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The sky is the limit


Productivity hits an all-time low across the cycling world when the Absa Cape Epic rolls into the virtual world of live broadcast. The coverage is beyond world-class; given the restrictions that Untamed Africa throws at technology, it is astounding that we get to see anything at all from out on the route. 

The Absa Cape Epic has always prided itself on pushing boundaries. From a tough route, to the unbeatable rider experience, the event is much imitated but not yet matched. And it is in the live coverage that the biggest strides have been made in recent years, in conjunction with another South African success story, Dimension Data.

The partnership incubated in 2014, with (as ever) off-the cuff bike-ride dream chats about content delivery between a couple of bike- and Epic-mad Dimension Data dreamers, and event founder Kevin Vermaak. The latter had the vision, the former the tech to take that vision and make it visible, to the world. “It was a difficult start, we still need ‘normal’ live-media people to make it all happen, but to get them to buy into the thought that it could all be done wirelessly, was tough,” says Wolf Stinnes, Dimension Data’s solutions architect who has been running with the project since inception. “They still think it has to involve a cable. And a big, thick cable.” 2016 saw the start of the journey to the hours of daily live coverage we enjoy today, with us integrating our wireless e-bike Prologue and Grand Finale footage into the SuperSport live production. 

The infrastructure is astounding: two e-bike cameramen (read about them here:, two helicopters, four camera motorbikes, a roaming camera and units at the water points connect to the Dimension Data war room, with more than 70 personnel involved in some way. 

Each camera links to a unit holding eight sim cards (140 sim cards are continually in use for data transfer), which process the data, encodes and transmit to the servers in the Dimension Data war room, for recoding to broadcast. “We have to do it with cellular data. It is the only technology that is mobile enough. The eight-card system weaves the data into a rope, with eight strands, which makes the transmission as strong as we can get. The biggest challenge is the terrain – cell coverage is difficult in the mountains, but getting better every year.” 

How does the Tour de France ensure seamless imagery, where the Epic has to return to the studio when the valleys get too deep and the mountains too big? “Budget. Very big budget. They have a Boeing flying above the race – you can create links in other ways to that, and then to the media centre, but we don’t think we will need to get there.” 

At the finish is the Absa Cape Epic’s all-new broadcast studio, which hosts commentary gurus Gerald de Kock, Neil Gardiner and Aussie Tour de France legend Robbie McEwen for four hours each day, two outside broadcast editing trailers, an OB control unit and miles of thick cables so the communications within the village don’t tax the cellular grid. Dimension Data also provides Wi-Fi across the race village for the organisation, the riders and visitors to watch the race while they are waiting for their champions to come in.

The cost? Nobody will say, but just on cellular data alone, the budget is for 5.6 terabytes. Yup, five and a half million megabytes. “It is so important to showcase the best mountain bikers in the world, in the best terrain in the world, to the world. One of our core values is innovation, so using the best partners we can find and cutting-edge technology to do this ticks that box,” says Sarah Harrop, Head of Marketing and Communications at the Absa Cape Epic. “Riders tell us that the footage transmitted back home adds so much to the experience, that the people back home can now actually understand what they are doing, and why.”  Rightly, Harrop is proud of how far this project has come: “In five years we have gone from a static camera on a finish line, to a live broadcast that is as good as any in the world, technically and content-wise.” 

For Stinnes, and Dimension Data, the ambitious connection of two worlds has made this project a roaring success, and one that is far from complete. “Watching the rawness of the footage, seeing the action as it happens, and reacting to it the way the riders have to react to the challenges the Epic offers, it is obvious why we do this. We also learn and improve every moment.” The planning is already underway for 2020. Bigger, and better.  

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