"Velon - a new experience, from the teams to the fans, taking you inside WorldTour cycling with real-time data, exhilarating GoPro videos and up close access to riders."
They said they wanted to revolutionise the traditional, outdated, many would say broken, cycling model. The ultimate aim, according to its CEO Graham Bartlett, is to create a more sustainable business model for professional cycling. "It has got three founding principles, really: make the sport more exciting, bring new technology too it, and that this all has to be underpinned by sustainable and credible teams," Barlett, a former director at Liverpool football club, having also worked at UEFA and Nike, said in an interview with CyclingTips published in November 2014, when the venture made itself known to the world.
Rather than the race organiser keeping the majority or all of the income generated from the selling of TV broadcasting rights, as is the current situation with companies like ASO and RCS, organisers of the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia respectively, among many other high-value one day races and week-long stage races, Velon intends to distribute part of the earnings generated from these new viewer experiences back to the teams. This, of course, is working on the proviso that these viewer experiences can be monetised: that is, they are worth buying.
Seemingly, ten (originally, eleven) of the eighteen WorldTour teams feel the same way, and are on board with Velon in 2017.
For decades, pro cycling has been crying out for change. The broadcasting of the Giro and Tour, for example, has changed little in 20 years. Until very recently, viewers were none the wiser about how individual riders were faring, other than observing their faces or pedalling style or position on the road. Of course, we had certain sports 'scientists' like Michele Ferrari and Antoine Vayer estimating things like VAM and watts per kilogram on certain climbs, leading the latter to categorise Lance Armstrong and Chris Froome as 'mutants', which wasn't particularly helpful.
To be able to access real-time information such as speed, cadence, heart rate, acceleration, power... that was what we really wanted. For the viewer and commentator, it would provide a deeper level of engagement and understanding. It went without saying, though, that in order for the information to be of use, above all, it needed to be accurate.
Velon began this year with the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, on January 29. The GoPro footage wasn't shown in real-time and in the finale it became blindingly obvious the speed and cadence stats broadcast on television were far from accurate (or at the very least, not coinciding with on-screen footage), hindering any meaningful observations from commentators Phil Liggett and Matthew Keenan, who found themselves almost apologising for the inaccuracies.
Cutting them some slack, I put it down to teething problems and skipped watching the Abu Dhabi Tour, the next WorldTour race Velon was involved in, deciding to wait for Milan-San Remo. In the meantime, I downloaded the Velon app on my phone in readiness for La Classicissima. Surely, they'd get it right for the first Monument of the season?
In the wee hours of Sunday morning, at 2:47am AEDST and approaching 50 kilometres to go, I took a couple of screenshots on my phone.
The latest Twitter update said the race still had 85km remaining. Out of the nine riders being tracked, only Matteo Trentin of Quick Step Floors was displaying all the stats offered. Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) and Ben Swift (Team UAE Emirates) were said to have changed bikes so nothing from them, but on this clear spring day along the Ligurian coastline, information was sporadic from Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott), Juan Jose Lobato (Team LottoNl-Jumbo), Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), Tom Skujins (Cannondale-Drapac) and Boy Van Poppel (Team Sky).
As the race hit the Cipressa things didn't get much better. Ewan, Dumoulin, Wellens and Van Poppel were together in the front group yet their speeds and cadences displayed were often vastly different. The power readings were often blank, making it nigh on impossible to compare output between riders, and the heart rate graph only went to a maximum of 160BPM, which, for anyone that's done an effort over 75 percent of their max HR, they all exceeded.
Exasperated, I decided it was better to watch the action on the Poggio without looking at the phone. Had I done otherwise, I might have missed the moment the race was won.
Granted, it's still early days, but the first rule of marketing is that in order to sell a product it must fill a hole in the market and needs to be worth buying. At present, as far as the Velon experience is concerned, only one of those criteria has been satisfied.