You probably haven’t heard of Jean-Maurice Ooghe. But the man in the striped shirt above is responsible for the TV images of the Tour de France and several other races, including the Tour of California.
Whilst the cycling world might be thinking about the upcoming Giro d’Italia, Ooghe is currently doing his own Tour de France ahead of the race in July, visiting all the stage towns en route. Last week he was in the Pyrenees and on Sunday morning he was in Brive, the finish of Stage 18.
What’s he doing? He’s taking notes, jotting down details of every church spire, waterfall or monument as well as meeting local politicians and officials in order to learn local information.
Whilst riders will be more interested in the tarmac and the profile, Ooghe wants to know what the terrain is like for TV. He’s looking for scenery and historical buildings because during four hours of live TV transmission a share of the airtime is used to showcase France’s geography and heritage. Market research shows the single largest audience segment in France tunes in to watch the Tour de France… for the scenery. French TV executives even refer to the Tour sometimes as La France vu du ciel, “France seen from the sky” because the images attract a wider audience not always interested in sport. Watch French TV’s coverage as opposed to Phil n’Paul or Eurosport and you get commentary on the local history during the stage from cycling historian Jean-Paul Olivier who will swap from anecdotes of past Tours to notes about the local chateau or mountain pass.
“The race gets priority but when we can we will show images of the countryside on the Tour’s route, some historic sites or celebrations put on by the towns and villages along the route. Sometimes we’ll even film things several kilometres from the route.”
That’s Ooghe speaking in an interview last year. But he’s not just visiting towns to pick up the scenic stuff. He’s got technical details to review, for example to work out where he and his crew can park their mobile production trucks near the finish line. The Tour is a travelling circus and one day Ooghe is working in the high mountains, the next in a city. Is there space to park the production truck near a summit finish? What about access to power? Could a tall building or mountain block the satellite uplink. Plus the TV is responsible for a large share of the 12km of cables that are laid out and rolled up each day on the race around the finish zone. Yes, 12km.
But the reconnaissance missions aren’t just about military-style planning. Instead the idea is to find storytelling ingredients. If the race is quiet then Ooghe can instruct the TV helicopter to feature more landscapes; similarly if there’s a tactical point coming up then even the finest waterfall is going to get a glance. It’s all about working out what there is to show, whether it’s a lively point of the race or something else near the route.
Some of the story is written well in advance. The often elaborate displays in fields by farmers are planned and the French farmers’ union even emails the GPS co-ordinates to Ooghe so he can be sure the TV helicopter cameras are ready.
Live and direct
All that planning is essential. When the race is on Ooghe is sat in the TV production truck directing the action. He’s got two TV helicopters in the air as well as five motorbike camera crews, a total of seven feeds to pick from at any one time and for sprint finishes there’s a special highspeed camera to allow detailed slow motion replays.
He’s also juggling content. In a good interview in French with French media blog Un Autre Regard Ooghe explains how he might have one output feed for French TV and another for the international content.
And it’s not just the Tour de France, he covers other races in France and even does the Tour of California. In recent years Ooghe has been joined in the production car by Ronan Pensec, a former yellow jersey wearer who gives advice on the race tactics so that Ooghe and his team can try to plan ahead during the stage. Only this time by minutes or hours, instead of months.
You might not have heard of Jean-Maurice Ooghe but he’s the man behind your TV viewing in July and more. The sweeping scenery, the close-up shots of riders, all of this doesn’t just happen on the day. Right now Ooghe is busy touring France, taking notes and meeting locals to plan for July.