It will be news to no one that the covid-19 pandemic has thrown everything off balance in 2020, cycling included. In many ways, the season was turned on its head, or pulled inside out, with cyclists all over the world forced indoors just when the European racing calendar was getting going. It was the off-season all over again, only this time with fewer parties, more sun and no end in sight. In the UK, we were still able to ride our bikes outside, but there were places where staying at home was legally enforced, including many parts of Europe popular with professional cyclists.
It’s easy to lament the drudgery of indoor training during the winter months, but then it’s always with a goal in mind – performing on the road when the sun comes out. Under lockdown conditions, with races postponed or cancelled, the turbo trainer became a totally different tool. Virtual races on platforms like Zwift were already a valuable training, rehab and motivation resource, but they’d now become a framework around which to rebuild the season.
Some were more invested in e-racing than others. But those who did embrace it had plenty to choose from – Zwift, RGT, Rouvy – and there was even live coverage of some of the professional races. Here are some of the highlights from a unique summer of cycling.
Skoda V-Women’s Tour
The virtual Women’s Tour of Britain was created with RGT Cycling, a relative newcomer to the e-racing scene, and was broadcast live over three days. Running from 17-19 June, the stages (approx. 60mins long) were borrowed from previous editions of the real event, using GPX files to recreate the roads of Suffolk, Burton Dassett and Canary Wharf. It was a little hard to follow at times with kinks still to be ironed out on the relatively new software, but it provided an excellent platform for some to make a name for themselves. US-based team Tibco-SVB got their virtual victory streak off to a great start with Leah Dixon’s win on stage 2 (three Tibco riders in the top 5) and the overall crown.
Virtual Tour de France
The organisers of the Tour de France joined forces with Zwift, the world standard when it comes to virtual cycling, to create a virtual edition of the race. Held over three weekends in July to coincide with the Tour’s original dates, some of the routes would be familiar to Zwift users, but there were also brand new routes created for the event: a circuit in Nice, where the real-life Tour de France would start on 29 August, and a cobbled circuit of the iconic Champs-Elysées.
23 men’s teams signed up to take part and 17 women’s teams would log on for the ‘first ever’ women’s Tour de France, bringing riders together from locations all over the world. It might sound ridiculous or like pandering to hype, but several riders have said that there was something to be gained from the social element. No, it’s not like racing on the road, far from it, but it reintroduced a team spirit that was sorely missed.
Among the teams that grasped the virtual summer with both hands were NTT Pro Cycling, Trek-Segafredo, Drops, Tibco-SVB and Rally Cycling, the latter of which went above and beyond by bringing in a world-renowned Zwift racer as a consultant (and it paid off!). For the smaller teams who were offered wildcard entries, it was an opportunity to showcase their riders and their jerseys on the biggest stage available at the time.
For UK fans, it was great to see Drops get some big results, April Tacey’s stage 1 victory in particular. It was the 19-year-old’s biggest professional achievement to date and she managed it without even leaving the house.
As well as stage wins, there were also the general, points, mountains, team and youth classifications to fight for. There was even a combativity prize for each stage. After six days full of sprints, breakaways and long climbs, overall victory was won by Tibco-SVB and NTT Pro Cycling. Check out the full results here.
Race Across America
Away from professional racing, there were countless incredible stories of amateurs and enthusiasts taking on huge challenges on the indoor trainer. Ultra endurance events like the Race Across America are a big deal in cycling circles, but in the midst of a global pandemic, the real thing was impossible. That didn’t stop the most diehard adventurers though. Riders like Rupert Guinness weren’t about to let all their preparation go to waste. Instead, he recreated the marathon event on the turbo, riding 3,381kms in 12 days. It hurts just to think about it…
Of course, it’s fantastic to have outdoor bike racing back on our screens and to be able to get out on the open roads, but there’s still a summer of cycling to look back on with some fondness, not to mention some new names to talk about. Virtual racing might not be as thrilling as the real thing, but boy was it good to have some kind of competition to talk about.
One thing’s for sure, we’ll never take bike racing for granted ever again!
Will you be trying out Zwift racing when we get into the autumn and winter months?
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