The pandemic has wreaked havoc on all kinds of professional sports this year, and cycling is not immune. For example, the most famous race on the planet, the Tour de France, normally organized in July, had to be postponed from August 29 to September 20.
This does not mean that the world – and professional cyclists – cannot enjoy world class racing this summer. In fact, starting this weekend, 23 top male and 17 female teams will participate in a virtual version of the event which is hosted by six-year-old Zwift after being chosen by the official race organizer. real tour, Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), as a partner of the event.
This is a coup for Long Beach, California, a company whose multiplayer video game technology is used by amateur and professional cyclists and which, according to Outside magazine, is now the world’s biggest player in full swing. growth in online shopping.
Investors have noticed, funding the company to the tune of $ 170 million so far, said co-founder and CEO Eric Min.
This tour also has the potential to drive many more users.
On the one hand, the virtual version of the event, which will include six stages which will last approximately one hour over the next three weekends starting this Saturday – it starts with the first female stage, followed immediately by the men – will be broadcast in more than 130 countries. (In the United States, it will be broadcast on NBC Sports.) It’s hard to imagine any other way for a company like Zwift to get as much exposure as quickly.
The race is also open to all cyclists on its platform who wish to race on the same roads as professionals, which means that anyone who wants to “compete” in this virtual tour must register for an account, although It is interesting to note a few things.
First, ordinary mortals will not race at the same time as the Tour cyclists, but at mass participation events during the week which will ostensibly give them the chance to experience exactly what the pros have experienced and compare their power , their heart rate, cadence and other data to their pro rider heroes.
In addition, Zwift is a subscription service. Users can check out the platform for a seven-day free trial, but after that, Zwift charges $ 15 a month. Runners also need a smart trainer, which costs around $ 300. Zwift does not manufacture its own trainers – at the moment – but its software works with the hardware of a a dozen businesses.
Unsurprisingly, Min seemed both excited and terrified when we met him last week to talk about the race, the first two stages of which will take place in the world of Zwift’s existing game, Watopia, along with the other stages orchestrated in virtual versions of real courses.
Although Zwift has already organized virtual races – including the Giro d’Italia, which is essentially the Tour de France for Italy, and the Vuelta a Espana, an annual multi-stage race in Spain – this “does not become bigger than that, “said Min, who told us that the idea had sprouted six weeks ago with ASO and that Zwift had worked hard to prepare for the race since then.
This could turn out to be a turning point for the outfit. It already has nearly two million accounts, and although subscribers fluctuate, depending on the time of year, the virtual tour is an opportunity for some of these cyclists to “re-engage,” said Min, adding that Zwift has increased by 50% per year. during the year and, not surprisingly, the recovery accelerated throughout the pandemic.
Zwift isn’t just for competitive athletes, says Min, saying more than half of the company’s clients are overweight and, unlike Peleton, its clients are less attracted to specific instructors and more to it. idea of being part of a club where they can train, participate in events and compete with each other, either publicly or via private rides in which users share cards with friends, for example example.
Either way, amateur and professional riders will undoubtedly have high expectations of the Tour itself, even if it involves more inherent challenges, including less time to detach other runners than in the real world, where each stage can take five or six hours.
Min thinks Zwift is ready. When we called, he explained how Zwift convincingly creates drag, for example, through software calculations, including a runner’s weight and body mass and the terrain he’s on, and if a runner receives a draft from the runners at the front. Applying resistance or softening the machine gives motorcyclists a feeling of movement and inertia. “It’s not exactly like outdoor riding, “said Min, but combined with the software’s visual tools, intended to deceive the mind,” it gets close enough.
And that software, including the Tour maps, is now largely done, said Min. Now Zwift just needs to make sure its broadcast tools are working as well as possible, among other last minute priorities.
“We are going to run dry runs [this] the week. Then it’s show time, “he said, before adding:” The stakes are quite high. It must be rock solid. “