Race Watching 101


flickr user loverfishySay there’s a race coming up you’re excited to see- something like Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The day of, you flip on the TV to catch the action, right? Whoa- hold on there, Sparky. Not so fast. This is cycling we’re talking about! We don’t get spoiled with things like instant, easy access to our favorite sporting pastime. We have to prove our dedication. So, how does one experience the excitement of live coverage without the convenience of TV coverage? Take my hand and let me be your guide through the forest of the interwebs.

First…

The Basics

If any races are going to be shown on TV in the US, either live or recaps, Versus or Universal Sports are the channels to go to. However, unless it’s a big time race, it probably won’t get live coverage (Think the Grand Tours or the biggest classics). To watch the other races live, one must turn to the internet. The most basic coverage on the internet is live streaming. The feed usually isn’t great, but it’s good enough. Most coverage with English commentary comes from Eurosport. Otherwise, your best bet for coverage online comes from Belgium with Dutch commentary – usually from the Belgian channel Sporza. While watching a race with Dutch commentary might seem like a futile exercise, it’s actually quite useful! Even if one can not understand what is being said, reading the emotions and reactions of the commentators can be quite informative. This coverage can also be supplemented by Twitter and live blogging.

It is the races with no live coverage at all where the obsessive cycling fans earn their stripes – for these hearty souls, no live video coverage is but a minor speed bump in their quest for compete fandom domination. Aided by their two greatest weapons, Twitter and live blogs, no race is too obscure!

Live Coverage

As mentioned above, any live TV coverage offered in the States will either be on Versus or Universal Sports (I have no idea where you might watch live outside the States, so you’re on your own!).

Paid live coverage

When those TV execs decide we’re not worth the investment (which is most of the time), and it’s a bigger race, those channels will often offer live streaming on their websites for a fee – usually $10-15, but sometimes up to $30. Another site that offers paid coverage of a wider range of small and larger races is cycling.tv. For $80/year or $30/3 months, you have access to live race coverage with English commentary, on-demand highlights, post-race reports, etc. One of the benefits of paying for coverage is reliability and ease of access- you don’t have to search around to find a good feed and you have more flexibility to watch recaps if you miss the race. However, there are lots of free options and I’ve never paid to watch a race. This service has gotten mixed reviews, and TeamSkyFans.com has done a great in depth review of the site and its service to give you an idea if this is something you might want to use.

Free live coverage

While you have to search a little harder and the feed might not be great, there are free live feeds if you’re willing to look for them. If there is live coverage, these sites WILL find it:

  • CyclingFans.com (@cyclingfans): Here you will find links to streams, start lists, the official race website, live tickers, and schedules with start times (the local start time along with the EST start time) and an analog clock with the local time of the race (ridiculously useful, for those of us not adept at time conversions…). This is my go to site for feeds and live tickers. They also post great photos after each stage, along with any recap videos available.

  • SteepHill.tv (@steephill): This site has pretty much the same information as CyclingFans.com, and while I don’t think they do as good a job laying out the start times of live coverage, they have a great chart which lists the media source, links to online streaming, and comments about the stream.
  • ProcyclingLive (@ProcyclingLive): Only has links to live streams, but their live ticker on Twitter is killer. They’ve also started posted race/stage previews and doing a really great podcast.
Following these sites on Twitter is a great way to keep up with when live video has started for each race, as well.

While those sites help direct you to live streams, there are places to look to see if a live stream is playing (leave no stone unturned!):

  • EverythingOn.TV has a EuroSport stream, which, more often than not, is where the race will be broadcast. However, it doesn’t stream just the cycling, but the whole channel. So it’s important to consult the EuroSport TV schedule! It is also important to note the times listed are CET (Central European Time), which means it’s 6 hours ahead of the East coast.
  • FromSport has links to live streams, but they only posted around broadcast time, so you need to know about when the race is being broadcast.
  • MyP2P also just has links to live streams. I’ve never used this one before, but the Cycling Tips blog offers instructions on how to use this site. I’ll be trying it out as the Tour Down Under gets underway.
  • BVLS is similar to FromSport. You have to scroll down the page to find the cycling links and know when the race is supposed to start to use the links.
No live video coverage
When there is no live coverage, Twitter and live tickers are the way to go. I covered how Twitter can be used to watch races in my love letter to Twitter here, but here’s a quick recap.

There are two ways to follow races on Twitter. First is to follow accounts which tweet live updates.

  • ProcyclingLive (@procyclinglive) does, by far, the best live ticker on Twitter. If you only follow one account which live tweets, this is the one.
  • Often, the race itself will have an official Twitter account which will tweet live updates. For example, recently the Giro had an official Twitter account to provide race updates, @giroditalia. The Tour has an official Twitter as well, @letour. It also tweets about other races the ASO owns, like the Dauphine. Usually these accounts can be found through the official website.

The second way to follow races on Twitter are through race specific hashtags. For example, the upcoming Tour de France race hashtag is #TdF. This means if you want to tweet something about the race, just add the hashtag #TdF to your tweet and it will go out to everyone who searches for #TdF.

In addition, if you want to get reactions, updates or photos from people watching the race, a search for #TdF will show you all the tweets with that hashtag!

The last source of live race updates are live tickers. CyclingNews.com offer live blogging of races. Their live race updates are similar to updates on Twitter, as they the make note of breaks, time gaps, attacks, and rider order on the road. However, because they aren’t limited to 140 characters, they can offer more commentary, answer questions, and provide background and history. This is my preferred site when I can’t watch live. They’ve recently revamped their live blogging site and it looks great. In addition to CyclingNews.com, the official site for the race usually has a good ticker. Often it will be in the native language, but you can do an auto translate. ASO, the company that owns/runs the Tour has a great live ticker. Check out their site as the race starts to see their ticker.

Any of these can be used in conjunction with live feeds as well- I’ve found it nice to have different perspectives on the race. However, there is a certain amount of skill involved in keeping track of all the media you have going on!

Don’t forget…

…time differences! As most races occur in Europe, if you are going to stream something online, it is imperative to keep track of the time differences to make sure you don’t miss the race! If you’re watching through EuroSport (even if it’s a race in France or elsewhere), there is a 6 hour time difference to the East coast. Here’s a good time zone converter to help you figure out what time to watch!

If there’s an invaluable race resource you use, let me know! It ain’t easy being a cycling fan, but our quest for the most complete coverage sets us apart from other sports fans and the challenges make our successes all the more sweet.

I relish the challenge of finding live race coverage. Follow me on Twitter.

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