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by Iain Treloar
June 29, 2020
Photography by Zwift
The postponement of the 2020 Tour de France has left a gaping void in the viewing schedules of cycling fans worldwide, but it’s not a complete write-off. After the first trials of televised e-racing early in the pandemic, the format is ready for its biggest showcase yet: there’s a virtual Tour de France being raced across three weekends this July.
Apart from it being the e-racing debut of cycling’s most famous event, the Virtual Tour de France is historic in another sense as well, as there’ll be (at last!) a women’s race running alongside the men’s. Both will be contested along the same course, covering the same distance and receiving equal televised coverage.
There are 23 men’s teams signed up for the race, and 17 women’s teams, each fielding four riders.
Among the big names on the women’s side to be racing in July are cycling legend Marianne Vos, World Time Trial Champion Chloe Dygert, Olympic gold medallist Anna van der Breggen and Kirsten Wild.
In the men’s field, confirmed starters include the Tour-winning Team Ineos trident of Egan Bernal, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, as well as Olympic gold medallist Greg van Avermaet.
As with the real life version of the race, the Virtual Tour de France will award yellow, green, polka-dot and white jerseys for the relevant categories, with standings this time calculated using a points-based system. There is also a team classification, calculated by combined points across all stages, and a daily Most Aggressive Rider award.
Unlike the physical race, however, there’s a greater focus on team rather than individual performances – all classifications are awarded on a team basis, and riders are allowed to rotate in and out of the race depending on their individual strengths and weaknesses. The team leading each category can then nominate an individual rider to don the jersey – so even if we don’t have a real-world race to watch, there’s at least the tantalising possibility of some intra-team friction.
The Virtual Tour de France starts on Saturday July 4, running across three consecutive weekends for a total of six stages. Over the course of the race, there’s a range of terrain from sprints to summit finishes, providing options for riders of all abilities.
Stages one and two are to be held on Zwift’s fictional island of Watopia, but with modifications to its appearance as a nod to Nice, the site of this year’s Grand Départ.
Stages three, four and five will be raced on a substantial and all-new French map developed by Zwift for the race, and entering the usual rotation in Zwift thereafter. There are a number of strong visual nods to the French countryside, with the riders weaving through virtual vineyards, beside fields of virtual sunflowers, and across virtual Roman aqueducts.
Stage five is the queen stage of the race, raced up Zwift’s new Mont Ven-Top. This climb is modelled on the iconic Mont Ventoux climb in Provence, and will culminate with a summit finish at Chalet Reynard.
The final stage, on a smaller new Paris map, will bring down the curtain on the first Virtual Tour de France, and in a homage to the real deal, is a flat stage taking in the Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde and a sprint finish along the cobbles of the Champs Élysées.
The Tour de France is unique in the breadth of its coverage worldwide, and the virtual version will also be a landmark moment for e-racing – it will be broadcast to 130 countries worldwide.
“I cannot imagine the month of July without cycling. Thanks to the virtual Tour de France, which will be widely broadcast on TV, the champions and their fans will fill in the void left by the Tour de France, which will reunite with the public in Nice on 29 August,” said Christian Prudhomme, Director of the Tour de France. “The Tour Virtuel puts technology to work for passion and the cause of cycling for everyone.”
Racing aside, there’s also a Virtual l’Etape du Tour de France being held alongside the race. Over three stages, this will allow anyone with a Zwift account to tackle the courses ridden by the pros in a virtual mass-participation event.
“There’s nothing bigger than the Tour de France in cycling, so to say I’m excited would be an understatement”, said Eric Min, Zwift CEO and Co-Founder. “Since I was a boy, I would always be glued in front of the TV for three weeks in July, so I feel incredibly privileged for Zwift to be able to play host to the first virtual edition this year.”
And as for the millions of viewers who would normally be tuning in to the Tour – July is now looking a little bit brighter.
The Virtual Tour de France:
The Virtual l’Etape du Tour de France (16 sessions spread over each weekend):
For further information on the Virtual Tour de France, visit Zwift.com