It was always going to be a weird Tour de France, even more so if you’re trying to crunch data on who’ll win the race — and when.
The race’s coronavirus-related rules mean that the prospect of a team, or indeed the whole peloton, cycling into Paris on Sept. 20 is anything but guaranteed. Adding to the potential for confusion this weekend, riders are headed to the Pyrenees, traditionally a venue where campaigns can be won or lost.
For Peter Gray, senior vice president of sport at NTT Ltd., it’s a recipe for chaos. While he’d normally be on site in France for the Super Bowl of cycling, this year he’s at home in Melbourne, sifting through reams of incoming info. He’s one of several NTT data mavens across the globe producing key insights for the teams, television broadcasts and an augmented reality experience for the millions of fans who’d usually be lining the course’s 3,470 kilometers (2,156 miles.)
After a two-month delay, the race took off from Nice last weekend in a “Grand Depart” marked by crashes forcing about 20% of the peloton to change bikes at some point. Rainstorms played their part, but some of it reflected an unexpected change in team strategy
If two riders or staff on a team show symptoms or test positive for Covid-19, the whole team has to pull out. That means many riders anticipate each day’s racing could be their last. Tony Martin, road captain of the Jumbo-Visma team, went so far as to liken it to a sword of Damocles.
Organizers could in theory scrap the race and announce the winner at any time in the next 17 days. Gone is the strategy of sacrificing stage wins for consistently strong finishes in order to keep legs fresh.
The race is “more unpredictable and in many ways chaotic compared to previous years,” Gray said.