SFP Gives Tour of California a Touch of France

The Tour of California, taking place May 16-23, is the largest cycling event in America, and this year, with a little help from France, the television coverage has been sized accordingly. ASO, the company that produces the Tour de France, has tapped SFP to handle the broadcast of the week-long television event. This year marks SFP’s first time working on the Tour of California, and it is the first year the event is being produced live in HD, both on Versus in the U.S. and on Eurosport in Europe.

“Our plan is to have the same quality of coverage that we have in the big races in France, and that’s also our challenge,” says Bruno Gallais, head of sales for sports at SFP. “That’s why we brought director Jean-Laurice Oghe, who directs the Tour de France, and all of the same crew, motorbike drivers, and Cineflex cameramen that we use in France.”

In all, SFP has a crew of 15 in California, as well as three French motorbikes, the ones used for coverage of the Tour de France, equipped with HD cameras and transmitting systems. SFP also brought two complete transmitting kits, since some stages — including the opening stage in Sacramento and Stage 2, from Davis to Santa Rosa — require two receive sites to cover the entire route.

Besides the motorbikes, SFP is using an American helicopter equipped with HD transmission systems and a Cineflex camera. An American airplane is also used to relay the signals from the helicopter and the motorbikes to the receive sites, but both aircraft are equipped with SFP’s French equipment. Rudy Dendleux, head of RF engineering and production for SFP, oversees the operation of all wireless cameras and transmission for the production.

“We came to California one week before the race to set up everything in the plane and helicopter and to complete all of the flight agreements,” Gallais says. “The biggest challenge was to get all of our equipment to fit the American constraints. This is the first time we have worked in the United States, and, because we bring all of our gear from Europe, we had to adapt our equipment to the frequency plans used in the USA and to American picture formats and power requirements.”

SFP also had to adapt to some rule changes for its production because the rules of the Tour of California are slightly different from those of the Tour de France. The race roads, for example, remain open both ahead of and behind the racers in California, whereas French roads are closed for the day to accommodate the Tour. As a result, SFP must change its coverage plan slightly, but Gallais describes the changes as relatively minimal.

SFP is working with one of Lyon Video’s mobile production units for its eight days of coverage.

Although the challenge for Gallais and SFP is to produce Tour de France-style coverage of the closest American racing equivalent, the crew realizes that this production is about more than one great broadcast.

“We’re proud to contribute to the development of live TV coverage of this type of race in the U.S.,” Gallais says. “It’s not really an American philosophy to cover this type of event live, so it’s important for us to participate in the production of this important American cycling race.”