Preview: A deep dive into the 2022 UCI Cycling Esports World Championships
Everything you need to know to watch, enjoy, and maybe even participate in the UCI Esports World Championships.
Everything you need to know to watch, enjoy, and maybe even participate in the UCI Esports World Championships.
Date: Saturday February 26
Time: 6.15 pm UTC (women) and 7.45 pm UTC (men)
Race type: Virtual scratch race
Location: Zwift’s virtual Central Park, New York
Route: Knickerbocker route
Finish: NYC KOM Forward – Summit
Distance: 54.9 km / 34 miles
Elevation gain: 944 m / 3,097 feet
The cycling world’s best Zwift racers will this weekend face off for the virtual rainbow bands. The second edition of the Cycling Esports World Championships will see 180 riders from 25 nations battle it out to become world champions with equal rider allocations, race distances, TV time, and prize money for both the men’s and women’s races.
Head over to Abby Mickey’s preview to see the riders to watch, and read on for a deep dive into the more technical aspects of this weekend’s racing.
The winners of both races will be crowned as esports world champion, a title they will hold for the next 12 months. Both world champions can look forward to a virtual jersey with the famous UCI rainbow bands and an esports-specific design. The winners’ avatars will wear a digital rainbow jersey on Zwift for the next 12 months. Winners will also receive a physical esports world champion’s jersey and the right to wear the rainbow bands in real life during sanctioned esports events.
Of course the prestige of the famous rainbow stripes jersey would be enough for any cyclist, but as an added bonus the podium in each race will offer €8,000 for the winner, €4,000 for second, and €2,000 for third place.
Riders in both the women’s and men’s events will race on the same adapted version of the Knickerbocker route in Zwift’s futuristic take on New York City’s Central Park. Totalling 54.9 km, the route will take riders on two laps of the Knickerbocker route’s rolling park roads and elevated transparent sci-fi roads amongst the high-rise buildings.
A change to the course is the icing on the cake for climbing fans, as it moves the finish line from the flat(ish) lap arch to the top of the savagely steep NYC KOM Forward climb. With barely a metre of flat road between three ascents of the steep NYC KOM climb, expect to see the bunch continually whittle down on the demanding course as riders drop out the rear of the peloton, rather than all-out attacks off the front.
The main feature of this year’s Esports Worlds course is that NYC KOM Forward climb. On paper, the climb looks only moderately tough, but in the reality of the virtual world it is brutal and with the 100% trainer difficulty now mandatory, it is sure to decimate the field.
The official stats on the climb seem modest enough with an average gradient of 6.4% over 1.36 km with a total ascent of 88 m. Those figures somewhat hide the brutally steep pitches of almost 18% in the middle of the climb and the final pitches of 15%+ near the summit. In terms of real-world climbs think somewhere between the Mur de Huy and the Mur de Bretagne.
Expect to see the two early ascents of the NYC KOM Forward climb dramatically reduce the peloton to a select group of favourites. The rolling roads on the remainder of the lap will make it difficult for breakaway attempts to garner any significant advantages and many of the favourites will aim to save their legs for the almost guaranteed fireworks on the final ascent to the finish.
Who’s it for: One of the pre race favourites, Chris McGlinchey, told CyclingTips: “If I was to put it in road racing terms it would suit a classics/puncheur style rider. The course is up and down for the full duration, with the 3 x 2.5-minute climbs almost like bergs in a Belgian classic. It will be a rider who can save their energy and stay on top of nutrition and hydration for that last max effort on the final climb.”
New for the 2022 Esports Worlds was the opportunity for any Zwift community rider to qualify to represent their country. In November 2021, Zwift orgnaised five continental qualifiers (Oceania, Asia, Europe, Africa, and Pan America) as a pathway to Worlds qualification. The top five riders in each qualifier race were added to their country’s national team for the upcoming Worlds.
Riders in the Zwift Racing League 2021/22 Season 1 Premier Division all received automatic invites from Zwift to the Continental Qualifier events. Level five and above Zwifters auto-categorised A or above ranking on WTRL (World Tactical Racing Leagues) were also eligible for an invite to the qualifiers. The women’s qualifier race happened on November 27, with the men’s 24 hours later on the 28th. Some 550 riders participated in the qualifier races with 50 riders earning an invite to Worlds.
The remaining 130 places at Worlds were filled by the 23 nations who received automatic invitations from the UCI. Nations received varying sizes of rider allocations based on a combination of its cycling esports community size and the depth of talent based on both esports and UCI road rankings, according to a UCI press release. Each individual nation could then allocate its designated spaces to riders of its choosing.
Recently retired former WorldTour pro Nicolas Roche might seem like the obvious choice to win the men’s race. Only time will tell if Roche has spent more time working on his jive than his Zwift form of late. For perhaps safer bets on who to watch in both races, CyclingTips’s Abby Mickey previewed the top contenders in both races. The full startlist is also live now.
All 180 riders in the 2022 Esports Worlds will race on the Wahoo Kickr V5 direct drive trainer. To provide an extra level of integrity and a level playing field, the UCI partnered with Wahoo to provide every participant with a new Kickr specifically for the event.
Each rider received a new Kickr over the past few weeks, but it’s not all good news. Riders are under strict instructions to return the Kickrs immediately after the race, and CyclingTips understands Wahoo may investigate the trainers should any question marks arise from suspicious performances during the championships. More on rules and verification later.
See the video above for a look at Chris McGlinchey’s pain cave setup for the inaugural Esports Worlds a few years back. While riders this time around won’t have the option of which trainer they ride on, Chris’s fan setup and selection – essential for optimal indoor performance – will be of interest to any Zwifter. That’s not to mention his use of barbell weights to keep the trainer in place during his 1,600-watt sprints, something we clearly missed in our recent perfect pain cave series.
PowerUps bring both an element of gamification and added strategy to Zwift racing. Knowing which PowerUp to use when is as important to Zwift racing as sound tactical acumen or even having a teammate is to road racing.
Zwift offers a total of nine different PowerUps for regular races, activities, and group rides. Presumably, in a bid to strike a balance between these virtual tactics, honest physical effort, and good old fashioned bike racing tactics, the UCI has reduced this to just three PowerUps for the Esports World Championships.
The Van PowerUp (above left, van symbol) offers a 50% drafting gain for 30 seconds. Only useful when a rider is in the slipstream of another rider/group, the truck PowerUp is available as riders pass through the sprint arch 7.3 km, 29.7 km and 52 km into the race. This is especially useful for recovering in the middle of the bunch or sprinting through the pack.
The Aero PowerUp (above middle, aero helmet symbol) will reduce a rider’s CdA by 25% for 15 seconds. CdA is a measure of how aerodynamic a rider is. The lower a rider’s CdA, the faster they will go for the same power output. A 25% reduction is similar to the lower estimates of aero drag reduction experienced by a rider sitting in a bunch versus riding on the front. The Aero PowerUp is therefore very useful for solo attacks, closing gaps to other riders, or for the final sprint to the line in fast sprints. The Aero powerup is available twice during the race at the KOM/QOM arch with 9.7 km and 32.1 km to go. Riders dropped on the climb might find the PowerUp immediately useful in the chase to regain contact with the leaders.
Finally, the Featherweight PowerUp (above right, feather symbol) will be important for those wanting something extra (read less) on the climbs. Potentially race-winning for any rider who has saved it to unleash on the final climb to the finish, this PowerUp reduces rider weight by 10% for 15 seconds. The featherweight PowerUp can be picked up as riders pass under the lap arch at the start of each lap with 44.6 km and 22.5 km to go. The Featherweight could prove pivotal on the steepest slopes of the NYC KOM, but for that to be the case riders will have to get to that final climb without the benefit of other PowerUps on offer on the way.
Each PowerUp lasts only a short amount of time, so knowing when is the perfect moment to use them is key. Riders can only hold one PowerUp at any time, so watch for riders to activate unused PowerUps they deem less valuable before the PowerUp locations, freeing up the opportunity to grab a new, more-valuable PowerUp.
The UCI has established new new regulations to govern the UCI Esports World Championships. Too lengthy to mention them all here, the regulations cover general provisions, equipment performance verification, specific rules for cycling esports events, data, and specific infringements for cycling esports events. As mentioned earlier, Wahoo has reserved the right to analyse trainers post-race to check for intentionally manipulated power readings and calibrations.
Zwift also has its own cycling esports rules and regulations. A much larger document again, the Zwift regs look at the rules of racing, performance verification, sanctions, code of conduct, and in-real-life events. The Zwift Accuracy and Data Analysis Group (ZADA) is responsible for providing Zwift with technical analysis of the performances of riders in events governed by the Zwift rules and regulations.
The Zwift performance verification process is much too long to list here, and can be found starting on page 11 of the Zwift rules and regulations PDF. In short, the verification process requires a Zwift Three Sisters course test ride including power tests and ride video recording in addition to a pre-event weigh in, height check, and power meter zero offset video. The complete verification data set must then be sent to ZADA for verification. Furthermore, in addition to the requirement for all riders to race on the Wahoo Kickr provided specifically for the race, riders are required to record power with a secondary on-bike power meter. Riders must also have ZwiftPower profile.
The Zwift rule book and ZADA do have their detractors and major question marks hang specifically over whether Zwift should be effectively judge, juror, and executioner when dubious performances require an investigation. Having previously semi-completed the ZADA verification process, I can attest to it being a lengthy and laborious one. All of the riders participating in the event should be well accustomed to it by now, but I would hazard a guess and say that few enjoy it.
The current process is probably best described as the current best method, but far from perfect. In a sport where participants compete remotely from their own homes around the world, a verification process is absolute necessary. The current method though is time consuming and tedious at best, and at its worst excludes many people who simply don’t have access to multiple power meters and modern smart trainers. This was evident in Esports Worlds continental qualifiers where in some instances entire continents could not field enough riders to fill the five spaces on offer, reportedly due to the challenging verification process and the “Auto-A Cat” ranking requirement.
All the racing plus pre- and post-race shows will be live on both the Zwift YouTube channel and the GCN+ app from 6pm UTC this Saturday. Eurosport will also broadcast the racing in Europe. The women’s race starts at 6:15pm, while the men get underway at 7:45pm UTC.
Participants in the recent Tour de Zwift had the opportunity to ride this adapted course with the finish line atop the NYC KOM. For those who missed the Tour de Zwift there are several opportunities to ride the same Knickerbocker course with UCI Partner rides, PowerUp Recon Rides, and UCI Watch Party rides during Worlds.