OLN's coverage of the Tour de France cycling race could see a ratings spike tonight and through the weekend as news of U.S. rider Floyd Landis' resurgence filters through the Web. If you don't want to know the latest Tour results, don't read on--just watch the Thursday-night coverage.
Landis, one of the favorites for this year's Tour in the wake of seven-time champ Lance Armstrong's retirement, held the yellow jersey of the race leader going into Wednesday's stage in the Alps but faltered badly on the last climb and lost over 10 minutes to the field, slipping from first to 11th overall. In Thursday's stage, however, Flandis rebounded with a heroic stage win, leaving the pack early on a solo breakaway and gaining back almost all of his eight-minute-plus deficit. Landis now lies a close third, merely 30 seconds behind leader Oscar Pereiro of Spain.
Landis' comeback leaves the Tour up for grabs heading into the race's last three stages. With an easy stage slated for Friday and the usual ceremonial ride into Paris scheduled for the finish Sunday, the final individual time trial on Saturday morning, which will be carried live by OLN starting at 8:30 EST, should decide the outcome of the 2006 Tour. Landis, a strong time-trial rider, has a good chance to make it eight years in a row for the U.S. and become the third American, behind three-time winner Greg LeMond and Armstrong, to win the Tour de France.
OLN has had exclusive live U.S. broadcast rights to the Tour since 2001 (CBS does a taped weekend wrapup show on the race) and enjoyed the mass appeal of cancer survivor Armstrong's annual marches to victory. But OLN's ratings for the first week of the 2006 Tour were down 50% compared to 2005, when Armstrong was chasing his seventh title. Ratings this week have been on a similar pacing, says OLN spokesperson Amy Phillips, though the network has seen "slight bumps" during several mountain stages in the Alps. Part of that ratings increase can be attributed to Flandis being either in or near the lead during those stages, and the rest can be ascribed to cycling aficionados knowing that the mountain stages are the most critical days of the Tour, says Phillips.
OLN is careful to run promos that tease each evening's rebroadcast without giving away the day's results, and will continue to do so with Landis back in contention.
"Our promos are very topical," says Phillips, who notes that promos have been undergoing constant tweaking due to the topsy-turvy standings of this year's Tour.