Strap in — a virtual Tour de France kicks off this weekend on the online racing platform Zwift – ProWellTech

Strap in — a virtual Tour de France kicks off this weekend on the online racing platform Zwift – ProWellTech

The pandemic has wreaked havoc in all types of professional sports this year and cycling has not been immune. For example, the best-known race on the planet, the Tour de France, normally staged in July, had to be rejected from 29 August to 20 September.

This does not mean that the world – and professional cyclists – cannot enjoy world-class racing this summer. In fact, starting next weekend, 23 best men’s and 17 women’s teams will participate in a virtual version of the event which will be hosted by the six-year-old Zwift child, after it has been chosen by the official organizer of the real tour race , Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), as partner of the event.

It is a coup for Long Beach, California, whose multiplayer video game technology is used by amateur and professional cyclists and which, according to Outside magazine, is now the biggest player in the growing world of online racing.

Investors have noted that the company’s $ 170 million in financing to date, says co-founder and CEO Eric Min.

This tour has the potential to guide even more users in its own way.

First, the virtual version of the event, which includes six stages lasting about an hour in the next three weekends starting on this Saturday – starts with the first female stage, followed immediately by men – will be broadcast in more than 130 countries. (In the United States, it will be broadcast on NBC Sports.) It is difficult to imagine another way for a company like Zwift to get so much exposure as quickly as possible.

The race is also open to all cyclists on its platform who want to race on the same roads as the professionals, which means that everyone who wants to “compete” on this virtual tour must register for an account, although some things are worth noting. .

First, mere mortals will not race concurrently with Tour cyclists, but during mass participation events that apparently will provide them with the opportunity to experience exactly what the professionals have gone through and actually compare their power, heart rate, cadence and others. given to their professional heroes.

Furthermore, registration is not free. Users can check out the platform for a seven-day free trial, but after that, Zwift costs $ 15 a month (although pros also hit the pause button on their accounts when they spend more time outdoors, Min says.)

Cyclists also need an intelligent trainer, which costs around $ 300. Zwift does not yet have its instructors, but its software works with the hardware of a dozen companies.

Not surprisingly, Min looked excited and terrified when we met him last week to talk about the race, the first two phases of which will take place in the existing game world of Zwift, Watopia, with the other phases orchestrated in virtual versions of real paths from the race.

Although Zwift has previously organized virtual races previously, including the Giro d’Italia, which is basically the Tour de France for Italy, and the Vuelta a Espana, an annual multi-stage race in Spain, “has never been so great, “said Min, who told us that the idea was launched six weeks ago with ASO and that Zwift has worked furiously to prepare for the race ever since.

It could prove to be a turning point for the outfit. It already has nearly two million accounts, and while subscribers continue to flow, depending on the time of year, the Virtual Tour is an opportunity for some of those cyclists to “rekindle”, Min says, adding that Zwift grew by 50% per year over the year, and has surprisingly seen harvesting speed up during the pandemic.

Zwift isn’t just about competitive athletes, Min says, stating that more than half of the company’s customers are overweight and that, unlike Peleton, its customers are attracted less by particular instructors and more by the idea of ​​being part of of a club in which they find themselves can train, take part in events and compete with each other, either in a public way or through private paths where users share maps with friends, for example. (“Zwifters”, as they are called, also interact with each other on the Strava tracking tool, which they use to capture their races in the real and virtual world, says Min.)

In both cases, both amateur cyclists and professional riders will undoubtedly have high expectations for the Tour itself, even if more intrinsic challenges arise, including less time to detach from other riders compared to the real world tour, where each stage can take five or six hours.

Min thinks Zwift is ready. On our call, he talked about Zwift convincingly creating resistance, for example, by walking through software calculations, including a cyclist’s weight, body mass and the ground they are on, and if a rider is receiving the draw by front runners. Applying resistance to the machine or loosening it is what gives motorcyclists a sense of movement, inertia and fast descent.

“It is not Exactly how to ride outdoors, “said Min, but combined with the visual tools of the software, it meant deceiving the mind,” comes very close.

At least the software, including the Tour maps, is now largely done, Min said. Now, Zwift is ensuring that his transmission tools work as best as possible, among other last-minute priorities. “We will do some dry slopes [this] week. Then it’s showtime, “he said, before acknowledging that” the stakes are pretty high. It must be solid as a rock. “

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