Cyclists may well have heard of the cycling app MyWhoosh, but I'm willing to bet that there are still a large number of riders who don't know too much about the Abu Dhabi-based cycling app that's free and has a growing number of users across the globe.
Despite the logo featuring on Tadej Pogacar and his UAE Emirates teammates' kit for all of last year, the brand seems to currently fly under the radar, but this may be about to change over the next few years.
MyWhoosh was founded by CEO Akhtar Hashmi in 2019, roughly half a decade after Zwift launched and - it's probably fair to say - changed how we train indoors. Designed to target the Middle East market initially, the MyWhoosh app has always been free to use, and MyWhoosh provides users with an immersive digital world to explore and cycle in using an on-screen avatar. Like some other indoor training apps on the market, it allows users to simply 'free ride', complete training sessions, or race.
Dig a little deeper into the MyWhoosh platform though and there are a few points that may make you sit up and take notice. As mentioned, the app is free to download and use, and there are no monthly payments or in-game add-on purchases. It also has a prize pot for its weekly race league, the Sunday Race Club or 'SRC' as it's commonly known, which runs to the tune of around $300,000 per month.
More broadly, MyWhoosh is one piece in a programme of investment and development of cycling in Abu Dhabi and the UAE which shows no sign of slowing down. Cyclingnews recently attended the MyWhoosh press conference in Abu Dhabi where the brand announced a partnership with the UCI as well as its plans for the Esports World Championships.
Despite launching in 2019, MyWhoosh says it has only really been serious for the past two years and the platform has undergone a lot of development in that time. The brand's offices and engineers are in Abu Dhabi though staff work remotely across the world.
The platform gives users access to 54 routes in total across five different worlds: Belgium, Arabia, AlUla, Australia and Colombia. There are over 700 set workouts available as well as 10 training plans to make use of, which WorldTour coach with team UAE Emirates Kevin Poulton has helped design. The MyWhoosh training plans contain phases which are four weeks long each. Meaning riders could work through a twenty-week training plan if they so wish. There are beginner, target FTP and race-specific training plans to choose from.
MyWhoosh can be used on compatible desktop and mobile devices and the brand recently announced macOS compatibility. In my experience, the experience isn't currently as polished when compared to Zwift, and using the app on a mobile isn't quite as slick. For example, if you spend too long out of the app without pausing your workout on mobile, you will lose your session. Currently the app platform on mobile or desktop doesn't offer anywhere near the same level of activity analysis as Zwift. This is soon to change with more analysis and ride breakdown info being made available. A MyWhoosh link app is also on the way, which will let users interact with each other easily and stay abreast of events, similar to how the Zwift Companion app works now.
There's certainly plenty to get stuck into and MyWhoosh seems to be rolling out updates and improvements regularly. The latest of these has been in-game controllable 'companion bots' which can be customised and used as teammates in certain events.
The MyWhoosh business model
In light of the recent announcements, momentum seems to be increasing for the brand. MyWhoosh is set to host the UCI ESports World Championships for the next three years, which, along with increased exposure across the world will mean more game development. This is already in evidence as MyWhoosh announced a new bespoke world for the UCI World Championships.
A partnership with the UCI for the (outdoor) Road World Championships over the next three years should also garner more exposure, boost brand awareness, and the brand says will lead to the creation of those locations (Zurich, Switzerland; Kigali, Rwanda and Montreal, Canada). That's to say nothing of the sponsorship and partnership with UAE Team Emirates in the WorldTour as well as the UAE Tour race itself.
It doesn't take long to wonder about the MyWhoosh business model. The platform is free to use, and like any business, you assume there are regular staffing and running costs, alongside these it also offers a large amount of prize money for racers who compete in the SRC each month. So where does the funding come from?
This question was raised by press at the event, to which MyWhoosh explained simply that it came from "a group of private investors who have a passion for cycling."
It's common knowledge that the UAE is a wealthy country. Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven emirates that make up the nation. Large-scale change came about for the UAE after the discovery of oil reserves in the late fifties.
Some may consider it remiss to not discuss the strong Middle Eastern Investment in cycling which is taking place at the moment and some of the ethical points raised around it. However, that's a separate, and lengthy discussion and this article is intended to look specifically at MyWhoosh and its place in the indoor Esports and wider cycling world over the next few years.
The Sunday Race Club and big prize money
The MyWhoosh Sunday Race Club is very interesting due to the large amounts of prize money on offer and the high standard of racing.
Qualifier races take place each week with one final at the end of each month. To qualify for a final, an athlete must complete two qualifiers and pass stringent post-race verification checks. There is prize money to be won weekly across four different categories, and the level in Category One is incredibly high. For example, ex-world Esports champion Jason Osbourne regularly competes and UAE Team Emirates rider Michael Vink was first identified by the team from his highly impressive performances in these races.
Equal prize money for male and female racers is on offer for qualifier races and individual racers as well as teams in the monthly finals. The top-tier Category One races carry the most prize money and the amounts decrease in size as you descend through the categories.
A win in a qualifying or finals race in Category One would earn a rider 10,000 UAE Dirhams (Approx $2,700). Depending on the amount of weeks in a particular month, a dominant run of wins could in theory net up to 50,000 AED (approx $13,600) in prize money for five races. And if that rider was part of the winning team in the final, that would mean another 50,000 AED split between teammates.
MyWhoosh has a stringent protocol in place to try and ensure fair play in online races. Riders wanting to compete in races on the platform need a MyWhoosh power passport. A power passport is obtained by a rider after completing dynamic fitness testing, this also involves riders filming themselves completing the power passport set workout in the game. A height and equipment check as well as a post-test weigh-in are also required.
MyWhoosh uses an algorithm to create what they call 'dynamic categorisation' to allocate riders to their racing categories based on their performance data. The passport test needs to be retaken every three months and test and racing results are closely analysed to check for irregularities.
Riders also need to use a secondary power source in addition to their smart trainer (likely pedals or a power crank arm), and complete weigh-ins after each monthly final. There is also a list of MyWhoosh-approved smart trainers that can be used in the technical guides on the brand's website. MyWhoosh has also made a case for a standardised verification procedure for all cycling ESports, to be led by the sports governing body.
The prize pots in SRC are indeed huge, but it's far from easy money. To confirm the level, a look at the SRC Cat 1 final race results from January 28 2024 shows that winner Ollie Jones averaged 385 watts for 73 minutes.
Zach Nehr a Pro Rider, MyWhoosh Cat 1 racer and cycling coach explained the level of racing in Category One
"It's basically WorldTour numbers to make the Top 10 nowadays. 6.5w/kg for 10 minutes (on an indoor trainer) and there were still 8 guys left in the front group."
Aside from the WorldTour-like power numbers needed to be competitive in Cat 1, there are three other lower categories for racers to compete in, and all offer equal prize money. For some perspective, the total prize money across all disciplines at the 2023 UCI Road World Championships in Glasgow was €124,250 / $134,559.
The winners in the Elite men's and women's road races - Mathieu van der Poel and Lotte Kopecky respectively, were awarded a comparatively measly €8,000 / $8,663 whilst the junior racers earned €2,000 / $2,165 for a win.
Working off the MyWhoosh stated figure of $300,00 per month means the yearly prize money for the SRC runs to $3.6 million per year. That's more prize money than the Tour de France and probably most other WorldTour and almost certainly lower category pro races.
Although WorldTour racers can supplement their salaries with a share of team winnings. Does MyWhoosh represent a unique opportunity where pros, privateers, racers who missed out on a big break and just those who love to race indoors can boost their income or even make a decent living?
I asked Nehr if he thought riders could make a full-time living from racing on MyWhoosh:
"Yes, 100%. I know for a fact that multiple riders have made over $150,000 racing on MyWhoosh. It takes a huge amount of dedication to earn top dollar on MyWhoosh, but those who do are compensated like true professional athletes."
Though competitors in other ESports competitions outside of the cycling world make large amounts of prize money, this feels like new ground for cycling. The prospect of six-figure earnings from an online racing platform would have been completely alien a few years ago. Granted, we hear about the millions the top WorldTour male stars are paid, but a salary of millions per year certainly isn't the case for a large number of riders as Nehr highlights
"Some riders earn more on MyWhoosh than they ever would from a professional cycling team, especially female riders. With equal payouts for men and women, it baffles me that more women, especially, aren't chasing the prize money on offer."
The prize money on offer still seems to fly under the radar. The chance to win money from the dis/comfort of their pain cave doesn't seem to have riders flocking to race on MyWhoosh yet. The entry requirements and financial outlay to potentially make a good living (if you have the watts) from your garage or bedroom are relatively small. Perhaps some riders winning cash haven't been massively vocal about the prizes on offer to protect their interests which Nehr confirmed;
"I'm always wondering if and when word will get out about the prize money, but maybe I'm missing something. There was a hush-hush culture at MyWhoosh for a long time because those earning the prize money wanted to keep it for themselves. But now, word is out, and those who are making money are truly earning it."
Despite the incentives on offer, MyWhoosh isn't as well known as Zwift or other platforms, at least in the West it seems. With the UCI ESports worlds being delivered by the brand later this year. Is there about to be a huge surge in users for MyWhoosh, in particular, if scores of cyclists realise they could be racing and winning money online?
"Only somewhat," Nehr said, "I thought we would see a big increase in MyWhoosh users when the $1 million MyWhoosh Championship was announced, but it didn't happen. Ditto for the announcement of UCI eSport Worlds moving to MyWhoosh, but the user base is largely the same."
The MyWhoosh Championship was held in the first half of last year and there was indeed a $1 million prize pot. According to the brand's website 260 riders, split equally between male and female competitors would qualify for the Championships which took the format of an eight-stage race. If as Nehr says there wasn't a spike in users after this, perhaps it was down to the relatively small amount of competitors involved.
"I think there will be an increase in MyWhoosh users in Summer 2024 as riders prepare for eSport Worlds. But it will be limited to indoor specialists because the IRL [in real life] pros will be busy with summer racing." he said.
Notably, MyWhoosh also told us that they don't currently have enough female racers participating in the SRC to actually distribute all the allotted women's prize money. With women's professional cycling being notoriously underfunded the healthy and equal prize money on offer for female racers is refreshing.
One of the reasons more riders are taking to MyWhoosh, at least for racing could be the time of day the races take place. Abu Dhabi's timezone is GMT +4, which means racers in the UK for example can race early in the morning. For other time zones, it means getting up in the middle of the night, which as Nehr explains just may not be possible.
"Time of day is the biggest factor preventing North American, South American, and Oceania riders from competing in SRC. No one in California is going to get up to race at 2 am every Sunday morning."
Aside from the racing aspect and prize money. Indoor cycling platforms are popular due to the social aspect they offer. MyWhoosh worlds currently feel a little quiet when completing a training session or free ride. Do some riders want a 'busier' experience when riding in a world and prefer Zwift or other platforms due to this? Though MyWhoosh does have bots in some worlds to provide some traffic is this a key for a lot of more recreational riders?
MyWhoosh is about to gain a lot more exposure later this year by hosting the UCI Esports Worlds and the Abu Dhabi UCI Road and Track World Championships are starting to shimmer on the horizon, huge opportunities for Abu Dhabi and MyWhoosh.
The brand seems to be in the enviable position of having strong financial investment, which appears to mean it doesn't need to rely on paying subscribers to create revenue. In comparison, only this month have we heard about financial issues for indoor cycling brands Zwift and Peloton. While the scope of the brand's investment is unclear, it's obvious that it is substantial. If it continues indefinitely, will it give MyWhoosh a clear advantage in the indoor cycling space? Throw in the attractive prize money, UCI partnership and on paper, it appears the brand could be set to potentially challenge the monopoly on the virtual cycling space in the years to come.
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