Sport on the Internet

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The Independent Online
AS THE Tour de France enters its final week, only those with EuroSport can follow the action live on TV in the UK. Since 3 July, however, the Web has proved a useful way of keeping in touch in real time.

The official site has held up under the strain. Occasionally server connections have been a problem, but that is a perpetual feature of official sites for leading events and has not been a major irritant. The site is cleanly laid out and its encyclopaedic content is easy to access. Visitors can keep in touch with the race via a dynamic profile - a pop-up window with a stage diagram showing route maps, distances, contours and an indicator of where the riders are. It is ideal for instant updates and making decisions about when to switch to more in-depth coverage at the climbs, sprints etc.

For detail, there is a minute-by-minute text summary on the main page, links to live photographs and, even more usefully, a link to a graphic showing the time gap between the head of the field and the peleton. Riders who have broken away are also identified.

A 3D view of parts of the Tour is available via the TerraExplorer plug- in, but the technology is at beta stage and will run only on Pentium MMX chips or better, so it is not an option for older PCs and non-Windows users.

One of the few things missing from the official site is a live video feed. That is almost available at TV Online. Here you can watch feeds from German TV stations and from EuroSport.

The problem is that they are not continuous feeds, what you get is a slideshow of grainy stills grabbed from the TV signal at intervals of five to 15 seconds (the choice is yours). Audio is not included. If you get bored with the Tour, you can switch to MTV, but watching a soundless slideshow version of Flat Eric's Mr Oizo video is only for those of a surrealist bent.

CNN and Sports Illustrated have comprehensive news and feature coverage, plus interactive polls on issues surrounding the Tour. No multimedia clips in the first two weeks of the Tour, though. However, there is a Shockwave game left over from last year where you get to control a rider and make him avoid obstacles, including what looked like (to my jaundiced eye) discarded hypodermic needles but turned out to be tacks instead.

CyberTour is a fantasy version of the Tour. It is played for fun rather than prizes, and at the last count around 600 players had registered their teams. If the idea of fantasy cycling is anathema, you can still get mileage out of this site. It has stage maps, details and background about the starting and finishing locations, places en route, and team and rider details. When the news sites are slow, you should still be able to access that sort of information rapidly at CyberTour.

Site Addresses

Le Tour De France Official Site

OnLine TV

CNN/Sports Illustrated 1999 Tour De France

CNN/SI - Tour De France - The Game

CyberTour De France