Bringing Le Tour to your TV

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.

Sky television
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.

Mission controlled

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.

36 thoughts on “Bringing Le Tour to your TV”

  1. In the video above, I noticed that every year seems to have a theme, be it a heart, jersey, or the bike. How are these decided? DO we know what the theme will be for 2012?

  2. Its funny, yesterday was our club’s annual spring road race event, two seperate races held over a 15 mile circuit for 3 and 5 laps. While we were putting the signs out at strategic points and being briefed as marshals with the motorcycle out-riders I spared a thought for the organisers of the Tour.
    Our modest race took massive preperation from our organisers and the enormity of the Tour is beyond compare, so for me its timely to consider an aspect of organisation I wouldn’t have considered before!

    • I bet you were volunteering. ASO and the broadcast companies are pros. But yes, the work is still huge and it’s usually all done so well. Like a duck swimming, you only see the graceful progress above the water and not the feet paddling hard.

      • Yes, no financial gain, obviously a different incentive when you’re earning money. I was more appreciating the huge logistics rather than sympathy for them and acknowledging your efforts in again provoking something different to think about in the sport.

  3. He’s got two TV helicopters in the air as well as five motorbike camera crews…. + some TV crew vehicles that Flecha and van Hoogerland will be quite afraid of

  4. The French TV guys do a great job, as to the Italian TV guys. I’m not so sure about the corny stuff out in the farm fields but it’s better than those same folks running alongside the race trying to get their mugs on TV. The producers have done a good job in the past few years minimizing camera shots of these yahoos, which just might be discouraging them? I remember it all starting with that smelly screwball dressed up as a devil. I’m still amazed at people who will stand at the roadside for HOURS and when the action they’ve waited for finally arrives – instead of watching it, they’re facing the TV cameras and waving like lunatics, completely missing the race.

    • A friend of mine was the Mankini Guy on last years Tour of Britain. It all adds to the entertainment and it’s only a problem if they get too close to the riders.

      • At the risk of confirming my grumpy old fart status: I dislike intensely this fad of dressing up to attend sports events, especially road races. I think I understand why people do it but I would urge them to be more aware that it not only fails to amuse other people, it makes them cross. But then it’s not about other people is it? It is all about the cult of self.

      • MANKINI? Don’t know about you but that’s NOT my idea of entertainment, especially when I’m trying to watch a bike race. I always wish someone would stick their leg out and trip these yahoos but then think they could fall into the road and cause real problems instead of just being offensive.

        • I think if it adds to the atmosphere of the race, yes but if you are dressed in a suit just to get on TV, then fans tuning to watch the sport might be annoyed by the hijack, they want to watch the stars.

          • The Devil was a unique TdF specific antic, that, I always also thought inspired as a kind of representation of the “Hell” the riders were going through up the mountain passes. It was not meant to indict riders (see Contador needle nurse) or to grab attention away from the race itself (think Borat in his single Mankini).

            The problem was (as always), that the original gets misunderstood and bastardized by those replicating the act.

    • Awwh, Larry…C’mon my friend, “red devil guy” is Dieter “Didi” Senft (from Germany). What would
      Le Tour be without Didi? I find these side attractions part of the charm of the culture of European bike racing (and the guys who do it here in the states are just copy-cats, or those leftovers who don’t get enough TV exposure of their bare, painted chests at NFL games when it’s 5 degrees F and snowing)!

      Link shows “antler man” — scroll down to 4th photo (plus some other goofballs):

      …and the “corny stuff” in the farm fields is also steeped in European culture and bike racing! It may seem corny to you, but what I love about bike racing in Europe are these traditions, without which (IMO), would detract from the overall charm of these races, esp Le Tour.

      I do agree that many are just doing it for the TV exposure and missing the action as it flies by…indeed, there are too many “yahoos” who have taken a tradition too far and do pose a real danger to the riders. I loved it when Contador punched the doctor in green scrubs last year!

      Hey, if a spectator gets hit, it’s their own fault, so I don’t condone ANY obstruction of the race.

      • I well know who the guy is, I’ve been close enough to get a whiff back-in-the-day. He started a long line of yahoos getting in the way of races just to get their mugs on TV. All these other kooks started doing it once he became “famous”. As I wrote earlier I’m happy that some of the producers seem to now either switch the scene or have their camera operators swing the camera away from their antics. If I want to watch a bunch of clowns, I’ll go to the circus. As to the cornfield stuff, I DON’T remember many of these made-for-TV stunts back-in-the-day though if they keep the “look at me” bozos off the road I’m all for ’em! I don’t care if the kooks get hit but what about the poor racer they knock off his bike with their silly antics? Spectators with cameras are dangerous enough without encouraging these yahoos to jump out into the road. The riders shouldn’t have to fend them off with their fists.

    • didi is pretty weird, they try show him less and less since he got sponsorship deals

      but you cannot compare him to the other yahoo’s, he just jumps up and down at the side of the road, in safe locations endangering nobody

      so many fame hungry freaks get far too close to the cyclists and in my opinion, are now playing a part in race tactics, you cannot attack up a mountain road with these idiots in the way, the car stuck at the pace your currently going 20 metres up because they’re too ignorant to spread out.

      over zealous fans should be arrested on the spot, detained and fined. maybe then more would get out of the damn way (if i were in the pro peloton i would have my arms flailing at pedestrians over some of the stuff they get away with)

  5. I have converted quite a few family and friends to cycle racing through the TDF on TV largely because of the attractiveness of the footage of the French countryside, chateaux etc. My 90 year old mother complains that there are too many close-up shots of Lycra-clad bottoms and my younger sister complains that there aren’t enough. I am fascinated to learn that the French view the coverage in the same manner. I would enjoy a bit more history etc. , but Phil and Paul seem fairly stretched as it is.

    • @ToTheBillyoh: I’m with you on that. Highlights of the TDF were first broadcast in the US on CBS in 1983, I believe. We were shown only about a half-hour of highlights, but at least we (relatively) few American cycling fanatics had something now to see! I remember being so taken with the aerial footage of the countryside, the high, snow-capped mountains, the castles and waterfalls. Of course I tuned in to see the race, but as a photography buff, the nature and architecture that was filmed was so appreciated as well.

      I may have made a crack about John Tesh’s music yesterday, but in retrospect, I thought his music was fantastically paired with the excitement of the race. We Americans (initially) had only that half-hour of highlights each Sunday morning. During a roughly month-long race that’s not much coverage, but I so looked forward to it each weekend. Mr. Tesh commentated along with Phil, as I recall, and they did give us as much history of the race and towns/regions as they could squeeze into 30 minutes. For us Yanks who were new to seeing a Grand Tour on TV, it was thrilling.

      Later on, we got a full hour, but with more commercials.

      @INRNG: I so enjoyed reading about the countless details and logistics that go into this production, and the men behind it. Wow. And we just kicked back and watched our hi-def broadcasts without knowing what we now know today (well, most of us). My brother-in-law is a
      helicopter pilot, so I do have an appreciation for the great challenges these non-fixed wing crafts
      encounter. Three of his best friends have been killed in copter crashes. These pilots who maneuver their copters just so for the videographers are top notch. So many variables can bring a copter down fast, so I have high regard for the risks these guys sometimes take.

      Really enjoyed reading this, and the video, too.

      For those of us in the states:

      via press release:

      Two Premier Mountain Stages to Air LIVE on Saturday, July 7, and Sunday July 8

      Same-day coverage of first and final stages also added to NBC.

      NEW YORK – March 7, 2012 – NBC Sports Group, the exclusive rights holder of Tour de France coverage in the U.S., will move eight hours of live Tour de France coverage of two premier mountain stages to NBC from the NBC Sports Network during the weekend of July 7-8. This marks the first time that the Tour de France will be broadcast live on network television.

      Same-day coverage of the first stage of cycling’s greatest event on Sunday, July 1 and the final stage on Sunday, July 22, when racers ride up the Champs-Elysees, have also been added to NBC’s lineup.

    • Thanks, that’s a good collection of images. They like the “fly by” shot with the helicopter going at 90 degrees to the race with an object like a church spire or some trees in the foreground.

  6. My memory has probably got this wrong but I’m sure back in the day when David Duffield was commentating he was fond of mentioning the local cheeses and a bit of a local history lesson. On a different note I can remember watching a stage where Duffield was commentating from a hotel room on the phone by watching the TV. I can’t remember why but it just stuck in my head. Any idea what David is up to these days? He popped up in the studio for the tour a couple of years ago.

  7. I like France 2 in general, especially the guys on the motorbikes who give an interesting insight into the race or the guy in the team car. France 2 is head to head wirh Sporza.

  8. THANK YOU! Fascinating.

    I started tuning into Le Tour in the early aughts, in part out of nationalistic pride in LA. I got hooked by the scenery – a video postcard is how I described it – and gradually started to learn a little about cycling and about pro racing.

    My views of LA have shifted over time, but not my love of “castle pr0n” as my tweeps call it during the broadcasts. Only now, it is secondary to the racing.

  9. Nice article. Many people love to watch the TdF as it winds through the beautiful French countryside and some of those like to watch the racing too. In July in England, watching the Tour on tv can be the only sunshine we see.

  10. I am specifically looking forward to stage 12 of this year’s Giro because it will pass by the 5 terre area, one of my favorite spots. Having visited there, i would love to see it as the peloton rolls by.

    • I like the area too but note the route has been changed. There were devastating floods last year and the damage has yet to be repaired. The race will still help fundraising for those who have lost their homes and more.

  11. INRNG: how do you get the time to know/track down information like this? I get more out of one piece on here than a dozen other sites.

    • Thanks, glad you enjoyed this. How? Coincidence for this one, France had presidential elections yesterday and part of the TV coverage included moto journalists following the motorcade of the two candidates who topped the poll. It reminded me of the Tour and the way it’s produced so I remembered the producer’s name and looked him up. I found a few articles and the youtube clip then 10 minutes later, pressed “publish”.

  12. @inrng Well done again. Fantastic article, lots of information. Was really wondering for the last 9 years, since they started to cover the Tour live in India, How the hell do they do it? Can only imagine the pain Mr.Ooghe might be going through.

  13. I had a co-worker who watched the Tour religiously just to see the landscape! He wants to do a motorcycle tour in France inspired by what he has seen during Tour coverage.

  14. Kuba – thanks for the link, top shelf. I was fortunate enough to see some of the local coverage last year and the level of detail was striking, as was the travelogue. In our household the end of the TdF and the Super Bowl bring a similar emotion, a deep sigh and fruitless search through the channel guide. At least we have the arguments…

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