiar with our sport might gain new insight.)
On the fringes
Here in the States (and maybe elsewhere, I’m not sure), we cycling fans have a cross to bear as our sport of choice is woefully under covered by mainstream media. The cycling community is not large and the pro cycling fan base is even more not large. This is where Twitter comes in. Twitter gives us cycling fans a place to find like- minded individuals, a place to follow the pros through their training, races, wins and loses, a place to follow races which aren’t shown on TV or are available online only with Dutch commentary, a place to connect with fellow race watchers around the globe. Through Twitter, pro cycling becomes so much more than just what comes through the TV or computer.
As I’ve used Twitter to engage in the cycling community, I’ve found those I follow generally fall into 3 camps: the riders themselves, cycling news sources, and regular joes like myself who have an invested interest. In addition, I see three main ways Twitter is useful to the cycling community: following races, staying informed on cycling issues/news, and connecting with racers and their teams.
To the Races
An unfortunate side effect of cycling’s less-than-mainstream status in American is the lack of race coverage on television. The bigger races are shown on Versus or Universal Sports, but the truly dedicated fan is not satisfied with this meager coverage. While most European races are often streamed online with English commentary, Twitter helps fill the gap where that coverage leaves off. For races with commentary only in Dutch, or no commentary at all, Twitter is invaluable! Most of the races in North America, such as the Grand Prix Cycliste ProTour races or the US National Championships, or in the Southern hemisphere, such as the Tour Down Under or this year’s Road World Championships, receive little to no live coverage or commentary in the States. A truly dedicated cycling fan will turn to Twitter to follow those races. Through race specific hashtags and Twitter accounts dedicated to live race updates, it is possible to follow a race as closely as if it were on TV. Accounts such as Procycling Live or Live PodiumInsight tweet time gaps, attacks, the order of the riders on the roads, and keeps track of breakaways and chase groups.
Race hashtags allow those able to watch it live to tweet their reactions and what they see, and, if they’re actually at the race in person, post photos they’ve taken. So, for example, if you were watching the Road Racing World Championships in Australia, and you wanted to express your desire for Fabian Cancellara to win the Time Trial you might tweet something like this, with a #2010worlds hashtag:
This puts your tweet about the 2010 Worlds in the search results of every person who has searched for, and is following, all tweets marked with the #2010worlds hashtag. And whether you just search for #2010worlds to follow what people are saying about the races or tweet with at Worlds hashtag, you’ve just become part of the bigger race community on Twitter!
Most of the cycling news websites have Twitter accounts where they post links to their articles. Following accounts such as Cycling Weekly, VeloNews, Cycling News, or VeloNation allows for up to the minute updates, and maybe even breaking news! In addition, Twitter also allows for news to spread that is missed by the mainstream cycling news sites. For example, I would’ve never known about the Vail hit-and-run had it not been discovered by Twitter user angryasian and retweeted by one of the people I follow. That story might not have been picked up by mainstream media, let alone cycling media, if it hadn’t spread like wildfire thru the Twitter community (my reaction here).
A connection to the masses
I love following racers and teams on Twitter. I love following as they train, travel, race, win, and lose. When they tweet after a horrific lose or terrific win, it feels like a personal message sent out just for us fans. They become a real person, and I’m much more invested in their successes and failures. Twitter is also a way for teams and riders to disseminate information. It was thru Twitter that the new HTC-Highroad jerseys were leaked first by team member Mark Renshaw, then Matt Brammeier. Some wondered if it was done intentionally, as a stunt to promote their technology sponsor, to show how mobile devises can be used to share information. Who knows.
You know who loves Twitter? Lance. He loves it so much he has no fewer than 7 twitter accounts- one for himself (@lancearmstrong), one for his infamous alter ego (@JuanPelota, who seems to be tweeting mostly about “his” swim training for his upcoming triathlons), and one for each of kids! (I only follow the real deal, in case you wondered) His profile is pretty tame these days -boring even- but I’ve heard that in times past, especially his Astana days, he was anything but.
You know who also loves Twitter? Taylor Phinney (@taylorphinney). This boy loves Twitter as much as one can love an online social media program. He loves using emoticons, tweeting about his rides, his races, his coffee, his friends, his training, everything. He also LOVES interacting with his fans through Twitter- he actively reads his @replies, answering questions, responding to comments (he’s responded to me before!)…
… and routinely thanks his followers and fans for their support.
My favorite thing he’s done recently is hold a Twitter press conference!
And respond he did. Taylor shows how Twitter can be used create a real connection with an admiring public and is known among the cycling community for his incessant tweeting.
It’s not all roses
While Twitter is useful in oh so many ways, there are limitations to Twitter. Twitter posts are often taken as direct quotes from the rider/team, which can get you into hot water, as RadioShack’s manager Johan Bruyneel found out when he tweeted an angry comment directed towards the UCI after the organization wouldn’t allow them to wear their one-off jerseys at the Tour de France. This tweet and the jersey debacle lead to him being fined and suspended for 2 months!
When an account with the name petersagannews tweeted that Peter Sagan was having stomach troubles, disagreeing with his team doctors, and might miss the start of the 2010 season, it was taken as truth and reported in the news. However, Peter Sagan insisted there were no problems and it was merely a case of stolen Twitter identity- Sagan doesn’t even have an account.
Anthony Tan, a cycling journalist, sees taking tweets as official quotes as lazy and risky. But there are some riders who prefer to use Twitter for exactly that and avoid the press all together. Whether good or bad, riders and their Twitter accounts do affect how the public sees them and how the press interacts with them.
So, who to follow?
Well, I’ve done the hard work and put together some Twitter lists that make following easy. (all subjective, of course)
- Live Race Updates: A list of tweeters who either tweet live race updates or link to places where you can find online streams.
- Cycling News: Twitter accounts of cycling news websites.
- Pro Cyclists: By no means a complete list, not all of those listed on here are on ProTour teams. These are cyclists who tweet semi-frequently and tweet semi-interesting things.
- Twitter All Stars: a completely subjective list of people whose tweets I love reading. Some pro riders, some bloggers, some regular joe cycling fans with a bitting wit.
Some All Stars which deserve a special shout-out:
- Neil Browne (@neilroad): funny guy, writes a great blog for Versus, full of obnoxious comments
- Dan (@dwuori): ridiculously sarcastic comments/commentary on the cycling world. Totally deadpan. As much as one can be on Twitter.
- Cyclebordom (@cyclebordom): funny and puts up great pictures on Tumblr.
- mmmaiko (@mmmaiko): irreverent, impolite, offensive. Did I mention funny?
- the Inner Ring (@39teeth): insightful posts, insightful blog. Knows the sport like no one else.
- Ted King (@iamtedking): coherent, funny look into a pro cyclist’s life. Writes a mean blog too.
- Tejay van Garderen (@tvangarderen88): has only started more frequent tweeting recently, but some funny stuff.
- Ryan Kelly (@ryantkelly): doesn’t tweet much about racing, but funny life observations.
- Alex Dowsett (@alexdowsett): funny, funny guy.
- Taylor Phinney (@taylorphinney): it’s all been said.
Who’s your favorite person to follow on Twitter? How do you use Twitter? This is just one person’s view, so I’d like to hear what others think!
I’m addicted to Twitter. I’m the Blooming Cyclist (@bloomingcyclist).
A modified version of this post was posted at US Pro Cycling News.