Chasing the maillot jaune: Bringing the inaugural Tour de France Femmes to life with Warner Bros. Discovery Sports’ Guy Voisin
Riders in the Tour de France Femmes set off in this first historic race on Sunday 24 July from the Eiffel Tower to the Champs-Élysées for the start of this new eight day race. Warner Bros. Discovery Sports is on site and throughout Europe taking the live coverage provided by host broadcaster and organiser, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) and enhancing it with further content to give avid cycling fans every moment of this elite sport.
In this first year of the Tour de France Femmes, ASO is providing its rights holding broadcasters with just two and a half hours coverage of the women’s race per day, which Warner Bros. Discovery Sports is taking and bolstering with its own content before and after.
The shoulder programming enhancing the live coverage from Warner Bros. Discovery Sports is The Breakaway programme in the UK, Les Rois de la Pédale in France, and La Montonera in Spain.
Speaking to SVG Europe, Guy Voisin, senior director of cycling and golf at Warner Bros. Discovery Sports, says: “For the men’s [ASO is] producing line to line coverage and for the women’s, they’re producing less, only two and a half hours a day. I only receive [that amount of live] coverage a day and I produce around it. I put on breakaway shows and we put commentators on the feed and we put all the split screens and interviews and all the extra added value content [around it].”
On whether Voisin would like it if he could get live line to line coverage from ASO on the Tour de France Femmes, equivalent to the men’s race, he says emphatically: “Yes, absolutely is the answer, I would like line to line coverage. And this is where it’s our responsibility as a broadcaster of the event in many, many territories across Europe and [beyond] and my responsibility to my partners in ASO and Zwift, who are the main sponsor for the race, to give it the best coverage I can this year to prove that the numbers will show up, and then they’ll be encouraged to give us more hours.”
However, Voisin adds in the ASO’s favour: “It’s the first event. They didn’t broadcast the full line to line of the Tour de France either when it started. For years and years and years and years and years, they would only send us the last two and a half hours or two hours, and then four hours. For example, the Vuelta a España, there’s only seven stages out of 21 that are line to line; the rest are two hour stages. I think [ASO is] doing the best they can, and we will do everything we can to enhance it.”
“I want to grow the community of younger people, and that’s not going to be done overnight. This is a long haul. It’s going to be a long effort. I’ll probably retire not having finished it, but it’s something we have to do, because we’ve got to do better by the sport”
He continues: “In my opinion, cycling is the most challenging sport to broadcast in the world because you need the helicopters, you need the mobile motorcycles, you need the aeroplane to do that kind of satellite reception,” he continues, acknowledging the difficulties of producing this event for ASO. “So if you look at it in the chain of events, I’m the last person to receive the signal before it goes to the client. I have to do my job as best I can, so that they’re encouraged to give us more.”
Bigger and better
On how excited Voisin is about this race, he says: “Put it this way, I’ve been out to a bunch of Tour de France’s in my life. This year, I have young children; I have a daughter who’s four, a son who’s two. I went out to the beginning of the Tour de France and [for] the last day, but then I’m staying for the eight days of the women because I want to be there. I want to get that vibe, I want to know what I’m broadcasting. I was out at the Paris-Roubaix Femmes, this year, but didn’t go to the Paris-Roubaix [men’s] this year. I want to talk to the host broadcasters at ASO, because they’re great partners, and Zwift is out there and I want talk to Zwift, and just see how we can make the Tour de France Femmes bigger and better.”
“There’s these incredible stories that we said, “every week let’s tell a story, and make sure that we’re building up to the first to Tour de France Femmes,” so that these stories and these characters – these people – are known to the public when we get there”
Voisin is approaching Tour de France Femmes with the same strategy and enthusiasm with which he approaches the Tour de France: “We cover the Tour de France with a bunch of local shows, the most important being in the UK, The Breakaway, in France is Les Rois de la Pédale – our longstanding traditional show around cycling – and La Montonera, the other longstanding traditional show in Spain. Those are our mainstays around the cycling overall, and they cover both men and women. So, it was just a [question of] what would we do around the Tour de France Femmes? Let’s do [the same as we do around the Tour de France]. Thank you very much, it’s done; that was an easy decision.”
There are six cycling directors that were used for the Tour de France and are now on the Tour de France Femmes: in Paris for the pan-European feed is Josselin Riou; in the UK is Doug Ferguson; for France is Guillaume Lebrun; for Spain is Miguel Angel Mendez; for Italy is Antonio Raimondi; and on site is Andrea Berton.
Voisin continues: “The only differences I had to make were in the expertise I brought in and that’s because you don’t want to be unfair to the sport; if you have an expert like Bradley Wiggins on the motorbike [in Tour de France], I can’t bring him into the women’s peloton, [because] he doesn’t know about the women’s peloton. He’s not someone who watches women’s racing to the point of analysis like he would the men’s, because he’s always been part of [the men’s]. So, we went out and got someone who is an expert in Iris Slappendel, and she’s been doing the ‘Iris on the Bike’ bit during the [last] two Paris-Roubaix Femmes races. And now, she will do the eight days on the motorcycle with the women’s peloton during the Tour de France Femmes.
“So, that’s the difference, some of the expertise. Some of them I don’t want to switch out because their analysis is just as relevant in the men’s as women’s. So, Adam Blythe will still be on The Breakaway, Jacky Durand will still be in Les Rois de la Pédale, his analysis, and he’s worked hard to identify the writers and make sure he’s aware of who’s who and what they do and they’re historic [commentators]. So, if they’ve done their homework and they’re on board, then the experts can stay. If they haven’t, then I have to make sure I have experts who will give the proper respect to the sport,” he says.
Enhancing the coverage
EMG Group is the technical services provider for ASO on both the Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes. Via EMG, Warner Bros. Discovery Sports has hired some kit that is enabling it to get a unique perspective of the women’s race for its viewers, and also to be able to show what is happening on the road outside of the two and a half hours of coverage provided by ASO.
In the Tour de France the broadcaster uses a motorbike kitted out with cameras for its ‘Brad on a Bike’ in the peloton, and that bike moves over for ‘Iris on a Bike’ for the Tour de France Femmes. Voisin notes: “That bike is something I hire through the same technical providers as ASO has – EMG – who supply motorcycles to [ASO], and we have NEP on the ground as our technical supplier.
“I have RF cameras at the finish line, I have Aviwests on all my reporting teams at the start, during the race, and then to the finish line, for one of the two reporting teams that doesn’t have the RF. And we had that RF cam, with full IFB and everything, in the peloton reporting to us along the trip. So to me this is business as usual because it’s everything I do for the Tour de France Homme, and I’ll do it for the Tour de France Femmes. It’s [all] the Tour de France, in our mind; it’s the fourth week now and we get to keep covering it. So, the motorcycle just moves over, everything moves over and we keep it on the women’s final eight days. We’ll be live constantly.”
The reporters working on the start line of the Tour de France Femmes are Laura Meseguer and Manon Lloyd, each with a camera crew. Those feeds go back live to Voisin’s production control rooms (PCRs) in Paris, London, Germany, and Spain, for the 40 to 50 countries Warner Bros. Discovery Sport is covering.
Says Voisin: “We use that for our storytelling, and then we have translators for all 21 languages on the Tours, so everything comes into central translators, they translate it and send out the scripts to everybody, or do it live in their ears as the commentators are talking.”
He adds on the RF cameras: “We have the RF cam at the end [of each stage]; I get it only at the end. But at the arrival, we have an RF cam for interviews in the mix zone and around the buses, and the Aviwests are there, so I usually send one Aviwest out to do beauty shots and atmosphere, while the other is with the reporter who’s not on the RF cam. And we have Iris on the motorbike, constantly reporting the things you don’t see on TV.”
Rider celebrity building
The Tour de France Femmes, although a new race, is not surprising fans of cycling with completely unknown riders. Warner Bros. Discovery Sports has been building the celebrity of these women for several years through its cycling coverage, knowing this event was on its way.
Explains Voisin: “So, this started a long time ago. In 2018 we actively decided we would go out and get the entire women’s tour calendar rights, and in 2019 we had 100% of it, this year, we still have 100% of it. The director, for example, in the UK, Doug Ferguson, who produces the feed in the UK, also produces the weekly cycling show [The Breakaway programme]. Over the last two years he’s actively gone out and told the stories, every week, of women in the peloton. Because we’re the biggest cycling broadcaster in the industry, when ASO decided they would create the Tour de France Femmes, they came to us immediately and said, “We’re going to create the Tour de France Femmes. What interest do you have in it?” and we said, “Well, of course we want it”. So then, we actively said, “Our responsibility now is we have to start telling the stories,” because there’s incredible stories in the women’s peloton.
“[The women] were underpaid for a long time, and they’re still underpaid to be honest; we have nurses who had to return to COVID wards to help out and couldn’t race, couldn’t train. We had trained concert pianists who entered cycling, but they were also concert pianist on the side, they had to earn their living. You have Lizzie Deignan, who went off and had a child and came back to the sport, and made a mark on saying, “it’s possible, everybody can do this”. There’s stories that I don’t even understand, being who I am [a man]; just I’ll never understand those challenges. So, there’s these incredible stories that we said, “every week let’s tell a story, and make sure that we’re building up to the first to Tour de France Femmes,” so that these stories and these characters – these people – are known to the public when we get there.
“So the rights and the storytelling is what we found our responsibility to be; to give that visibility to the women’s peloton. We’ve gotten to the Tour de France Femmes, finally, as the climax of that two years of work.”
He adds: “You can’t say you’re covering the race and say, “Okay, here’s the Tour de France Femmes, we cover women’s cycling”. That would be a lie and that would be hypocritical. I don’t want to be hypocritical. We’ve done it for two years, because we knew we had to properly get to where we are going to be [at the start of the race].”
Engaging the younger fan
On engaging fans for this new race, Voisin says that digital is the way to go: “The younger generation, through all our numbers that we’re seeing, are definitely queued into the digital platforms. So, GCN+ is a massive cycling platform and it’s on there, it’s on Discovery+, it’s on Eurosport.”
He continues: “The thing about women’s cycling is that the cycling fans will watch it because it’s cycling. The superfans – men or women, it doesn’t matter – they’ll watch it because they want to see cycling. We see that in all the numbers coming in. [However] I want to grow the community of younger people, and that’s not going to be done overnight. This is a long haul. It’s going to be a long effort. I’ll probably retire not having finished it, but it’s something we have to do, because we’ve got to do better by the sport. It’s just sport and it doesn’t matter about the gender to be honest with you; it’s just sport and it’s great sport.
“So, we’ve got to be good about it. It’s good sport, good business, and we know we have to communicate through the digital platforms to the kids. If they’re watching it they get to make their own decisions on who the heroes are and that’s going to be a long haul.”