The Evolution of E-Racing

Words by Tim Fulford, Wahoo Le Col Esports

We were recently looking back at some of the events that were hosted in the indoor cycling space in the 2010’s – from the KISS Crit Finals through to the KISS Super League. With the 2024 Zwift Games just around the corner, we had a quick sit down with Wahoo Le Col team manager Tim Fulford to discuss the evolution of e-racing so, let’s kick things off…

Where did e-racing begin?

Racing in Zwift has really been part of the platform ever since we left Jarvis Island, the original mid-pacific playground of Zwift. When we moved to Watopia small groups of riders would decide on a time and location to meet up, and then in-game chat would announce the start of the race. There were no pens, no results and not even a lap counter. Things have really moved forward since those early days, but the essence is still the same. Come together to get a great workout, try something new, and enjoy what makes Zwift racing and its dynamics so enjoyable.

When did it take a leap forward?

I think there are a number of times that the concept of cycling esports and physical esports has taken leaps forward. From the very beginning, in real life (IRL) events took place in far flung places like Las Vegas, Paris and Vancouver. These were testing the waters of what is possible with Zwift, as well as providing motivation for users to train, race and compete. I think it is undeniable that the global pandemic had a huge impact on the indoor cycling space. When the pros started racing up Zwift’s version of Mt Ventoux in the virtual Tour de France you knew that it was something that was here to stay. It continues to take steps forward in the number of participants each week in races such as Zwift Racing League and now, Zwift Games is set to break those records.

How has cycling e-sports evolved?

With this growth we have seen different formats of competitions, different ways of scoring points which has helped its mass market appeal. Zwift Racing has its hardcore top level races, but you compete with people of your own ability based on your fitness level and your online ‘category’ given to you by Zwift once it determines your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) . Its formats from First Across the line. to Fastest through segment, or fastest lap have allowed people to think outside the box and use the indoor cycling platform to test new and exciting formats. The Wahoo + Zwift partnership has made it easier for new and experienced cyclists to get the hardware and software needed to participate with their Zwift bundle offerings. And taking the evolution one step further, we have seen great popularity of IRL Zwift competitions. I have spent many a night at a Wahoo x Zwift Crank it Up event racing up KOMs or trying to get the fast lap. That allows people to bring the virtual racing to life, meet your fellow competitor IRL and have a couple of beers.

Community events are growing

The Zwift Games is really building on the back of a series of community based events that have seen mass market appeal. There is that elite competition but alongside that any Zwift user can experience the same feeling in their legs. The best real life example would be one of those “the day before sportives” that they do for Tour of Flanders, L’Etape du Tour or Paris Roubaix, you aren’t flying around at the same pace as the pros, but you are getting the same experience. This enables Zwift and partners to help build that in-it-together community feel. There is a bit of an unspoken rule that events after April and before September aren’t going to get much traction due to people wanting to cycle outside, but I think with continued initiatives and community growth through these sorts of events, there is no reason why indoor can’t be all year round, in the same way that IRL velodromes are used all year.

Thoughts on Zwift Games? “World Champs for all”

Zwift Games brings together everything that we as a small community are trying to achieve.. Let’s see what the best in the world can do, but it’s not forgetting to provide access and opportunity to all those that might want to be involved or try to ride the same routes as those “indoor pros”. We at the Wahoo Le Col team have aimed to encourage not only our Grand Prix team to get involved, but challenged the rest of our 250 rider strong team to test themselves, get outside their comfort zone and enjoy the process – all with the support of an inclusion community that just all want to see this new cycling discipline grow.

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