The Tour of the Alps started today, a tune-up race ahead of the Giro d’Italia and a start list to match. It’s worth it alone for the stunning scenery but has something that many other races do not: a good website. It’s actually remarkable enough to dwell on for a moment.
What makes the website so good? It’s got almost everything you need. For starters each stage is clearly set out with large profiles, maps and timetables all easy to view and you can click to download them too. Route info about a race to hand, so what you may ask? What makes this remarkable is that so many other race websites are awkward experiences. The Tour de France never publishes route maps until mid-May meaning that a proportion of the estimated 12 million roadside fans are left sleuthing where the race will actually go. Most don’t care or need to know but plenty – going by my inbox alone – want to book accommodation, book restaurants or go for a ride on the route but can’t because they don’t yet know where the race will be.
Take Stage 7 from Fougères to Chartres, at 231km the longest of the race and as the screengrab above shows online there’s just a picture of a cathedral and a castle for now a letour.fr. There’s no profile or map (and if you’re being picky the images ought to be swapped so that the fort in Fougères appears first with Chartres’ cathedral second). The route of the mountain stages can be worked out from the profiles given there’s usually only one way over a mountain but it’s a bit like inviting people to a wedding and assuming they know the venue.
It’s not just the Tour de France. Try finding a profile of last weekend’s Amstel Gold Race from the race website. Or go to the Giro’s site and – unless readers can find otherwise – the website crops a lot of the technical information such as the map and timetables, they’re only available if you start right-clicking and opening the raw image file. Now a click or two isn’t hardship but websites shouldn’t work like this, imagine going to a consumer website and opening JPG files in new browser tabs just to get basic product info. By contrast you can go to the Tour of the Alps website and download the routes to open on your GPS bike computer or to oogle on Google Earth.
Another thing is the rules are clear to download on the Tour of the Alps website. Some of this can be dry but it tells you which stages where the 3km rule applies, that time bonuses are awarded and the various scales for the points and mountains classifications: this is essential to the race but often very difficult to find for other events. You might remember a year ago when this blog was the first to reveal the Giro was going to have a “best descender prize”, something discovered simply by reading the Giro rulebook but the PDF document with the rules wasn’t publicly available and so next to nobody could read it.
With this in mind here’s a shopping list of essentials for a race website:
- the provisional startlist with reserves lets people know long in advance who is coming
- interactive maps that let users zoom in to know exactly where the race is going, not just through a town but the precise route, right to to the exact junctions
- make downloadable route files available so cyclists can visit and ride with ease
- even better why not highlight some important parts of the course via Strava?
- credible route profiles, no “y-axis doping”
- published rules, ideally a summary for the public, eg time bonuses, the points classifications but also the PDF with every applicable rule
- the roadbook to download, useful so you can carry the PDF around for easy reference
- details of TV coverage
- if it’s on TV and if they have giant screen TVs then info on where at the finish or on the course they will be
- make the commissaires bulletin public so people know who was fined, who visited the race doctor for crash injuries and so on
- the results. Having praised the Tour of the Alps website they have news and photos from the opening stage… but don’t actually have today’s results online at pixel time. The Tour and Giro score high for this with all the classifications online quickly
- multi-language so that fans from around the world can enjoy the race better
- a mobile/smartphone version of the website given an estimated 50% of web browsing is done on a smartphone these days
- via PNW Tom: suggested viewing points to see the stage
- via PNW Tom: details of road closures, eg what time will the route be closed off
Being concious that a blog talking about a website is navel-gazing, especially given this blog has had the same format for years now… but all the same it’s worth pointing out a useful race website even if it’s still missing the actual race results. Perhaps it’s because the Tour of the Alps is heavily backed by local tourism that they have to have clear maps and routes? Many other races have archaic or awkward websites, even the Giro and Tour, so that a good one is worth praising and using as an example of what works.
Any more suggestions for what makes a good website? Leave them in the comments below and the best will be copied (with credit) into the bullet points above