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Zwift goes live in front of an audience at Las Vegas World Cup

Stu Bowers
13 Apr 2017

An intriguing look into the inaugural World Cup, and virtual cycling e-sports in general, in a chat with 4th-place Brit Kim Little

Last weekend saw a world first event – the inaugural Cycligent CVR (Cycligent Virtual Rankings) World Cup held live in Las Vegas, which took this e-sport to the next level, bringing 10 of the World’s best Zwifters out from behind their computer screens to compete head to head in front of a live audience.

Not only was this a test event for how virtual bike racing works as a spectator sport, but it also removes any doubt. A common criticism of Zwift is ‘online cheating’ or ‘cyber-doping’, where riders may be hiding behind falsely claimed data. In this arena the smart trainers (Wahoo Kickrs) were all calibrated and verified plus each rider’s weight and height measured just prior to competing to ensure fair play and to make the racing as believable as possible.

For anyone not familiar with Zwift, the concept is for riders to compete online against each another, in a bunch race, but unlike other video games that can be played whilst sipping beer on the sofa, Zwift requires real physical effort. Rider’s avatars compete on screen with others based entirely on pedalling data transmitted from a smart trainer or power meter, so although they are competing in a virtual world the effort is very real.

When it launched in 2014 the naysayers were quick to do it down. Cycling as part of a multi-player online game seemed like kids stuff, and certainly not the place for those who are serious about their training. But Zwift has gone from strength to strength, building a vast global, online community of ‘virtual racers’, that includes many pros, who find this platform a highly addictive way to get their cycling fix. 

Representing Great Britain in the men’s event was Kim Little, selected off the back of being one of the highest ranked Zwift riders in the UK. Little finished in 4th place in the race that fittingly used the 2015 World Road Championship course in Richmond, U.S., as the basis for this online test event.

Although he tells Cyclist he was a little disappointed not to be on the podium, fourth place was indeed a highly creditable result given the calibre of the men’s field that included several National Champions from their respective countries, such as Belize and Australia, not to mention current masters world road race and time trial champion, U.S. rider, Scottie Weiss, who Little described as, ‘weighing 54kg with a power-to-weight that’s off the charts.’

We were keen to find out how Zwifting took Little from his home in Shaftesbury, Dorset, to the World Cup stage in Las Vegas.

Where did it start for you?

‘I admit I’m a bit of a tech geek and I was a keen user of other turbo trainer based programs, like Trainer Road and Sufferfest, before Zwift came along. Zwift seemed like a big step up in terms of both interaction and interest so it fuelled my passion for cycling and tech combined.'

So has this online platform replaced your other forms of cycling?

‘I wouldn’t say Zwift has replaced all other types of cycling for me, I still like to get out on my road bike and mountain bike too, but I guess I do the majority of my intervals and racing online on Zwift now.

How does it compare to real-world racing?

'It does demand different abilities and skills from real life racing, but there are very advanced drafting algorithms in game, which make tactics and group dynamics important too, so true to life it’s not always the strongest guys in terms of power who win the races.'

Interview continues on page 2. Click through on tab below.

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