Google has released updates to its Google Earth 3-D mapping tool that at least one developer is using to create maps of Tour de France stages.
Google Earth software uses satellite imagery for its base maps. This cycling enthusiast at the Google Earth Hacks website has entered data that creates a 3-D map of a Tour de France stage.
I downloaded the Google software (free) and the map of Tuesday's Stage 16 (also free) at Google Earth Hacks this evening. I can zoom in and out on the route, and tilt the viewing angle so I can get a better idea of the terrain.
For the image of Stage 16 (above, click map for larger image), I centered the map on the Col d'Aubisque (the steepest and longest climb of the day), moved a bit south for the angle the cyclists are taking, and tilted the view as low as possible. Then I moved the map forward as if I'm riding in a blimp 5,000 feet above the route.
So far, the Google Earth Hacks site has 3-D for upcoming Stages 16, 17, 18 and 20. Several previous stages are also available.
The New York Times reports in “Marrying Maps to Data for a New Web Service” (free registration) that since Google released its Google Earth tools, dozens of hobbyists and companies have found uses for it. In addition to mapping Tour de France stages, it's been used by real estate agents, winery guides in California, and locating bombing attacks in London.
I have another use: How about creating 3-D maps of weekend century rides or the entire routes of weeklong cross-state tours?
There are some drawbacks, however. Fretting about upcoming hilly sections might ruin the ride for some cyclists; some cyclists may chose to not even attempt the ride because it looks so difficult. Others might spend so much time messing around with the map and trying to find the street where they lived when they were a kid that they might never get around to signing up for the event.
If you've seen this technology put to use for cycling, please leave a comment here. I'm sure a lot of use would like to take a look.