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The World of Dotwatching

By Joshua Donaldson

F5… Refresh… Wait… Repeat.

This is the process that dotwatchers go through on an almost obsessive level, refreshing, checking and repeating as riders traverse a route.

It is simple, a gloriously simple system – from trackers on the bike to screens across the world, following a bike race through a 2D dot tackling a race, any race, from start to finish. This is dotwatching, a pastime that, to the uninitiated, can seem dull and even pointless. It removes all the fun and thrill from a usual bike race, where you are able to see every kilometre the riders travail, your senses alive with the sights from the road; the fans, the riders, the scenery.


For dotwatchers, the thrill of watching something akin to Google Maps for hours and days is different from watching a stage of the Tour de France or Paris-Roubaix. Instead, it is like taking on the role of detective, using your imagination to fill in the blanks like a cycling Sherlock Holmes. If televised cycling is an action blockbuster, dotwatching is a John le Carré novel.

What is dotwatching and why do people enjoy it?

As we have already said, dotwatching can seem inherently dull. Literally watching a dot over the course of a few days to a few months can be very monotonous. But dotwatching hooks you and keeps you asking the question: “I wonder how they are getting on?”

Dotwatching, as you may have already guessed, is a way of tracking riders through a long-distance event, such as The Transcontinental (TCR) or The Great Divide. Each racer is fitted with a transponder, beaming their live position up to a satellite and back down to anyone interested in following them.


In a piece for Apidura Peter (no surname), an avid dotwatcher, gave this eloquent description as to why so many are transfixed by dots on a screen. He explained: “It’s like a great novel: building slowly and significantly, demanding one’s imaginative investment.

“It also evokes a sense of following cycling that we have largely lost. L’Auto and La Gazetta would have had write-ups of the previous day’s racing in their papers, long before television came along: they had to make a story of what must have been a very confusing day’s racing.”

It is that sense of imagination and lack of information that often builds the tension. Is a 15-minute stop for food, a puncture or something worse? That is where playing Sherlock comes in handy, using maps to decipher exactly where the rider is on their usually planned free route – meaning they can go whichever route they fancy if they pass through checkpoints.

Stopped by a café? Probably grabbing food and a coffee. Stopped for 20 minutes in a forest? Well, that could be bad signal, or a puncture, or a comfort break. This narrative that you paint can only be answered through riders’ social media or race reports. But much like newspapers generations ago, this will take time to all come out, adding tension and intrigue.

The best dotwatching stories

Through the website dotwatcher.cc, you can follow plenty of races, find familiar names and follow them on their ultracycle. One that made more headlines than most during 2021 was Lachlan Morton’s Alt Tour. He tried to beat the Tour de France peloton to Paris, riding each stage as well as the sometimes-lengthy transfers whilst taking on the monumental challenge unsupported.

And what made it all the more enjoyable for us dotwatchers – myself included – was that we could track Lachlan around France, whilst being able to see how far ahead or behind of the peloton he was every minute of every day. This ride perfectly encapsulated the contrasting worlds of cycling and cycling viewing.

On the one hand you had the glitz and the glamour of the Tour, each stage covered live on TV from kilometre zero, with daily podcasts, newspaper articles and Instagram updates that gave us content from the race every second of the day. Not only that, but you had this large group of riders taking the Tour de France carnival around the country, bringing sporting moments to remember to so many.

On the other hand, you had Lachlan, riding a bike in sandals, buying his baguettes from the local bakery with an army of fans patiently watching his pink dot move around France. There is certainly a place in this world for the two types of cycling, but only one really and truly evokes that sense of adventure we feel as children, riding a bike for the first time and finding what is around the next corner.



There is some irony to dotwatching – as you use technology to live vicariously through an athlete who is competing in the purest of cycling disciplines, harking back to those first Tour de France races, but that is almost part of the charm. Dotwatching may be sitting at a desk, following riders through a website, but you empathise with them probably more than watching a Giro or Vuelta stage.

You know the feeling of forgetting to pack food and running into a shop in search of a Mars bar more than riding in a 100-strong group at 40 kilometres per hour. This empathy, these feelings keep people coming back and this is what creates such a strong community feeling.

As Simon from the aforementioned Apidura article explains: “The TCR dotwatching community is one big, happy family. There are a number of regular ‘anchors’ who hold the watchers together. Sometimes the watching is tense and at times like these the family is a very supportive one.”

If you have never done dotwatching, it’s worth it. Transport yourself into a world from a century ago, and once you’re hooked, you’ll be hitting refresh again and again and again.