TV or Not TV

Tour De France

“Le Tour De France” on an iPad (2011)

I’m an unapologetic fan of the world’s biggest cycling race. Forget about the drug scandals and the fact the technology is now infinitely more important than the actual riders, this is an epic journey — the ultimate test of endurance. Last year I bought the iPad app and was delighted to be able to watch entire stages of the race whenever I wanted, wherever I wanted. However, last year’s iPad app was only good for last year’s Le Tour. So this year I had to buy it all over again.

The video quality is much better in the ’11 version, though if last year is any indication, I expect that to change as we get deeper into the race and more people log in. The GPS teacking features of riders is much easier and more exact this time around, to the point where I could probably log in now and see which racer is currently using the men’s room in the local cafe.

However, the biggest difference between this year’s iPad app and last year’s iPad app for fans of Le Tour is that the 2011 edition only allows for live streaming of each stage. In other words, unless one gets up at 4am on the west coast, we cannot actually use the Le Tour app to view Le Tour. This lack of a major feature makes the app a complete and utter waste of the $14.99 purchase price. I’m not even going top link to the app at the iTunes store because nobody should buy it.

Buying a “Le Tour De France” app without the ability to watch the race is like buying a night with Paris Hilton and only being able to talk quantum physics. Utterly pointless.

“Le Tour De France” on an iPad

As I’ve stated numerous times, I refuse to pay for cable because it subsidizes a slagging industry full of channels I wouldn’t watch that feature shows I wouldn’t watch. For fans of the “a la carte” method of viewing, online is the way to go. Except in the world of sports. Licensing issues and stubbornness prevent most big sporting events from being streamed online in these United States. It is worth noting that in the case of Le Tour De France, the official website for the event contains links to websites where the event can be seen online in more than a dozen countries (don’t be fooled by the inclusion of a link to the Versus website, as it only offers real-time tracking — for a fee). In the United States, we have to be our usual cantankerous selves, making life inconvenient for those who might actually want to watch one particular sport without paying for 500 channels. However, in the case of Le Tour, there is a workaround for those with either an iPhone or iPad.

I have to interrupt my review for just a moment to ask if you know the old gag about ending every fortune you find inside a fortune cookie with the phrase “in bed”? For example, “You will be magnificent and successful… in bed.” The “in bed” isn’t actually at the end of the fortune, but your mind inserts it there and a god time is had by all. If you are familiar with the concept, then you should understand that nearly every sentence of my review should end with the phrase “when it works.” For example, The Official Tour De France App produced by Versus and Participant Sports is awesome… when it works. Do you get the idea? I hope so because I don’t want to keep typing “when it works” after every sentence. But understand that even if I don’t type “when it works,” just like “in bed” it is always there.

I love this app… when it works (I typed it that time so you could visualize it). It is easy to use and the video quality is excellent. I am not wild about the fact they rely on their own commentator instead of using the usual Versus team (though they are sometimes heard — I think — when the app commentator has to use the restroom). It is commercial free and you can watch the videos live (if you are a night owl like me) or whenever you want. Like the Versus website, it features a real-time tracker so you can view the location of any given rider on a Google map, as well as details of all the teams and all the riders. The price of the app appears to drop as more stages of the race are completed (it began as $15.99 and is presently $9.99). There is also a free version with limited features.

Back to the “when it works” thing — read through the comments section on the iTunes Store and you’ll understand that the app is full of bugs and problems. It freezes. It crashes. It won’t open. It won’t close. There’s no sound. There’s no video. It gives new meaning to the word frustrating… during the day. During what the phone companies refer to as “off peak hours” (between 11pm and 8am PST), the app seems to run fine. And when it works, it is a joy to behold. It represents a new way for sports fans to get caught up in an event. I’m imagining something along these lines for the Olympics in London, and if they can work the kinks out of it, it could turn quite a profit for somebody.

I have enjoyed watching Le Tour since I was kid. The views of France, the Alps, and all the other countries the riders trek across are always breathtaking. It is a true test of endurance with a clear, dramatic narrative that is different each year (and often each stage). And there are some gnarly crashes. Hey, don’t look at me like that. As Seinfeld used to say, take away the crashes, and watching a car race is just staring at traffic. Same is true for cycling, and this particularly wet race has featured some memorable cycling mishaps. And I was able to watch them on my iPad. And not one penny of my money went to a cable company.

The full $9.99 version of the Official Tour De France app

The freebie version of the Official Tour De France app