Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio wins inaugural cycling esports World Championship road title

by Abby Mickey


On the final ascent of the Hilly KOM in Watopia, it was the South African Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio who proved to be the fittest and the most Zwift savvy. Moolman-Pasio dropped a critical “feather” power-up on the steepest section of the climb and rode away from the remaining peloton. Only Australia’s Sarah Gigante could keep up with Moolman-Pasio, although the youngster was not able to outsprint her for the victory. Cecilia Hansen, a Zwift pro from Sweden, crossed the line in third to round out the esports World Championship podium.

 

The virtual peloton lined up at the pier in Watopia for four laps of the Figure 8 Reverse, a total of 50 km of racing including four ascents of the Hilly KOM. Interestingly, the men and women would race the same course and the same distance in each of their World Championship races. With twenty nations invited to participate in the first-ever cycling esports World Championships 55 women lined up to compete for the virtual rainbow jersey. 

The riders on the start line consisted of a mix of professionals and top Zwifters, including the current road World Champion Anna van der Breggen, Moolman-Pasio, who took to Zwift racing during the Spanish COVID lockdown like a dog to peanut butter, and Zwift Academy winners Tanja Erath, Hannah Ludwig, and Ella Harris. Hansen, Courtney Nelson, and Louise Bates were a few of the impressive Zwift-pros who partook in the inaugural event. 

The winner of the cycling esports World Championship jersey would also receive 8,000 euros, paid in real live dollars, not simply droplets of sweat. During the race, there were 11 chances to nab a “power-up”, a kind of virtual advantage. Unlike usual Zwift rides or races, the cycling esports World Championships only offered two power-ups during the race, the feather and the helmet. The feather offers a 10% reduction in weight for 15 seconds, and the helmet an aerodynamic boost for 15 seconds. With the finale taking place on the Hilly KOM the feather power-up could be a game-changer.

From the start of the race, the pace was blistering, quickly narrowing down the field. Halfway through the race, only 30 riders remained in the lead group, with a few other groups trailing behind. Anna van der Breggen looked unlikely to take her third World Champion jersey of 2020 with over a minute and a half conceded to the front of the race.

In the final 20 km, the United States team started to make some moves and try for some attacks, unsuccessfully. The pace continued to steadily exhaust the riders, with some big names still hanging on for the finish, including Moolman-Pasio, Elinor Barker the British track superstar, Gigante, and Lauren Stephens of the USA who won the virtual Tour de France over the summer. 

Moolman-Pasio made her move in the final kilometer, dropping a feather power-up on the steepest section of the climb, with 500 meters to go. Gigante followed the South African, also utilizing the feather power-up to catch Moolman-Pasio. Stephens chased the two but was unable to make it to the leaders before the finish line. 

First through the finish banner was Moolman-Pasio with Gigante hot on her heels. Hansen won the bunch sprint to take third.

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