Switching Gears: Twitter takes viewers further inside Le Tour

Lance Armstrong
This past summer marked Lance Armstrong’s return to the event that made him a cycling legend: The Tour De France.

This year’s race, the 96th, spanned 3,445 kilometers (2,141 mi) and began on July 4th and finished July 26th.  In past years, I’ve satisfied my cycling enthusiasm by loyally following the event on TV, but this year was different.  This year, Twitter helped me experience the Tour through the eyes of the sport’s marquee spokesman, Lance Armstrong. Allow me to explain.

I, like many other fans of cycling was most interested in whether or not Lance could once again rule the road after a 3 year hiatus from the event. For past events, I’ve tuned in to the Versus network’s excellent coverage.   For the record, Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett’s pedal by pedal commentary is some of best sports coverage I’ve ever seen or heard and keeps me glued to the edge of my saddle.

But 2009 would be different for me.  TV coverage was not enough.  I found myself watching the event online in real-time and reading commentator blogs both before and after the race to stay updated. The more I watched, the more invested I became.  I especially looked forward to the pre and post race interviews with Lance Armstrong. But in the end…it still wasn’t enough.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bash the TV networks. I’ll even reiterate that I personally think Versus’ handling of the tour is amazing. Their integration of web and TV is great, too.  Additional coverage by ESPN, Bicycling Magazine and international media help round out the picture, but in the end they can only go so far. That’s where Twitter came into the picture.

As I was watching the nightly replay of the day’s race, I was checking the web for news updates that might give me an additional take on the ongoing competition.  As I was reading, an update popped on my screen from DestroyTwitter.  It got me thinking and instantly did a search for Lance Armstrong.

At first I was looking for what others were talking about and to see what they thought about Lance’s chances for victory. To my happy surprise, I found that the man himself was tweeting.  I immediately began to follow his tweets. For the next two weeks I found myself paying more attention to my tweet deck than the TV to find out the latest insight from the tour. Through a series of bite-sized statements, I quickly gained a better understanding of how the athlete’s mind was working during this grueling 20 plus days of riding.

In addition to letting us know how he did during the day of racing…

@Lancearmstrong: ‘St 17 done. Tough day! Got caught out on some attacks on the col de romme but managed ok from behind. Had some cramps @ the end. No fun!!’ (4pm)

Lance was also selling readers on the beauty of France.

@Lancearmstong: ‘Btw, these theatres streetside in Avignon are killer. For those who have never seen them then quit stalling.’

Lance also gave us personal insight on how he thought things were going to turn out during the day, which made me want to watch the race even more to see if what he was predicting would come true.

@Lancearmstrong: ‘Big day today @ the TdF. Expect fireworks. Lots of them. 4 those who think it’s been boring, you’ll appreciate the final week. Fosho..’

And in the ultimate aura of transparency, Lance let us know exactly what he thought about the days events, especially the ones surrounded in controversy.

@Lancearmstrong: ‘Getting lots of question why AC attacked and dropped Kloden. I still haven’t figured it out either. Oh well.’ (4pm)

@Lancearmstrong: ‘And I reiterate.Hincapie deserves to be yellow tonight. He deserves more than that. Look to who pulled the last 50k to see who to blame..’

Love him or leave him, Lance gave me a refreshing look into the world of professional cycling.  We have all read interviews with our favorite athletes, but in the end, those PR-laced diatribes are careful to not drift too far from the company line. Twitter allowed me to follow Lance and other riders and hear first hand what they are thinking before, during and after an event.

Lance used Twitter to:

  • Keep me engaged with the event
  • Give me the inside scoop about his performance
  • Get me motivated about the team and their strategies
  • Express his frustration
  • Rally his followers and expand the advocacy network
  • Share his obvious affection for France and the areas surrounding the race
  • Promote Livestrong
  • Show me his personal side as a father and son
  • Get me excited about what is next to come
  • Let “me” in about exclusive news and insight

In essence, Lance spoke to “me” like a friend via twitter all throughout the tour and, because of that, I have gained a deeper admiration for him and the sport. In the end, I will happily return as a tour viewer next year. But next time, I will look to communication platforms like Twitter to round out my information consumption.

Lance Armstrong isn’t the only athlete on Twitter.  You can find tweeting athletes from all the major sports on Twitter-athletes.com. These glimpses into the minds of athletes give the sports fan access to what they’ve been dying to experience all along, the true emotion of sport: an insider’s perspective, the camaderie of team, and the mindset of a champion.