It looks like Zwift is getting ready so far. The startup offers an app with virtual worlds that runners, cyclists and triathletes can travel through using their personal treadmill or bike instructor. A virtual avatar will match their performance at home – speeding up when jogging or pedaling faster and going down when their legs start to tire – and taking into account other factors such as drawing. Some treadmills and sneakers slightly adjust the angle to adapt to the slope you are trying to climb.
Zwift has a free ride and guide mode, as well as structured workouts and competitive races. Professional cyclists embraced the latter during COVID-19 and Zwift responded by inserting further events that can be watched on his YouTube channel. These broadcasts don’t have the same production values as the Overwatch League or League of Legends European Championship (LEC), but it’s something that cycling enthusiasts have been able to grasp during a tumultuous period for the industry.
Zwift events are different from traditional races: the curves are automated, for example, and it is more difficult to understand when another cyclist could attack. Some Zwift events also have Mario Kart-style enhancements, which allow the cyclist to become invisible, become lighter or temporarily increase the effects of the drawing. Zwift is not worried about absolute realism and most cyclists have admitted that the platform requires new ideas and strategies.
The competition will take place in six stages which take about an hour to complete.
The virtual Tour de France should be Zwift’s biggest event. The competition will take place in six stages which take about an hour to complete. Men and women will compete separately, just like in real life, but compete on identical courses. The first two stages will take place in Watopia, an imaginary world that Zwift has developed for its wider cycling and running community, with “different visual additions” inspired by Nice, the coastal city that will host the “Grand Départ” of the tour in the real life.
The race will then move to a map of France built specifically for the virtual tour. The final phase, meanwhile, will imitate real life with a Paris circuit that revolves around the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe.
Zwift and ASO, the organizer of the Tour de France in real life, want the event to have a celebratory atmosphere. That’s not to say that races won’t be competitive, though. Twenty-three men’s teams entered the event, including reigning tour champion Egan Bernal and former winners Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome. The women’s competition will be just as fierce, with 17 professional teams including superstar Marianne Vos and Olympic gold medalist Anna van der Breggen.
As in the real life tour, cyclists will be able to compete for the green (best sprinter), polka dot (best climber), white (best novice) and yellow (absolute winner) jerseys. Each category will be decided based on the points, unlike the real life tour, which uses time to decide the yellow jersey, and all the scores will be grouped together to decide the best overall team. Zwift chose this system so that the teams can rotate the knights between the various phases.
Zwift says the competition will be shown on its website, the Global Cycling Network (GCN) app and through television broadcasters in over 130 countries. These include Eurosport (Europe), EurosportAsia (Asia), NBCSN (United States), FloBikes (Canada), SBS (Australia), Zhibo.tv (China) and J Sports (Japan). These partnerships represent a huge opportunity for Zwift to demonstrate that its platform should be taken seriously. Virtual racing cannot replace cycling in the real world, but there is a possibility that it can become a free export that helps teams diversify their revenues and difficult financial crises.
“Today, sports for us are the athletes who compete comfortably from home,” explained Eric Min, CEO of Zwift on the CyclingTips Podcast last month. “Because of the situation we are in. The future is, we go to an arena with 30,000 or 40,000 people, where we can sell tickets, concessions and broadcasting rights. This is the final state.”
It’s not just about professionals. The virtual tour will have a secondary event for amateurs called Virtual l’Etape du Tour de France. Each weekend, Zwift will take a single stage designed for elite cyclists (the first weekend will offer the second phase of the virtual tour, for example) and will organize 16 “mass participation” sessions on Saturday and Sunday. In theory, these will give occasional and club-level cyclists a little taste of the Tour de France and a time or score that they can compare directly with the pros.
The virtual tour will be part of the Tour de France United, a series of events and initiatives that will raise funds for five charity partners: Emmaüs, Secours Populaire, Jeugdfonds Sport and Cultuur, BiJeWa and Qhubeka.
Will Zwift races ever supplant the Tour in real life? Probably not. But if the worst happens and the physical Tour de France is canceled this year, at least the fans will have some sort of replacement to watch and remember.