By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Armchair fans could soon be fed performance data from the world's top riders during races after professional cycling organization Velon announced a "game-changing" deal for the sport on Thursday.
Velon, a commercial collaboration of 11 top WorldTour teams, pioneered the use of live on-bike camera footage at last year's Abu Dhabi Tour, and says a 10-year agreement with Infront Sports & Media will further revolutionize coverage of cycle races.
In theory, television viewers will be able to dial up technical data such as pedal RPM, VAM (climbing speed in meters per second) and power output as the likes of Tour de France champion Chris Froome and Alberto Contador attack climbs.
Previously such technical information would only be available to team staff.
"The first phase of the partnership will enable live race data to revolutionize the fan experience," Velon, established in 2014 to boost cycling's marketability, said on their website (www.velon.cc).
Performance data has been a thorny subject and often a source of suspicion in a sport which has suffered a checkered history of doping scandals.
Briton Froome's dominance in some of the toughest terrain on last year's Tour raised eyebrows in some quarters, prompting his Team Sky outfit to release his performance data from one devastating attack on Stage 10.
Froome, who had to contend with rumors of doping, went a stage further after the race, undergoing physiological tests at a London laboratory and publishing the results.
Velon said the data available during television coverage would include various streams, although quite what would be publicly visible on TV screens would be subject to discussions with riders, teams, event organizers and the governing UCI.
Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford wrote to UCI president Brian Cookson this year calling for a standardized procedure for the sharing of performance data.
Velon says its new deal is a step in that direction.
"Riders really want to get their data out as it aids transparency and believability in their abilities and accomplishments," it said.
"But we fully understand the need for race and rider sensitivity to make sure neither are compromised."
Velon CEO Graham Bartlett said it was good news for fans.
"Just imagine how great it will be for fans to see the performance of the riders as they follow races on their screens or see them at the race," he said.
"Cycling fans will be able to better engage with the riders and get a much better experience."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Toby Davis)