In the past twenty years event coverage in cycling has undergone some radical changes. This has meant exciting things for the profile of our sport, writes Kath Bicknell.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

While it's impossible to replace the experience of spectating trackside in cycling, the way we consume sport from afar is constantly shifting.

There was a time when you might read about selected events in magazines several months after they had taken place. With the Internet came race stories and results anywhere from hours to a few days after the event.

YouTube highlights brought the action from overseas with a visual sense of power, challenge and speed. As a mountain biker I remember spinning out as I saw, for the first time, how women at the top of the sport moved on their bikes across technical terrain via the UCI channel.

Live timing and live streaming have taken the reach of spectator engagement even further. Watching an event in Belgium from a lounge room in Sydney, in real time, makes you feel like cycling is gaining a profile on par with sports that have dominated our screens for far longer.

Nowadays, we can complement live, professional coverage with self-selected social media streams. Follow Tweets from prominent sports commentators and keen spectators, search for more via an associated hashtag, hear from racers themselves.

For the events that are still struggling for widely distributed and more conventional forms of coverage, social media is providing an interesting role. It offers some form of information sharing to a distanced fan-base while dramatically lifting the reach and profile of specific events. It gives visibility to an audience base scattered across the globe.

Two recent events come to mind. The women's road race at the Australian road championships being one; #roadnats provided a real time commentary and images that complemented a growing protest for live television broadcast of the event.

Another example is the cross-country and downhill national rounds that were held at Mt Buller last weekend.

In both events, racers Tweeted, Instagrammed and Facebooked information about their own races, usually quick before-thoughts and a reflection on the outcome. Many riders, and some key event staff, shared information and images about other races that took place on the same day.

For absent fans, rather than waiting for the results to be published after the event, it becomes possible to engage with the race as it happens; sharing in the excitement, lingering over glimpses of the course, enjoying the anticipation.

During the Mt Buller cross-country races, social media documented the way Dan McConnell rode through the field to take the win from Jared Graves, and the tight battle in the women's between Bec Henderson, Jenni King and Tory Thomas. We didn't just hear about the action from the finish line, but photos and updates were shared from around the course, throughout the racing.

One thing that's still missing from a lot of these reports is information, images and insights into the experiences of those further back in the field. This is something that we tend to read about afterwards in blogs or, in the case of a community as small as the Australian mountain biking one, hear about from riders and friends at later events.

There certainly are a growing number of ways for sports fans to follow events. Some compete with each other, some complement. It would be a mistake to think that #hashtag race coverage replaces live streaming, more polished forms of reporting or broadcasts the event to people who aren't already drawn into the drama of a particular race.

Many people are wondering which forms of media will take off and what shape the future of journalism will take. Meanwhile, one thing that is clear in cycling is that the profile of a diverse number of events is lifting. Surely this can only mean good things for our sport and the number of people aware of different events in years ahead.

It's up to fans and supporters of cycling to choose what they follow and how they engage with these different forms of spectating. While some events may not have the national profile or budget behind them that allow for bigger and better coverage (yet), as a fan of some of the less-publicised events what I do enjoy is a greater degree of choice.