Pedalling the Connection: Data, Devices and APIs in Le Tour de France

This guest post comes from Mark O’Neill. Mark is a frequent speaker and blogger on APIs and security. He is the co-founder and CTO at Vordel, now part of Axway. In his new role as VP Innovation, he manages Axway’s Identity and API Management strategy, including the API Server for connecting APIs to Cloud and Mobile. Mark can be followed on his blog at and twitter @themarkoneill. Dave Murphy co-authored this piece. Dave is online marketing manager at Axway and a keen cyclist. Dave can be followed on twitter @davemurphy16

198 riders from 22 teams set off on June 29th, 2013 to race in the 100th anniversary of LeTour de France -- an annual multiple stage bicycle race primarily held in France. Today, professional cycling is arguably the most technology addicted of all sports, with cyclists frequently using  technology to achieve improved performance. Similar to other sectors, API Management is now at the heart of the latest technology advances in this field.

Maurice Garin, the winner of the inaugural tour in 1903 would barely recognize the bikes, let alone the digital monitoring devices sported by today’s modern cyclist. Today, all competitors run connected data capturing devices to monitor their performance. In addition, the official tour organiser, the Amaury Sports Organization fits a timing-chip to all competitors’ bikes to accurately capture individual finishing times.  In this way, cycling is truly representative of the Internet of Things – the name given to the explosion of data from sensors such as wearable body monitoring devices. Today, APIs enable innovation by connecting wearable sensors to the Internet.

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Currently most of the on-rider device manufacturers have not opened up their devices for the interchange of data across the devices. However, with the advance of the API economy this is set to change. The smartest device manufacturers are already beginning to see the benefits of collaboration for both the end-user and for their bottom-line. In fact, they have lowered the draw bridge on the Bastille and have invited in the developers.  For example, Strava, the popular sporting performance analytics mobile app firm, has instigated a developer corner built around its own API. Strava and monitoring device manufacturer, Garmin, are both great examples of two companies working together for the benefit of the connected athlete via APIs. Therefore, if you fancy racing or training on your bike but don’t want to bring your smart phone with you for fear of a fall, you can simply ride with your Garmin and it will sync the data from your ride to Strava. Bike Spike also offers API access to developers via their successful kickstarter GPS tracking program.

With APIs returning rider data such as location, body metrics, and speed, API Management becomes important. The data exposed by these APIs has great value and must be protected. It becomes the crown jewels for the teams and for the organizers. An API Management layer is therefore essential. It protects against data-mining attempts, privacy breaches or a Denial-of-Service attack on the API. In addition, API Management places a governance layer over the usage of the APIs themselves. By doing so, it adds a policy layer to the usage of rider data. API Management therefore is crucial to the whole API-enablement of rider and race data. Therefore API Management technologies augment the on-rider device APIs themselves, enabling pro cycling teams to manage, deliver, secure and analyze performance data on each rider to plan race tactics for the ultimate end; to win.

Garmin Connect Web Services API sends GPS Data in several formats via SOAP, XML or REST to Garmin. In turn, GPS and non-GPS data is sent from Garmin in the same format and protocol to a developer’s Web Services API. So, in a training or race situation, the Directeur Sportif and Team Manager can analyze the key performance data live, as demonstrated by this Garmin Sharp Team connect video . This is the internet of things, in action for cycling.

Like a streamlined racing bike, lightweight REST APIs are optimized for data speed. In turn, analysis of this data is what propels cycling forward; it’s what helps riders achieve higher than average speeds, better wattage for stages, day after day on Grand Tours. Managed APIs enable rider data to be shared with the organizers, supporters, teams and riders. Currently not all manufacturers are using APIs to expose the data they are collecting. However these days are numbered, as innovative firms such as Strava and Garmin set the pace for API usage.

The incremental progression for the Garmin Connect model of Open API Management enables races such as Le Tour de France to add an API Management layer, using an API Gateway to layer management onto the APIs which serve rider data, location, and speed. Interestingly, riders’ performance data could even be shared with the World Anti-Doping Agency to weed out doping cheats. Through APIs, riders could get live feedback from the organizers about cut-off times for the stage or for course changes as the race is live.  Within this scenario, APIs would be of huge benefit, given the farcical and dramatic changes in the final stretch of this year’s opening stage, when the stage was initially shortened to the 3km mark and then changed back to the original finish.

Let’s look at another example of why managed APIs can benefit Le Tour. In the 2013 tour, Ted King from Cannondale missed the cut off for the Team Time Trial by 7 Seconds according to the officials but was 1 second inside the time according to his SRM Data. SRM is a computer similar to Garmin. Managed API feeds would have addressed this issue at source.

To conclude, it’s clear that managed APIs with their ability to secure and link together the existing data from on-rider sensor devices are the next step for pro-cycling. For teams, supporters, and even the cyclists themselves, it would be excellent to know the watts the riders are outputting as they charge up an Alpine climb. APIs provide the link to make this happen, through implementation of a shared language for all the devices. In summary, racing bikes is a team sport that is made up of individuals, who must make calculations with nearly every pedal stroke: to attack, sit-in or push the pace-on. Managed APIs enable this, benefiting the experience of Le Tour for everyone.

Be sure to read the next Cycling article: Cycling Analytics API Provides Tools That Help Cyclists Keep Track