Elinor Barker taking on the Zwift eSports World Championships

On the 9th of December 2020, history will be made there will be a new World Champion in Cycling. You’ll never see the jersey worn on the road or on the track, though. It will only ever be worn in the virtual world of Zwift.

For a long time, the indoor cycling platform, Zwift, has been gaining momentum, building its platform and transporting riders from their homes to the world of Wattopia, France, Yorkshire, London and beyond to ride roads which would otherwise be out of reach, certainly in 2020. Being a way of escaping the world around you, submerging in a virtual world and keeping your fitness levels up while everything else happens around you.

Zwift has been holding eSports racing for a while and it’s had relative success with professional teams being formed for the indoor series. This year will be the first ever eSports World Championship with professional riders from all over the world racing together from the comfort of their own homes.

Pusher of Pedals spoke to Elinor Barker, best known for her multitude of Olympic Gold Medals, Track World Championships and European Championships, who will be riding in the inaugural Zwift World Championships. “When the email came through to see who wanted to be part of it, I thought that is one race which will not be cancelled. Sign me up for it. I had a good few races at the European Championships but that’s it for a while so when this opportunity came up, I had to take it.” Said Elinor Barker.

After the news of Shanni Berger being banned for six months after Zwift found her guilty of manipulating data Zwift is sure that this is a fair World Championship race, all riders will be riding the same equipment and will be weighed before the race to give as accurate data as possible. “We’re all riding the same turbo, all have the same settings which you can’t override, or at least Zwift will know if you have. In terms of cheating, it should be very hard to do something like that.” Says Elinor

If you’re a regular racer on Zwift, you’ll know results are not always what they seem, you can see strange power numbers, incredible watts per kg and some questionable winners. If ever there was going to questions around the result of a World Championship it would be this one.

Zwift is taking as many measures as it can – riders are on whereabouts and being drug tested in the build-up to the World Championships, each rider has to be on camera, each rider using the same turbo trainer, with a heart rate monitor and a backup power reader.

What was the big draw for Elinor in the eSports World Championships? “I’m really looking forward to doing some racing. It’ll be the only chance I’ve had of racing Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten this year, some really high level riders. It’ll be good fun.”

With a race distance that is shorter than that of a usual one day race and closer to the distance of a Madison, are we going to see a huge solo attack from van Vleuten, riding everyone off of her wheel or will Barker spring her own attack? “I’m not sure what I can achieve here. I’ve done the course in reverse and it’s difficult. I’ll see where I am on the final climb and take it from there.”

If you’ve never been on a virtual ride with Zwift, it can bring people to one place effortlessly, from all over the world, all you need is the equipment and you can do it.

It wasn’t in Elinor’s usual training plan, pre-COVID, but times change, with Barker saying, “I had never tried Zwift until March this year, it became quite a popular thing to do and I started doing it more and more and then the last couple of weeks, in isolation, I’ve been using pretty much every day.”

“I love the racing and as bizarre as it sounds I’ve loved the social side of it, with the UK COVID restrictions I’ve been stopped from having group rides, where as if I go on Zwift I can ride with 300 people. I can ride with friends and have a group chat, I’ve really enjoyed it. Says Barker.

The luxury of Zwift is that it puts you on a training platform with elite level riders, you can see them as they train and what they’re doing, how they’re racing and the numbers they’re putting out, making their performances even more impressive. Boredom is also something we share with the pro riders when training “The racing has stopped me from getting bored this year, the monotonous intense session got very boring, yet if I were to do a Zwift race, I had to be fully involved and have a race head on me, I got my training sessions in but I didn’t know when they were going to come. I really enjoyed that.” Say Elinor. You can watch Elinor take on the Zwift World Championships on Wednesday 9th of December at 13:45 GMT and from the 1st – 6th of December you can ride the same course as the pro’s. A full start list can be found here with further information on the Zwift website.

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