The 2010 Tour de France marks the last time Lance Armstrong competes in the famed cycling competition and Versus is offering plenty of ways for fans to go along for his final ride.
Presenting the race for a 10th year, Comcast's national sports service is providing 14 hours of linear TV coverage daily in full high-definition over the course of 23 days. The 97th edition of the race began with the prologue on July 3 at 11:30 a.m., live from Rotterdam, Netherlands. After being invovled in a crash that bloodied his thigh, Armstrong was fifth overall, 3:19 minutes behind the leader, France's Sylvain Chavanel, after the Tour's second stage on July 5.
Buoyed by Armstrong's return, Versus saw its average viewership grow 98% to 529,926 in 2009 from 267,722 in 2008, according to Nielsen Media Research data. Armstrong retired in 2005 after winning seven straight Tours before making his comeback in 2009, when he finished third. Now, he's looking to add a record eighth title, which would give him three more than France's Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, Belgium's Eddie Merckx and Spain's Miguel Indurain, who won five consecutive races from 1991-95.
For the 2010 Tour, Versus is presenting live race action and an expanded primetime show daily. Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen are again calling all the race action, while Frankie Andreu and Robbie Ventura serve as the field reporters. Craig Hummer and Bob Roll host the pre-race and primetime show each day and night.
This year, Versus is also showcasing a number of production enhancements. The network has installed cameras on all U.S.-based team's busses - RadioShack (Armstrong's squad), HTC-Columbia, BMC and Garmin-Transitions -- to give viewers an insider's look at the team's meeting as they prepare for the day's stage. Versus has also stationed cameras in U.S.-team cars during race action showing viewers how the strategies and tactics are carried out.
Other enhancements: a pointer feature that identifies and focuses on one rider in the 200-plus peloton; exclusive, in-depth profiles and features on teams and riders such as Armstrong, the 2009 winner Alberto Contador, Mark Cavendish and Andy Schleck; and advanced on-screen statistics/biometrics that illustrate the intensity at which the riders are competing.
Online, www.Versus.com, is again playing an integral role for cycling fans. The official Tour site in the U.S. has redoubled its offerings following huge spikes a year ago. The 2009 Tour site scored a 117% increase in traffic over the 2008 race, according to network officials. It served over 16 million videos, 146% more than the 6.5 million during the 2008 competition and nearly five times as many as the 3.4 million from the 2007 race.
For $29.95 via the "Tour Tracker" on www.Versus.com, viewers can access live streaming -- offering a different perspective from the on-air coverage -- from any computer and in full HD. The Tracker allows viewers to pause and rewind live action and review the full stage upon its completion through an on-demand feature. While watching online, users have access to a live map, complete with GPS tracking, minute-to-minute updates on overall standings and rider positions, live chat and Twitter capabilities.
Versus is also furnishing a free iPhone app for cycling fans to access the Tour on their 3.0 and 4.0 phones. The app provides access to highlight videos, detailed race results and standings as well as full course profiles. An upgrade, available for $14.99, enables users to access live streaming video -- on 3G or WiFi -- sans commercials and affords fans the ability to encore the complete stage via on-demand. The live streaming is enhanced by real-time GPS tracking showing where the riders are on the course, including time gaps and breakaways, as well as minute-by-minute updates for each stage.
The application is currently available for download on iTunes and the iPhone app store.
Finally, Versus once again has partnered with MapMyRide.com for the "Le Tour Challenge" -- a competition allowing viewers to get on their bikes and compete "virtually" against actual race competitors and against other cyclists around the world during any given day's stage for daily prizes.