The inaugural official world championships in virtual cycling will take place on Wednesday (9 December) when 132 riders from 22 nations take part in the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships in the virtual world of Watopia.
Although a road-based event, the championships will see the best riders across varying disciplines – track, road, Para cycling, mountain bike, and cyclo-cross – compete with and against one another, live from their own home or training base.
As with all other International Cycling Union (UCI) championships, the winner in each race – a men's and women's elite race will be held – will be awarded a world champion's rainbow jersey, both virtually and physically.
Entries to the championships were limited to riders already registered with the UCI and who are part of an accredited anti-doping testing pool, ruling out most amateur cycling esports enthusiasts.
However, a strong field which includes Olympic champions is set to take part.
Speaking to Olympic Channel's Ash Tulloch on an Instagram live interview, track pursuit Olympic champion Elinor Barker noted: "It's the only race in which I'll ever race the Olympic and world champion on the road (Anna van der Breggen), a multiple world champion on the track (Kirsten Wild), and also a multiple Paralympic champion (Sarah Storey), in the same place; in the same race.
"I think it's really fantastic and it's going to be really exciting to see what physical attributes become the most important on the day, because that group of people will have never really raced head-to-head in the same race before." - Elinor Barker to Olympic Channel
Barker is also a host on the Airbnb Olympian Experience, in which she shares her preparatory routine for her training sessions. Find out more at http://airbnb.com/festival.
Gaming and cycling
Cycling esports was approved as an official UCI cycling discipline in 2018, becoming one of the first virtual disciplines to receive official status from its sport's international federation.
As with any esport or game setting, the Zwift platform, on which the championships will be held, features "powerups" for cyclists to use, and two of them will be present during the World Championships, with a 50-50 chance for a rider to be awarded either powerup at each designated location in-race. All riders will receive 11 powerups during the race.
The powerups enabled will be "Aero", making the cyclist more aerodynamic for 15 seconds, and "Lightweight", reducing a cyclist's weight by 10 per cent for the same amount of time. Cyclists had to measure and report their height and weight on video 72 hours before the race, for it to be locked into the virtual system.
In-game, however, all equipment for the race will be neutralised, starting everyone on an even playing field. All competing cyclists were delivered identical trainers for use in the championships.
Both men's and women's races will take place across the same 50.035-km course, with an elevation gain of 483 metres.
The course, 1.6 laps of the "Watopia Figure 8 Reverse Course" on Zwift, will see riders finish on an uphill climb.
UCI Innovation Manager Michael Rogers, a three-time road time trial world champion and Athens 2004 bronze medallist, said he expected the championships to contribute to the new discipline growing further.
"What is extraordinary about cycling esports is its ability to remove physical barriers and bring cyclists together," he told the UCI. "Cycling esports is impartial to your geographical location. Cycling esports uses technology to create opportunities for people to come together, have fun and stay fit at the same time.
"I really look forward to seeing a successful production, a happy and very proud Cycling esports community and to contributing to the creation of more opportunities for Cycling esports going ahead."
Dutch headline women's field
Fresh off the back of winning the women's road race and time trial World Championships double in Imola in September, Olympic road race champion van der Breggen leads a stellar women's field for the inaugural esports championships.
The Dutchwoman was given a wildcard after the Dutch federation initially opted against selecting any riders for the race; teammates Annemiek van Vleuten and Wild join her as the Netherlands look to claim another cycling world title.
Hoping to stop their push will be Germany's Lisa Brennauer, who won the 2020 Challenge by La Vuelta stage race in October, and a strong British team which includes Barker and nine-time Paralympic cycling champion Storey.
Crowded men's field
The men's start list is equally impressive, ranging from Grand Tour general classification favourites and one-day Classics riders to track champions and cyclo-cross stars.
Belgium are also sending a strong team, with UCI hour record holder Victor Campenaerts, former Vuelta a España mountains jersey winner Thomas de Gendt, and current European cyclo-cross champion Eli Iserbyt forming part of a nine-strong squad.
Michael Valgren (Denmark), Ed Clancy (Great Britain), Alberto Bettiol (Italy), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway), and Daryl Impey (South Africa) are among the other riders with Olympic or World Tour triumphs to their names who will hope to challenge for the title.
The 2017 World Triathlon Long-Distance champion, Lionel Sanders of Canada, is also entered in the race, as is the reigning mountain bike cross-country world champion Jordan Sarrou of France.
2020 UCI Cycling Esports World Championships details
Date: 9 December 2020
Women's race: 13:47 Central European Time (UTC +1 hour)
Men's race: 14:45 Central European Time (UTC +1 hour)
Race distance: 50.035 km
Race elevation: 435 m
Participating riders: 78 men from 21 countries; 54 women from 19 countries