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Standardisation of time: Tissot watching the clock at all major cycling races

Jack Elton-Walters
18 Sep 2020

Tissot is now responsible for calling the closest finishes at all the biggest cycling races with typical Swiss efficiency

Accuracy of timing at the biggest cycling races is something fans and riders alike can agree on the importance of. Well, unless perhaps you're Warren Barguil.

Crossing the line on Stage 9 of the 2017 Tour de France with his arms in the air, Barguil thought he'd gained a hard-fought victory.

Lunging for the line next to him was Rigoberto Uran, who had ridden the last part of the stage stuck in his hardest gear and had been forced to wind up his sprint from a long way out.

Barguil even got as far as speaking on French television until he was interrupted – during a live broadcast – to be told he’d actually been beaten by the smallest of margins and the win was Uran’s.

Behind that result was Tissot, with its high-tech timers and finish line cameras. With cameras capturing 10,000 frames per second, the images sent from the cameras to the timing computers showed it was the finest outer edge of Uran’s front tyre that had breached the finish line first – just.

Poor Warren, but a pat on the back for the accuracy of Tissot's timing operation. The Swiss watch maker is now responsible for the timing at a wide range of races on the road and track, but chief among them are the three Grand Tours.

The addition of the Giro d'Italia ahead of its original dates back in May means that Tissot will be calling the results in Italy at the resceduled event in October, at the ongoing Tour de France and the later-scheduled Vuelta a Espana.

'When we do things at Tissot we like to do them well,' explains Sylvain Dolla, Tissot's CEO. 'If we go with a sport we like to do it well and like to really have the full coverage of that sport.

'We prefer to focus a small number of sports and cover them fully. Now we have the Tour de France, Giro and Vuelta it is clear that Tissot is the reference timekeeper and the reference watch brand in the world of cycling.

'With the World Championships we really completely cover this sport,' Dolla adds.

The 2020 Tour de France was twice postponed and many people wondered if it would be able to go ahead at all. At the time of writing, Primoz Roglic is three stages away from standing on the top step of the podium in Paris and the race looks highly likely to reach its conclusion.

However, it's not by luck that this has happened, even as race director Christian Prudhomme's positive test for coronavirus on the first rest day showed breaches can happen. The race has operated within a bio-secure bubble as best it can, often made harder by idiot 'fans' shouting in the faces of passing riders.

'We are very happy that the Tour de France is the first major international sports event after the Covid days. But of course, the rules have changed,' Dolla says.

'The organiser of the Tour de France and our people on site are very cautious with the current pandemic situation and that’s why we have to follow very strict rules. For example, the team that is doing the timekeeping will be in the bubble with no access from ourselves or journalists, and that’s to ensure they are in "safe mode" along with the judges and the sportspeople who race.'

Alain Zobrist, the head of Tissot's Swiss Timing, is keen to elaborate on this point. 'Of course, protecting our timekeepers is the priority. Not only our timekeepers but obviously also the athletes and the entourage as well as the whole caravan of the Tour.

'Our working habits have evolved, our timekeepers have been wearing masks and gloves. They were tested prior to going to the first stage of the Tour and then we use disinfectant products on a daily basis to clean our equipment and our work spaces.

'There are a lot of measures that have been put in place in order to protect this bubble from being infected by the virus,' Zobrist adds.

Thanks to the timekeepers being in the race bubble, the everyday workings of timing the race won't be as impacted as they could have been.

'This [how they work in the timing hut] won’t change at all,' Zobrist says. 'There’s been a little bit of a change in terms of number of people that can be transported in one vehicle but other than that everything is absolutely in order and there’s no major change in our operation.'

That operation is one of timing and photo finish accuracy. The photo finish camera were used at the end of Stage 18 to separate two teammates rather than rivals as the Team Ineos Grenadiers pair of Michał Kwiatkowski and Richard Carapaz crossed the line arm-in-arm.

Besides, Dolla knows why Tissot's timing is so trusted. 'We are a Swiss company, so we are known to be neutral. Not only are we known for competence in timekeeping but we are known for our neutrality,' he laughs.

Of course, Tissot is first and foremost a watch maker, so to celebrate its presence in the world of cycling it has released a commemorative watch: the new Tissot Supersport Tour de France 2020.