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Ultimately, Zwift’s founders hope that this new form of competitive cycling will one day appear at the Olympics – something that could happen if Olympic cycling body UCI can provide support. It can be said that things are already moving in this direction. Last June, Zwift made its debut at a new event called the Olympic Virtual Series set up by the International Olympic Committee. One of the things that sets e-bikes apart from other elite track events is that they are relatively easy for anyone to participate in.
“Anyone, anywhere in the world, from the comfort of their home, can qualify,” said Sean Parry, Zwift’s director of strategy.
Work through teams
That’s how Isler made the cut. She was unsuccessful in the qualifiers open to users in the Americas, but made it to the U.S. national team through a separate qualifier. She is not a complete novice, having participated in triathlons as a student. But virtual competitions are no less exciting than outdoor ones. “You feel the adrenaline,” Isler said. “You know you’re dealing with very powerful people in real life.”
Easler and her other competitors at the world championships will all get the same smart trainer — a device that replaces a fixed bike’s rear wheel — so they can compete on a level, virtual arena. The smart trainer automatically increases or decreases resistance to match the feel of the virtual road surface in the Zwift course. Even pebbles can be simulated.
Data plays an important role on platforms like Zwift, where riders tend to constantly monitor their performance. Their heart rate, speed and power output (in watts), along with other stats, are always visible on screen during the race. Commentators can pick and choose some of these statistics live, showing the audience how hard individual competitors are working.
For example, Easler knew she needed to keep her heart rate (measured in beats per minute) below a certain level to avoid a breakdown. “If my heart rate hits 185, I can recover, but if I hit 195, I can’t recover,” she said. Tracking her numbers on screen allows her to get close to her limits without going over them, and she says she’ll get better over time.
Real-time data on each driver’s performance will also allow Zwift and UCI officials to spot any possible cheaters in the championship. Inactive competitors may use a variety of techniques – from lying about their weight (which may give them a strength advantage) to trying to manipulate the game.