Here are the riders to watch at the 2022 Cycling Esports Worlds

Here are the top men and women to watch this weekend.

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With the second edition of the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships coming up on Saturday February 26th, here’s what you need to know about the course and the top contenders for the virtual rainbow jersey.

The race will be a battle between riders who race on the road and dabble in virtual racing, and a new crop of Zwift pros who specialize in the virtual world. Each group has its own specific set of skills that will either power them to victory or leave them with room to improve.

For a deeper look into the finer points of e-racing, take a look at Ronan Mc Laughlin’s preview of the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships.

The course

Here’s what the riders can expect.

The race takes place in the New York world of Zwift. Both the men’s and women’s fields will race the 22.5 km Knickerbocker Route twice with an additional climb up the New York KOM for a total of 54.9 km of racing. The New York KOM is the main feature of each lap with an average grade of 6.1% and maximum grades of 17% (ouch). The climb stair-steps for its entire 1.4 km, with some gradual sections and a few really steep sections. Racers will hit the KOM a total of three times, once each lap and one final time at the finish. In total both men and women will climb 944 meters throughout the race.

With the rainbow jersey being awarded atop the New York KOM, the final ascent is critical, but as the entire Knickerbocker circuit is undulating in nature, the course doesn’t offer much room to hide. Most decisive splits will happen on the climbs, but with the new 100% trainer difficulty rule there is no sleeping in between ascents.

The PowerUps

When racing virtually on Zwift it’s important to understand the PowerUps. There are three different PowerUps available at seven points during the race.

For more on the Van, Featherweight, and Aero PowerUps and where riders can score them throughout the race, check out Ronan’s deep dive.

Women to watch

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (South Africa)

Defending esports world champion Ashleigh Moolman Pasio remains the number one rider to watch for this year’s rainbow jersey, even with the competition heating up around her. Moolman Pasio is one of the world’s best climbers so the finale up the New York KOM suits her style quite well. She also has three teammates whose sole job will be to get her across that finish line first.

Illi Gardner (Great Britain)

One of the top Zwift pros on the startlist, Illi Garder is another strong rider to watch. What Gardner has over Moolman Pasio and others is her Zwift racing skills. Gardner races for the Kiss Racing Team in the Premier League and notched some top results in the 2021 season, especially when the courses featured climbing. She also holds the current Everesting record for women.

Jacquie Godbe (USA)

Jacquie Godbe, who competes for the Saris + The Pros Closet team in the Premier League events, is a strong climber who finished fifth in the 2020 Esports Worlds. Since then she has honed her Zwift racing ability and rocketed to the top of the charts.

Sarah Gigante (Australia)

Another top climber, Sarah Gigante has proven her ability to win races on both real-world and virtual roads. Gigante finished second behind Moolman Pasio in the inaugural Cycling Esports Worlds and has achieved some standout results in the Virtual Tour de France.

Maud Oudeman (Netherlands)

Winner of the most recent round of the Zwift Academy, Maud Oudeman is a young talent on the bike. She beat thousands of contestants on Zwift to win a contract with the WorldTeam Canyon-SRAM, so she is not someone to overlook in a race.

Louise Houbak (Denmark)

Member of one of the top Zwift racing teams, Heino Racing, Louise Houbak specializes in time trials on the road. She was second in the Danish ITT Championships in 2021 and third in both 2019 and 2017. On the virtual side of the sport, Houbak has won two Danish national titles.

Cecilia Hansen (Sweden)

Houbak’s teammate on Heino Racing but competitor in the Esports Worlds, Cecilia Hansen is another one to watch. Hansen won the Tour of Watopia in 2020 and has helped her Zwift racing team to the top of the rankings in the Premier League. Like the rest of the Zwift pros, Hansen’s knowledge of where to use PowerUps and where to save energy only makes her more of a challenger.

Hannah Ludwig (Germany)

Another Zwift Academy winner, Hannah Ludwig is a strong time trialist whose skills on the road translate seamlessly to virtual racing. Her strengths will lie in the kilometres in between climbs where, if she can get a head start before the road starts to slope upward, she will be hard to beat.

Men to watch

Jay Vine and Freddy Ovett (Australia)

Jay Vine and his Australian teammate Freddy Ovett are two of the top contenders for Saturday’s men’s event. Ovett was one of the top competitors on Zwift in the Virtual Tour de France in 2020 and although his strengths are geared more towards sprinting on Zwift, he is still a force on the climbs.

Vine, the winner of the 2020 Zwift Academy, is one of the peloton’s strongest climbers. He recently showed good form at the Etoile de Bessèges where he won the mountains classification and finished second on the queen stage.

Jason Osborne (Germany)

Olympic silver medalist rower Jason Osborne is the defending esports world champion after shocking everyone with his victory in 2020. Osborne races and rides on Zwift enough to be experienced when it comes to PowerUps and specific power outputs. His watts are impressive, to say the least. He doesn’t compete in the Premier League but did get a chance to race with Deceuninck-QuickStep in 2021. Osborne returns to the Esports Worlds as a favourite for the title.

James Barnes (South Africa)

Member of the NeXT Esport Zwift racing team, James Barnes is one of the top competitors in the Premier League on Zwift. Barnes cemented his place in the Esports Worlds after finishing second in the African Continental Qualifiers.

Thomas Thrall (Canada)

Thomas Thrall can be found in the colours of Enshored p/b PedalPower in the Zwift Racing League but will be fighting for the esports rainbow jersey in the colours of Canada. Thrall won the Virtual Tour of the Gila in 2020 and like Barnes secured his entry in the Esports Worlds with his performance at the continental qualifiers.

Chirs McGlinchey (Ireland)

In the real world, Chris McGlinchey is the recently crowned Irish cyclocross champion. In the virtual world, McGlinchey holds the Irish esports national title as well. He is one of the most experienced racers on Zwift and has been one of the platform’s top performers in recent years.

Lionel Vujasin (Belgium)

Belgian Zwift national champion Lionel Vujasin races for the Canyon Esports team in the Zwift Racing Series and is consistently finishing in the top tier of racers. He has notched a few podiums in the series and is particularly good at climbing. This plus his experience on Zwift make him a favourite on Saturday.

Takato Ikeda (Japan)

Takato Ikeda of Japan confirmed his spot in the Esports World Championships with his performance at the continental qualifiers. Ikeda is a strong climber, so the course on Saturday favours him. He races for the Zwift Warriors Team in the Premier League and has experience racing in the virtual world.

How to watch

Both the men’s and women’s races will be broadcast live on Eurosport in Europe, GCN+ globally, and on the Zwift YouTube channel starting with the women’s event at 6.15 pm UTC. The men’s event kicks off after the women have finished, at 7.45 pm UTC.

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