Thursday 11 November 2010 at 17h13

You most probably already watched a cycling race on TV? The Tour de France, Paris-Nice or the Amstel Gold Race are just some examples of cycling races which are broadcast on TV.
But how do the images of the riders get to your home? The Dutch show Het Klokhuis recently showed this, based on the images of the Amstel Gold Race ... 2006.

In Curaçao we could more recently see a revolutionary helicopter during what should have been the Amstel Curaçao Race. This helicopter also provided very surprising TV images ...


Het Klokhuis shows how the images of a cycling race like the Amstel Gold Race is being broadcast

In its show on 29 October, Het Klokhuis, a TV show which mainly targets young children, showed how such a TV broadcast is done.

Interrupted only by some funny short movies, you'll know exactly how it works after having watched this video:
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Since I can imagine you don't speak Dutch, here are some keys which would help you to understand this: the reportage first explains that camera men follow the riders on special motors which are equipped with the latest technology and on which we can find 2 specialists: the cameraman and the motor rider.

In the last 800 meters of the Amstel Gold Race there are no less than 9 fixed position cameras which film the final of the race.

The cameraman is like a snake man moving all around depending on the moves of the motor and the race to produce nice images at speeds around 40 km/h and even up to 80 or 90 km/h in the descent.
The motor rider has a triple role: he first of course has to pay attention to the road, prevent dangerous situations and get in such a position that the cameraman can take nice images.

The camera is a bit special: it's lighter than usual since the recording part is positioned on the motor, the view finder is flexible so it can record images from no matter which angle and on the lens the camera has a button which allows to stabilise the image. The cameraman who was interviewed decided to add a level on his camera which helps him make sure he's holding the camera straight, especially when filming backwards.

The riders who were interviewed are happy with the presence of cameras: Thomas Dekker said that it allows people at home to see us, Michael Boogerd indicated that it's not the cameras which are dangerous: usually photographers are more dangerous than camera motors. Leon van Bon said cameras allow him to say hi to his family while Bram Tankink finds an additional motivation when I'm in a leading group and when I discover there's suddenly 6 cameras around me.

In the Amstel Gold Race are 3 camera motors: one with the leading group, one at the head of the peloton and one at the back of the peloton. On these motors there's a box connected to an antenna which allows to transmit the images. Add to this 3 helicopters of which one with a Wescam, the specific helicopter camera which allows to produce stabilised images despite the movements of the helicopter. This all becomes complete with the fixed position cameras which show the climb of the Cauberg and the final victory, in this case by Fränk Schleck.

The signal from the camera motors is sent via the antenna to the base station but when there's a building or another obstacle this link is not always possible directly. Therefore, the motor sends its images to a helicopter which transmits them to the base station. In this case the base station is at the highest point of Limburg (an open field without trees or high buildings around it). At this place there are 3 antenna pointers who follow the 3 helicopters. I was quite surprised by this following system ... not sure this is still done this way!

All images and the sound (from the helicopter and the motors) than arrive in a truck at the finish. The producer watches all images and make his selection from these for the TV broadcasting.

The images only become interesting with comments and the reportage of Het Klokhuis thus shows the commentators including Davide Cassani for the RAI (Italy) and Mart Smeets for the NOS (The Netherlands). Mart explains that he only looks his screen and not the race itself when it comes by live in front of him because he might see additional things compared to what is shown to the spectators ... And maybe that's the reason why I always preferred the comments on Sporza (Belgium) when I still lived in The Netherlands ... ;-)

The reportage ends with a comment from the presenter: I'm completely lost ... it's much better to see all this at home on TV!

A special helicopter on Curaçao

On Curaçao there was a quite special helicopter for the Amstel Curaçao Race (which was canceled in its initial form*) which also produced TV images ... This was a unique test to produce HD images with a mini-helicopter which is pretty similar to the small helicopters people buy for their children for Christmas nowadays!

This helicopter without a pilot (drone) from Aerialtake has 6 propellers around an HD camera and was controlled with a remote control from a car which followed the race. This equipment can move around quickly and get close to the riders without bothering them. It reaches a maximum speed of 60 kilometers/hour and go up to 200 meters high.

This thus seems to offer new possibilities for unique TV images but as far as I've seen these images are, at least in the current version, recorded and not broadcast live.

To see how this all works, check out the interview with the two guys who created Aerialtake, Robin and Frank:

And to have an idea of the images produced by such a tool, you can watch the video summary of the 2010 Amstel Curaçao Race based on the images recorded by this quite special helicopter:

What's funny is that the images used by Het Klokhuis for its reportage are from the 2006 Amstel Gold Race. This edition was won by Fränk Schleck and the rider from Luxembourg also won the 2010 Amstel Curaçao Race last week, ahead of Alessandro Petacchi, Niki Terpstra, Steven de Jongh and Grischa Niermann!

* because of a thunder storm and rain the Amstel Curaçao Race was canceled on Saturday 6 November (the race route was partially under water) and an alternative race was held on Sunday 7 November

door Thomas Vergouwen
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this publication is published in: Cycling general (except Tour de France)


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