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Eventually, the founders of Zwift hope that this new form of competitive cycling will one day appear at the Olympics – which could happen if the Olympic Cycling Institute, UCI, supports it. Things are already moving in this direction. Last June, Zwift made its debut in a new event called the Olympic Virtual Series, founded by the International Olympic Committee. And one of the differences between e-cycling and other elite track events is that it’s relatively easy for anyone to participate.
“Anyone, anywhere in the world, from the comfort of their own home, can go through the eligibility process,” says Sean Perry, Zwift’s strategy director.
Work through the ranks
This is how Easler made the cut. She failed during the qualifying rounds open to users across the United States but made it to the USA national team through a separate qualifying process. Participating in triathlons as a student, she is not a complete novice. But virtual races are no less exciting than outdoor events. “You feel the adrenaline,” says Eisler. “You know you’re against real-life people who are really strong.”
Easler and his fellow competitors at the World Championships will all receive the same smart trainer – a device that replaces the rear wheel on a stationary bike – so they can compete on a level virtual playing field. Smart trainers automatically increase or decrease the resistance to match the realization of the virtual road surface on the Zwift course. It is also possible to imitate cobbles.
Data plays a big role on platforms like Zwift and riders constantly monitor their performance. Their heart rate, speed and power output in watts, among other figures, are visible on the screen at all times during the race. Critics can pick some of these figures live to show viewers how hard an individual competitor is working.
Easler, for example, knows that she needs to keep her heart rate (measured in pulses per minute) below a certain level so that it does not break. “If my heart rate reaches 185, I can recover, but if I reach 195, I can’t,” she says. Tracking her numbers on the screen allows her to reach her limits without exceeding her limits, and she says she has evolved better over time.
Real-time data on each rider’s performance will allow Zwift and UCI officials to detect any potential fraud in the championship. Non-sports competitors can use a variety of tactics – ranging from lying about their weight, which can give them the advantage of strength, to try to rig the game.