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How virtual platforms are championing women in cycling

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18 Mar 2022
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Platforms such as Zwift offer companionship, training and even the chance to forge a career as a professional

The virtual world is playing an increasingly significant role in cycling and the pandemic has only accelerated its trajectory, particularly the impact it is having on women’s cycling.  

Offering countless races, groups and workouts, virtual cycling presents an abundance of opportunity for female cyclists to ride with others, train, and even become professional cyclists.

It is a place where real-life barriers do not exist. You can ride against anyone, anywhere and at any time, regardless of your usual discipline. 

What’s more, while in the real world there may be different distances, prize money and ultimately a different perspective on men’s and women’s cycling, on platforms like Zwift there is a level playing field.

Limitless training

Virtual cycling platforms provide a place for women to train and race without the many limitations which might exist in the real world.

It benefits women who don’t have the time to travel to races, whether that be due to work, childcare or other commitments and makes cycling accessible to many women because it can be as simple as getting on a trainer in your own home.

The virtual cycling world also completely removes any real-world barriers that exist between disciplines. It is the only place where you might find yourself racing against a mountain biker, paracyclist, road cyclist, or anyone else for that matter, and from anywhere in the world.

Zwift has many women-only groups which provide a great training platform for all abilities to achieve their goals.

Many groups offer guidance on hitting new personal records, race tactics, giving ‘Ride Ons’ and ultimately improving performance. They offer the chance to experience and enjoy a supportive and sociable cycling environment, which not everyone has access to in the real world. 

Zwift has actively worked to enhance the experience for female riders, with events like the Rapha Women’s 100 being accessible exclusively to women – only those registered as women can sign up.

While virtual cycling means you can train with others from all around the world, another huge attraction is the opportunity to ride alongside professionals and cycling champions.

Cyclists such as Elinor Barker and Anna van der Breggen use Zwift to train for races, and to keep fit, and so sharing the road with these women offers an inspiring and motivating training environment and something that wouldn’t be possible in the real world.

Become a pro

For those with serious cycling ambitions, Zwift doesn’t just offer the potential to train and ride alongside professionals, but the platforms have also become an effective talent identification tool and can leads to opportunities they might not otherwise have access to.

Zwift’s Academy is a great example of this, and is a virtual leader in providing aspiring amateur cyclists the chance of becoming a professional. Since 2016, pro team Canyon-SRAM has selected women through a series of competitions on Zwift as part of the Zwift Academy.

The most recent recipient was 18-year-old Maud Oudeman from the Netherlands, who was the Academy’s winner in December 2021.

Oudeman is the sixth winner of the Zwift Academy, following in the footsteps of the likes of Ella Harris and Neve Bradbury, both now fully fledged pro cyclists riding for Canyon-SRAM.

Other UCI teams have also used the platform to find new teammates. In 2021 Movistar launched its Movistar Team Challenge and offered five men and five women the chance to join the Movistar E-Team.

And it doesn’t stop there. South African professional cyclist Ashleigh Moolman Pasio credits her contract with SD Worx to her results in the virtual world.

Parity

Virtual cycling doesn’t just provide opportunities for women, it is also advocates a level playing field, particularly in terms of equal pay. 

It is no secret that this age-old issue negatively impacts women cyclists in the real world, given the pay disparity prevalent between men’s and women’s professional cycling.

For instance, Lizzie Deignan received €1,535 for winning the first edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes, compared to €30,000 for her male counterpart. Her Trek-Segafredo team, while not obliged to do so, chose to make up this stark difference in prize money.

However in the virtual world of cycling, pay disparity isn’t evident. Zwift champions a level playing field with races of equal distance and equal prize money.

In July 2020, Zwift hosted a virtual Tour de France which presented the opportunity for pro women to compete under the Tour de France name, something that will only become an option this year in the real world and which Zwift is sponsoring. The women’s race offered an equal course to the men’s, equal prize money and all six stages were broadcast live on Eurosport.

Zwift also hosted the first ever UCI eSports cycling world championships in 2021, where men and women were awarded equal prize money and raced the same distance. Zwift will host this year’s championship as well.

The virtual cycling world has become a key proponent for women’s cycling, providing a place to train, to ride with inspirational women and even the opportunities to become a pro. And in this world, Zwift is playing a critical role in generating and nurturing growth in women’s cycling.

• To see where Zwift could take you, sign up here for a free 7-day trial and then subscribe for £12.99 a month