This is the Best Fan Experience in Sports

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The next big thing for the National Football League and National Basketball Association will probably be the use of augmented reality technology to help fans get closer to the action. But no matter how they change the viewing experience, they can’t create an experience that allows a fan to feel what it’s like to play the game, watch the game having just played in that same environment, and then interact with pro players. That’s the experience CTS and the Amgen Tour of California have been creating for cycling fans since 2010, and we’re getting ready to do it again in 2018!

The Riding

When Charlie Rowland and Matthew Busche rolled off the start line for Stage 1 of the 2015 Amgen Tour of California, they both embarked on an 8-day journey that covered 500+ miles and climbed more than 40,000 feet. They experienced the same heat and cold, the same wind, and the same corners and road surfaces. But while UCI World Tour rider Matthew wore his Trek Factory Racing kit in the pro peloton, Charlie wore his CTS kit riding the CTS Amgen Tour of California Race Experience.

“I’ve watched bike racing for a long time,” said Rowland. “Intellectually, I understood riders must be tired climbing a mountain four days into a stage race, but feeling that effort myself four days in completely transformed the experience of watching the pros go up that same climb only a few hours later. It wasn’t just, ‘I’ve gone up that road before’, but rather, ‘I was just on that road, today, with the same headwind, the same miles in my legs, and that same group of guys running alongside in matching man-thongs.’”

“I remember talking to the CTS riders at dinner, and it was like trading stories with the other guys in the peloton,” said Busche. “On the road you sometimes notice or remember the oddest things, and then later realize other people noticed them, too. That red barn just before the climb got really steep. The railroad crossing that rattled your teeth. The way the temperature got hotter and hotter as we descended into the valley. It was cool to hear how they experienced the day, and I think they could relate to the challenges we faced on the stage better than someone who had watched it on the jumbotron.”

Speaking to Matthew’s comments about being able to relate to the challenges of the pro race, Charlie added, “Two things really struck me. One was how much faster the pros went on the climbs. I remember thinking I had done pretty well on some of the big climbs, and then watched the pros covering ground twice as fast! The second was how hard the pros could go on a stage and then recover to dig that deep again the following day.”

Pro Race vs Race Experience

While Charlie and Matthew rode the same routes, had mechanics looking over their bikes, and soigneurs taking care of their aching limbs, there are obviously crucial differences between the ATOC pro race and the CTS ATOC Race Experience. Charlie wasn’t racing, didn’t have a team job to do during the stage, and wasn’t fighting for position with 150+ pros on narrow roads. That doesn’t necessarily mean Charlie’s days were easier than Matthew’s, though.

“Now that I’ve retired from racing and work as a coach, I have even more admiration for Charlie and all the riders who conquer the Tour of California Race Experience,” said Busche. “The pro peloton moves faster, but the pack is huge, so there are more places to find a draft and more people to share the work. We also get done much faster, which means more recovery time after stages. “

Comparing Charlie’s power files against Matthew’s for the 2015 Amgen Tour of California illustrates Matthew’s points. Take Stage 5, for instance. The 95-mile stage featured four categorized climbs and ended in a sprint won by Mark Cavendish after 3:51:37. Matthew finished 38th on the stage, earning the same finish time. Charlie’s group finished the same stage in 5:48:25.

Charlie Matthew
Distance 95 miles 95 miles
Elapsed Time 5:48:25 3:51:37
Kilojoules 3279 kJ 3282 kJ
Power-to-Weight Ratio 2.32 watts/kg 3.28 watts/kg
Normalized Power 181 watts 278 watts

The amount of work done, expressed in kilojoules, is essentially the same between Charlie and Matthew. The difference is, it took Charlie’s group nearly two hours longer to do the same work, which means two more hours of sweating and trying to eat and drink enough out on the road. Two more hours out in the sun and wind, and two more hours that Matthew could use for recovery before getting back on the bike the next day.

“Anyone who finishes the Tour of California Race Experience is a champion,” said Busche. “The pro race is intense, but they’re also professional athletes in their 20s and 30s. Race Experience riders are in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Most have full-time jobs and train a fraction of the hours, miles, and intensity pros do. Charlie and I both did about 23,000 kilojoules of work to finish the 2015 ATOC. That was definitely a jump up from my normal training week back then, but on a percentage basis it was a much bigger jump for Charlie. It’s a huge accomplishment.”

“We ate dinner together with all the pro teams every night. They knew about the Race Experience and what we were doing, and as the days went by some riders began encouraging and congratulating us after stages,” said Rowland. “I didn’t expect that. But what I found was that it’s a very supportive environment with people who appreciate and respect effort. They wanted us to succeed, too.”

This is the 9th year for the CTS Amgen Tour of California Race Experience, and we’re proud to be the only official operator with this level of access to the course, athletes, and amenities of the biggest professional stage race in the US. Riding every stage of the ATOC is a huge challenge, and an even bigger accomplishment, and I want you to join me – and Charlie! – May 12-20, 2018, for this trip. There’s still time to apply to be Bucket List Certified and sign up for the best week of cycling you’ll ever experience!

Chris Carmichael
CEO and Head Coach of CTS


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