Virtual Racing

In the last few weeks we’ve seen several virtual races held online. Necessity is the mother of invention and it’s been a way for the sport to continue with all the cancelled races. It’s a poor substitute for real racing that serves only to remind us just how sophisticated a real race can be with tactics, weather and landscapes combining to create something special. Virtual racing seems designed for a limited audience but this is the start and there’s space to trial a variety of formats.

Unlike other e-sports, cycling actually involves pedaling and physical exertion. This is the unique selling point… and the problem. We’ve seen football stars playing FIFA and motor racing pros racing in Gran Turismo on their Playstations but all from the comfort of their armchairs and sofas. There are innate skills such as reaction times but arguably a large part of the appeal here is the celebrity element, to see Lewis Hamilton on the same platform as you might have; or the tribal aspect where a football club has such huge support that fans will tune in for almost anything being done by a star player, for example Ronaldo cutting grass or loading the dishwasher could still attract plenty. Pro cycling lacks this, Belgium aside arguably it doesn’t have the same celebrity pull. The physical aspect of having to pedal and break out into a sweat should be a selling point but so far it’s proving to be a leg-press competition that’s lacking drama and highlights how much of road cycling’s appeal comes from the landscape, terrain, weather and tactics as well as sweat and fatigue.

The Digital Swiss races have lacked suspense, typically a rider has taken the lead early and kept it to the end. You could watch in the hope some started too fast and would crack but this hare and tortoise scenario never really happened. This is partly down to the Rouvy software platform, it allows users to have virtual rides via footage of real roads which might be enjoyable for lone users in their basement wanting a virtual ride on a majestic mountain pass but the software gives no aerodynamic advantage if a rider places their avatar behind another one. Drafting is the essence of road racing, so to lose this aspect is to forfeit a lot of the sport’s tactical sophistication.

The Zwift races incorporate the slipstream effect but with more of a gaming experience with virtual landscapes and riders able to deploy various power-ups and so far these have been essential to the two wins in the series on Eurosport in the last two days. It’s an interesting contrast and allows for more freedom and creativity in the format but relies on the audience knowing what these features mean and so it’s presumably confusing for people unfamiliar to Zwift.

Team Sunweb’s Nicolas Roche has been an online success in these races and did a good interview with the Chasse Patate podcast (in French) pondering the equality of the virtual world: does your internet connection matter, are everyone’s trainers calibrated the same and so on? He suggested having all competitors in the same building on the same devices as a theoretical solution. Even then it’d be difficult, right now gathering everyone in the same gymnasium is out of the question, plus power meters from the same manufacturer can vary and teams have different equipment sponsors. This brings us to the structural problem where it’s possible to get a peloton on the start line for a real race but how to do this for teams sponsored by Elite, Wahoo and Tacx, and if Geraint Thomas and Mathieu van der Poel are paid to promote Zwift are they contractually excluded from Rouvy? And so on.

The Giro plays in the background of many a bar or caffè in Italy

But the bigger question is who does this interest? If you’re reading a niche blog here then you’re a hardcore cycling fan but pro cycling works because it reaches the mass market, not you or I. It literally travels to people, visiting towns and even villages that other sports don’t and when it’s on television it attracts millions who aren’t big cycling fans but tune in for the Tour of Flanders, the Giro and especially the Tour de France. This explains why the likes of Sunweb, CCC, Bora, Soudal or Groupama pay millions for title sponsorship instead of Wahoo, Tacx or Powerbar. The virtual Tour of Flanders got an audience of 600,000 compared to the habitual million or more which is good but probably exceptional: this is cycling-mad Flanders, it was a novelty and there was a captive audience locked in their homes and probably won’t translate to the same audience in France or Italy, let alone the UK or USA and isn’t the sort of thing you can imagine on TV or radio in the back of a bar. It’s a few years old now but an opinion poll in France asked what drew people to watch the Tour de France on TV and it wasn’t the race: the largest segment of the audience tuned in for the scenery. As such the Tour de France doubles as a travel program, as do other races, and this segment of the audience is lost automatically to e-racing. If anything e-racing is doubling-down on the niche within a niche element as it’s a blunt version of sport that stresses on-screen displays of watts and power-weight ratios while only a subset of cyclists use power data. Still if the sport can’t reach the mass market today then tapping into the loyal base is still of interest, especially to some technical sponsors.

As a work-in-progress there’s a blank canvas, if something isn’t working today it could be fixed for tomorrow. Ideally a virtual race should have drafting as this is the essence of road racing but there’s a chance to import other aspects from cycling and beyond to make online events more exciting, for example copying a track elimination race where, say, the last rider in the bunch each kilometre gets cut from the race. Perhaps we embrace the idea that these events are no copy and instead try “wacky races” whether it’s a further gamification of the races with more bonuses, virtual patches of oil that cost riders virtual time or even Pellos-style monsters brandishing giant hammers. There’s a lot to think about, fundamentally should e-racing mimic road racing or use the freedom of a virtual world to offer something completely different? Both formats can co-exist and appeal to different audiences.

Virtual races are no substitute for the real thing, whether as entertainment for fans or reaching the mass audience that team sponsors crave. These online races seem designed to appear to a subset of hardcore cycling fans but reaching them is still worthwhile and hopefully it doesn’t cost too much to develop, promote and broadcast these races and in turn help make side sponsorship deals with indoor training suppliers more valuable. The formats need work but this is a new concept that didn’t exist two months ago and there’s a blank canvas ahead with open questions about whether to make online racing even more like the real thing or to use the virtual experience to make the racing completely different.

70 thoughts on “Virtual Racing”

  1. I’d rather live in a world with no cycling at all than watching any more of this nonsense.

    JFTR, this is okay to do it and use these software games for riders to train and stay fit.
    But it’s an embarrassment for all involved to watch grown ups in full team kit sweating on their basement trainers while some cheap early 90s pixels jitter through Supermario landscapes.
    And it will never come near any aspects of real cycling races.

    • +1
      I cannot believe anyone in his right frame of mind is watching this crap. But having watched the entire hysteria which unfolded in the last few months, nothing will surprise me anymore.

    • It’s not grabbing me much either, there is the “better than nothing” argument but nothing doesn’t really exist with distractions aplenty online to catching up on old books and everything else possible, arguably even an indoor ride is more satisfying than watching someone else ride indoors. But some are watching and I wonder where this will go next, even if the virus is beaten and long forgotten it’s likely some form of online racing exists, perhaps on winter evenings etc.

      • Let’s not forget that Virtual Racing was a thing long before the coronavirus lockdown; it has been a growing phenomenon at an amateur/club level, for those that fancy a mid-week hammerfest, but also with programs like the Zwift Academy feeding into professional contracts.

        Virtual racing is here to stay and its likely the lockdown will only boost the uptake. However, having watched a few of the pro-offerings over the last few weeks, I agree, it completely lacks the soul of a real race. You can’t really criticise the teams and race organisers for trying to protect their interests and give *something* back to their sponsors in these difficult times though…

        • Have to agree with Adam. Got to applaud them for trying. And it’s probably served a few purposes – like keeping sponsors’ names in the limelight – but the cycling itself hasn’t been up to much, although I think everyone knew it was always going to be a pale imitation of the real thing. As for Ronaldo filling a dishwasher…I doubt he knows how to open one!

      • I would genuinely say that nothing would be better than e-racing. I’ve watched tiny snippets and instantly turned off. It probably won’t help that I don’t use any of the platforms. As you say real cycling is about all sorts of things. The slow tension build, the landscape, the chatter from the commentators and probably most importantly the fact that it is real. I don’t even see the appeal of using it for training. I go on the turbo to do my workout and have a bit of music as a distraction. I don’t feel like I need to watch myself in a bad computer game cycling up a volcano. Plus half the time if I’m really giving it welly then I’ve got my eyes closed or I’m looking at the floor hoping for it all to end.

        • or Staring at my numbers. If your workout intervals are set right, those only are stimulating enough.

          OTH, if you are doing a zone 2 exercise, Zwift would probably get you into the wrong zone.

    • Agreed. Cycling will always be a mode of transport first and a sport second. The beauty of both is you will be physically transported somewhere else, experiencing the world around you in a way zeros and ones are never going to replace.

  2. I would literally prefer to watch paint dry than watch indoor bike racing. It’s nice that Zwift has “drafting”, but the whole video game aspect of it with “power ups” and similar crap is utterly unappealing. Thankfully I live in a place where getting outside to ride is allowed, and on the gravel roads at least, almost 100% certain to keep you away from just about everyone else.

  3. Yes, this seems not to be the way forward. At their core, most successful virtual games are closer in concept to boardgames than to realistic simulations of the world. Flight Simulator belongs is in the latter category but a better analogy for most others is go or chess. The natural-world tactics and strategy of the battlefield were too complex to model realistically so they were replaced in the gameworld by simple, even crude algorithmic rules that – surprisingly – still generate increadibly complex stategy and tactics that just happen to have little or nothing to do with the their real-world counterpart.

    Road race tactics and strategy are also complex, subtle and, I fear, impossible to implement realistically in any virtual game. Zwift was sucessful a means to make basement trainer sessions less boring for the participant but I suspect that for any type of virtual racing to became engaging for spectators it will have to become as stylized as chess or go are in relation to real warfare.

    I suspect that is the true challenge beyond the mere technicalities of powermeter calibration, connectivity and rendering quality.

    • Ugh! Pressed submit too soon. Sorry for the missing/leftover words. And how the heck does one turn off italics in these comments?

  4. Unless the “power ups” include Mario Kart style bananas, koopa shells and lightening bolts I just don’t care. Bike racing is a beautiful combination of human effort pitted against the counters of the earth itself. We love to see the strongest and smartest riders suffer but then prevail, spending time to look at people on turbo trainers is about as appealing as the Crossfit “games” which is essentially watching other people work out. No thanks.

    • I wonder too, would a Mario Kart version be interesting… or just gimmicky? It sounds funny to imagine a cartoon avatar of Vincenzo Nibali chucking banana skins towards his rivals but after three minutes would the fun wear off?

  5. Cycle racing is, at its most elemental, about physics, at the tyre/surface interface, rider/wind/drafting strategies, and power to weight ratio in the hills and mountains. There is no way all of this can be replicated using the iconic courses of cycling’s rich history indoors.

      • Surely that’s already something that video games have done? With driving you see the pure recreation of the sport in gran turismo to the basic concept made fun in the likes of mario kart. There’s clearly an audience for both there, why not in virtual cycling?

        Per the other comments above, it is many times more difficult to go down the purist route in virtual cycling, and thus it seems more viable and sustainable to build something more ‘fun’ and less for the purist (who pooh pooh the concept anyway).

        • To “gamify” cycling to adapt it to virtual technology might make some sense, but what would make it compelling to watch as a spectator? For me, personally, part of what makes the races special is the history of the place/route as well as the length of time the races have been held, some since the 1890’s. These are well and truly the monuments of cycling and there’s just no way that a video game could replace that for me.

  6. I watched the Virtual Ronde, more out of a sense of supporting an effort rather than having any expectations of drama or entertainment. It was the stupidest thing I watched all that week, which is saying something, because I was bored enough to watch “Smokey & the Bandit” that week as well.

    Technical issues and production values aside (they threw it together rather quickly), it just wasn’t that compelling to watch, for all of the above stated reasons. However, there is a huge market for spectators watching others play video games and for e-Sports in general.

    Thus, while we are on the bleeding edge of professional virtual bike racing, I expect it to be here to stay. The production bugs, competition rules, and sponsorship conflicts will work themselves out over time. While it isn’t a replacement for outside road racing, it is another opportunity for exposure for riders & teams, as well as for media coverage, particularly in off and slow seasons.

    • “However, there is a huge market for spectators watching others play video games and for e-Sports in general.”

      The huge difference between these video games e-“Sports” and cycling on Zwift is, that everybody can easily play these games themselves on a decent home computer or game console. And that’s the reason why people watch it, cause they are players too. These e-“Sports” came from couch players in basements into large arenas and then on tv screens.
      Zwift and others are the total opposite: to become a participant you need expensive equipment almost nobody has at home, let alone a bike. They would need to bring the game from the tv screen into the basements. And no couches involved.

    • Personally I Zwift a lot. Being a small guy, I really enjoy the draft of the big guys, just to overtake them in a small hill and to rush to the finish. This type of tactics is something that did not play in the virtual Tour of Flanders. I do believe that this TV “trial” did not do the e-cycling community any good, as it was utterly boring, because there was no drafting possible, so no tactics, pure power. And it had a huge number of spectators, which are all now thinking that e-races are boring.

      This is absolutely not true. On Zwift, where drafting is possible, most races are quite tactical and it’s much more than just pedal pushing. These days, Team Jumbo-Visma is organizing a race every Sunday at 10:00 and the first two editions have been really entertaining, with many interviews with the riders (even during the race). The race last Sunday was won by Wout Van Aert, this weeks race was won by Mike Teunissen. Because it was a team-internal event, all riders were on the same setup (Neo 2), which gives out absolute power numbers, so at least the calibration issue between smart trainers was eliminated. Also, with the Pros learning more and more about the tactical possibilities, the races get more and more varied and entertaining, with early attacks that get caught back, etc…

      But, it’s true, you need to have raced on the e-platform before, in order to understand all the tactical subtleties. And as most people do have a bike, but no smart trainer, it’s more difficult to get into it…

      • I agree with this – whilst the gamified graphics of Zwift aren’t for everyone, the racing dynamics are impressive and surprisingly lifelike. I’ve been zwifting for years, but had never tried racing on it as I’d been doing all my racing outdoors in real bike races. But due to lockdown I’ve given Zwift racing a go, and now I’m hooked!

        As an amateur racer, Zwift racing has a lot of advantages over the real thing:
        – It’s quick and hassle-free, and doesn’t take up your entire weekend or require painfully early wake ups
        – If something goes wrong (you have bad legs, have a e-mechanical aka network problems, or a [computer] crash) it doesn’t ruin your entire day – you simply sign up to the next race and try again
        – You’re able to ride much more interesting parcours than you may be able to do in real life
        – It’s a lot more accessible for novice racers, or even experienced ones
        – You can (sometimes) race against the pros!

        Is it the same as real bike racing? Of course not. There’s no cornering, handling skill, physcial positioning, factoring of wind or weather etc…But the drafting effect in zwift helps to replicate real-life racing dynamics surprisingly well – solo riders at a great disadvantage to the bunch, the bunch stringing out over climbs and forming into small breaks/chase groups, good positioning needed for the sprint etc. And I can imagine it’ll only get better over time…

        I honestly see Zwift as being something that will help to grow/save the sport of cycling.

  7. Get out on the bike. This stuff is no where near bike racing.

    Reminds me too much of Sinclair’s original computer graphics for his video games – and that was in the 80s.

    • Get out on the bike?
      Have you been living under a rock or do you not get that a lot of the pros have been living in apartments and houses in Spain and Italy and banned from getting out on their bikes?

  8. This week’s Zwift races have been a marked improvement on the earlier Ronde/Swiss events which were just indoor TTs

    It does have its place and as someone who watches both the key to it being watchable are the things you wouldn’t see in real life like power ups. In fact Zwift is now testing an F1 style KERS system for some races where you can stash some watts away for a short turbo boost at some points

  9. I’m all about indoor cycling, but I really don’t see the point of watching it. As many here, I assume, I tried watching one of those “races”, and must have held for about 10min, including the 5min of preview commentary. And that’s in spite of my general nerdiness – I’m one who even finds real e-sports fun to watch sometimes.

    It doesn’t help, of course, that the competitive aspect kind of looks like a farce, with self-reported biological values and probably a big discrepancy between setups. So basically we’re looking at a training session, with meaningless commentary.

    On a related note, for those looking for a great way to boost FTP on zwift, I recommend Romain Feillu’ “salad spinner” workout plan:

    I wish teams (and sponsors) had been a bit more innovative about what to broadcast during this period. Interviews of fitness coaches or riders explaining their schedule could have been fun to watch. Ditto DS talking about their thinking behind team squad selection or race tactics… Most of them have been around for decades, don’t they have any anecdotes to share? It would have been such a better way to engage fans, and maybe even develop a bit of a team-based fandom.

    • +1. I haven’t watched any such races and have zero interest. It’s just not for me. But I always appreciate our host’s work, so whatever is written here, I’ll read so at the very least I can learn a little about this stuff.

  10. You have to understand that indoor cycling firstly is not a leisure activity, it’s a fitness activity. And then comparing virtual racing to racing outside is like comparing apples to oranges. They are two different disciplines, with differing advantages and disadvantages (such as power ups vs drafting). There’s a reason pros were moaning that they couldn’t win races on Zwift – they aren’t adapted to it like some of the seasoned racers who know the courses inside out and can put out pro level watts for 20 minutes.
    I think that if it gets more of the fitness crowd watching World Tour teams racing bikes, then maybe 5 or 10 percent will switch on in the autumn (fingers crossed) and that is only a good thing.

    • That being said, watching the virtual races isn’t the greatest. The Ineos team race was effectively a one hour time trial. But I’m sure things will improve as the programs evolve and become more profitable.

    • The reason amateur racers put out pro level watts is because they’re cheating their wkg. ZwiftPower be damned. These races are pure wkg battles from the start to the end

  11. Well, it’s pretty clear from the comments. If it doesn’t appeal much to readers of the INRNG there is zero chance of the general public getting anything at all out of watching it.

    • Really? I took one look at the topic of the article and predicted (very, very correctly) the tone of the comments here. This site’s comment community is so very conservative – don’t like races outside of Europe (it’s okay as a warmup before the real thing starts at Het Volk), not interested in women’s races, etc.
      Were they ever going to be positive about this?

      • Chris nails it on the head. The whole piece is a dog whistle for the curmud… I mean traditionalists. E-races have been what they were intended to be – a somewhat pleasant diversion from the seriousness of what’s been happening. Just something to do and talk about. To slag them on here is just being simple minded and self indulgent.

  12. Just a question on the calendar….under the current UCI rules if a rider quits the Giro after two weeks, and then lines up at the start line for Paris Roubaix (which overlaps with the last stage of the Giro), will he be permitted to start?

    • Normally you need the permission from the race you have quit to be able to start a race you’d have missed had you stayed in. It’s granted for reasonable cases, eg you crash out or had a sudden illness but recovered. But not if you wanted to sit out the mountain stages etc however there might be more flexibility now, many of the rules about participation are being relaxed, the question is whether the riders doing the classics already will want to give up their spot, the classics riders have only a few days left to race as well.

  13. I don’t think this is being put forward as any sort of equivalent to WT racing by anyone.
    You have a bunch of racers unable to race, training inside, so they’ve cobbled together something. I don’t think any WT team is considering this lasting beyond the global lockdown.
    As for an audience for existing online racing, I think it comes from the platforms rather than fans of pro cycling. If you’re on Zwift, you might be interested in seeing people do what you do to a whole other level. Would football fans be interested in a FIFA 20 tournament? Probably not, but players of the game might be.

    • Agree Chris – all the comments from people complaining about this makes me wonder, did they actually expect this to be the same as real racing?!? Of course it never was…. and it’s up to people to taper their own expectations.

      I’m just glad there is another potential revenue source for the cycling community – this sport is always in need of bringing in further revenue streams.

      With all that being said, why would you tune in to watch this? haha It is interesting to talk about, but to watch? C’mon! Why would you even use these things either? Sitting on the trainer sucks no matter what the forum and to pay for the privildge??

  14. I’m in the minority here. I have enjoyed the racing thus far. I am definitely a hardcore fan, so I cannot speak to the public reaction writ large. What I have enjoyed the most isn’t the in game view, but the shots of pros blasting out watts with unbelievable souplesse. In my experience, that gets missed many times in the camera shots on course. Also, I try to have a positive attitude about it under the circumstances. It’s nice to see Rohan Dennis’ smile after his TT victory up Alpe d’Zwift or Stybar talking to his son after a sweaty workout.

    One last note, and I get that it may just be me, but I will take the virtual Ronde any day over the 130 mile flat stages of the Tour.

  15. I was horrified to discover that the virtual racing on Eurosport was being called by the horribly real Carlton Kirby. I lasted thirty seconds.

    • I can only imagine…”And the basking shark seems to have raised is w/kg [is that the proper terminology?] to an impressive level as he hoves ’round the bend…Aru is pulling virtual faces–and only he can pull a face like that–and oh!!! His internet connection has gone…tough break at a bad time in the race. Sean, I know you don’t own a computer but have you ever experienced anything like that?”

      I don’t know if they do it any longer, but when I used to live in Berlin, at the end of the broadcast day (can you recall when the broadcast day used to end?), they would broadcast footage shot from the front of an S-Bahn train. At Christmas they would show a fire sometimes. Perfect if one was utterly stoned or reeling from a night out. That would be more interesting to me than watching people’s power numbers go up and down on a screen.

      • Back when Sky used to include lots of European satellite channels, those German tram rides were essential viewing for the mashed and senseless in Britain too.

      • This “slow TV” has a been popular in Norway too. It’s probably part of the Tour de France’s appeal as people tune in for the slow shots of the peloton passing fields of sunflowers, the chateaux etc. It’s nice as background.

        • I really don’t get the hate for Carlton Kirby. As Inrng is pointing out in this (and other) pieces, a large and increasing part of the appeal of cycling is the whole surround– the landscapes and communities that the peloton roll past, the characters on and off the course, etc etc.

          I actually think Carlton Kirby is a good fit with that broader picture. You may be offended by Kirby’s inadequate hard-core cycling knowledge, or his style may simply grate on you (fair enough), but you can’t fault his passion and his keen eye for some of the bit players, the surrounding scenes, and the many quirky hijinks that happen inside and alongside pro cycling.

          At the risk of inviting wrath and/or ridicule from the many Carlton-haters, I will admit that as one of the folks curious about virtual racing during the pandemic, I tuned into the virtual Ronde– and my main thought was “hmm, this is basically boring and the announcer is making it more so. I wish Carlton Kirby was calling this!”.

          • I like to make fun of Kirby, but I’m not a hater by any stretch, just to be clear. At times he grates. But I appreciate his quirks and what not. It sure beats listening to newer commentators talk about power numbers, etc. His horrid puns can be entertaining.

            I just wish all commentators would be quiet more. I used to live in Philadelphia and we had the greatest TV baseball play-by-play guy, Harry Kalas. He never felt the need to speak. He would let the ambient sound take over for many seconds at a time. You could read a sentence or two in a Thomas Mann novel between his comments. He had a voice that people said was like whiskey and honey. But it was his quiet that made him so beloved. As well as his home run call.

            We don’t need a commentator repeating the same thing over and over, or telling us how beautiful the pictures are that we’re seeing. Rob Hatch is the worst violator in this regard.

          • My primary issue with Kirby is that he doesn’t commentate on what is happening (he rambles whatever is inside his head). The major problem with this is that you cannot follow a race he is commentating on unless you are watching it – i.e. you can’t have it on while doing other things and then return to the screen when it gets interesting because by the time Kirby has noticed many minutes will have passed.

          • The main reason that Kirby gets up the noses of fans is that he can ramble on even when something important and interesting is happening in the race. So for a normal bike race he’s irritating and for a major bike race he’s often completely hopeless. But he’s fine for bike races where there either isn’t a lot going on or where the spectacle is the thing rather than the result.

            So, for example, he’s great for commentary on six-day racing which is (nearly) all showmanship and his famous ‘joy for cycling fans globally!’ ravings about Iljo Keisse in Turkey a few years ago are spine-tingling.

            I haven’t watched any of these virtual races and would rather nail my tongue to a fully-functioning hotplate than do so but if I did then I would be surprised if the experience were not made just that little bit more bearable by the stream-of-consciousness burbling of the Kirbster.

    • If anything in the cycling world can easily be replaced by a virtual counterpart, then it’s Carlton Kürbis.
      A ten year old could write a bot that’s repeating the same phrases every day and an obligatory finish line orgasm, for the time being.

  16. It’s interesting to read the snotty remarks from some on here, Inrng’s tone isn’t much better.
    If you take a look at the viewing figures you’ll see there is plenty of people interested, so it must be working on some level. I for one hope it becomes even more popular just to boil the piss of the grouches on this blog. Haha.

    • It might be interesting cycling fans but it’s probably a subset of fans. It’s unlikely to reach the mass market for now, perhaps there’s a group of Zwift users who until now couldn’t care less about pro cycling who might stay tuned for an outdoor “real” race but it’s otherwise limited at the moment. I’m interested to see where it goes as a concept.

      • I agree, it’s certainly a subset of fans who are interested, but I’d say there is a fair few of them and there is a a load of content to be made/views to be had on YouTube.
        Zwift racing doesn’t have to become the next version of professional cycling, and it doesn’t have to please everyone, if a couple of thousand fans get some enjoyment from it and the sponsors get some coverage then I’m all for it. Even if it’s not quite as enjoyable as riding outdoors or watching the proper racing.

        • I have to agree with you. Pro cycling and it’s followers do seem to be ultra-conservative at anything new/different. People need to take a wider view. I wasn’t a fan of e-Sports at all before this Covid-19 outbreak. However, I gave it a chance, most especially the motorsport versions; the ones which have done it well have been the series who have used the simulation platforms, and taken it seriously, and have been ‘official’ with the proper drivers, commentary, TV graphics, etc
          And has been pointed out on the coverage, it’s an opportunity to give exposure for sponsors, manufacturers, drivers, etc Just sitting back and not doing anything isn’t good enough. Of all sports, cycling is poor at promoting itself, and raising revenue – anything that can give a bit of exposure for sponsors is better than nothing.
          People don’t have to like it; I’m still not sure on the cycling e-Sports, as it doesn’t take in to account all the variables, and is basically a test of fitness, watts, etc but it’s here to stay.

  17. The Dutch Eurosport broadcast of yesterday’s Alpe du Swift stage suffered the ignominy of recording a TV-rating of 0 (i.e. too low to measure). Earlier stages drew 3.000, 7.000, 4.000 and 7.000 viewers. So an average audience of just over 4.000.

    For comparison:

    Average Dutch Eurosport audiences for the lesser early season one week races:
    – Algarve: 91.000
    – Andalusia: 53.000
    – Valencia: 46.000

    Average Dutch TdF audience (public broadcaster): 800.000

    In short: not a ratings hit.

  18. As a long time zwift rider I think it’s fantastic to see the pros taking these virtual races ‘seriously’being able to see close up reactions and actual data is fascinating..

    The gamification aspect can easily be turned off and there are a high proportion of zwift races that dont use them so that is an easy fix.

    I think that what is causing some problems is the short race distances and small team numbers which casue typical world tour strategies to be useless and results in a different race story to the usual breakaway of no names-150km of slowly reeling them back in- set piece climbs/sprints in last hour of racing. Ironically zwift doesn’t think people will be interested in watching 6h of racing so they are only offering shorter events which play out as a whittling down.

    I also think that cycling fans are inherently conservative and resistant to change as well. Hell the classics change their courses or a new race tries to get up in China and everyone loses their marbles so I doubt that many traditionalists will ever be keen for something that seems so futuristic.

    • That was only part of my question. Virtual racing is one thing that has changed for the pros. What else has changed? This is not like normal off season and it’d be really interesting to know more about the impacts on pro life like nutrition, PED testing, strength training, flexibility, others?

      • I guess we won’t be getting statistically significant results on the impact of performance enhancement drugs on covid-19 survival rates any time soon then.

        • Such a study would be biased anyway, since I’m not aware of either the UCI or any other WADA member (whether a sport or a national body) ordering the analysis of samples from athletes who are now dead.

  19. Zwifft and the similar Sh*te like it make me despise modern cycling and the zombies who partake I despise too! Bit of a fence sitter me, always have been.

  20. Watching Zwift races was better than watching the Digital Swiss 5, its not outdoor racing, but it is a chance to see elite athletes going really deep into the effort – i argue that you see more suffering on the indoor races than the outdoor – no sunglasses or helmets obscure riders faces on the live streams, and the competitive instinct is still there.

    The sponsors have to do something, they pay to promote their brand, and that avenue has disappeared, but now you can get your name out there – just look at the roll-up displays behind the riders with all the sponsors names when the races are broadcast.

    Its not perfect, its not the same as the nuances of bunch racing, but it is definitely racing.. and i bet a fair few millennial fans are enjoying it.

    And on a participation note, as an average cyclist the ability to line up against so many pros, and group ride or race against them, i’ll take that, i know i’ve really liked being on the start line of one of the many races on zwift and seeing numerous pro riders join the race.. and you know what at the end in the results… your name is in there with the pros… makes me smile everytime.

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