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.

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In defense of Twitter

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.

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What the hell is cyclocross?

…And why should I care about it? That’s pretty much exactly what I thought when I first started seeing cyclocross articles once the end of the road season came closer. Frankly, I was pretty dismissive of it at first – what’s exciting about riding in a circle (it’s a circuit course)? And I don’t like mud – it’s gross, not a novelty (mud is definitely a novelty in cyclocross). But I came to realize that ‘cross is like the crazy (drunk) cousin to road racing. People go for good a time, good beer, cowbells, and cheering. It is both a very serious sport and a very ridiculous sport. Those in the top tier are tearing it up and really fighting for the podium, but those further back in the field aren’t afraid to have a little fun! Racers will often grab beers being held out by spectators, or even money thrown onto the course!

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