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Ovett takes issue with Vaughters' comments on Zwift racing

Freddy Ovett
Freddy Ovett (Image credit: Noa Arnon)

Virtual Tour de France stage 4 winner Freddy Ovett has reacted to recent comments from Jonathan Vaughters regarding virtual racing, agreeing that it’s a "totally different beast" to road racing but taking issue with his comparison to running.

Vaughters took to Twitter on Saturday following stage 3 of the virtual Tour, which is being raced on the Zwift platform.

"Looking at the power profiles from virtual TdF today. These races do not mimick on road races, or physiological requirements of on road races, at all. Totally different beast," Vaughters wrote.

"I’m hardly taking a swing at Zwift. I’m just fascinated by the profound differences in physiological demands between virtual racing and on-road racing. Virtual bike racing is more similar to running, physiologically, than on road bike racing."

When one user suggested virtual racing "flattens the power profile and turns it in to a threshold contest, leaving nothing for attacks", he replied: "Bingo."

Ovett, who won stage 4 of the virtual Tour de France on Sunday, is a former runner, only taking up cycling five years ago after originally following in the running footsteps of his father, Steve, the 1980 Olympic 800 metres champion.

"I don’t know what Jonathan Vaughters’ history is with running but I don’t think it’s very in-depth, to be honest. Running is completely different, so I don’t know what he’s on about there," Ovett said in the winner’s press conference.

"With running, a lot of people seem to think there are no tactics involved, but if you’ve ever seen someone lead the 10,000 metres or 1,500 metres from start to finish, you’re probably watching the under-8s at a school race. I think we need to respect runners and not assume they’re just guys who run as hard as they can and the best man wins. It’s a bit more complicated than that."

That said, Ovett did agree with Vaughters’ assessment that virtual racing is so removed from real-world road racing as to be a separate discipline entirely, but he insisted it’s one that has a place in the sport.

"I do agree with him that Zwift and outdoor racing are two completely different things. People need to stop making that comparison. Zwift isn’t trying to be like outdoor racing, and outdoor racing isn’t trying to be like Zwift. We need to respect that," he said. 

"They’re two platforms that a lot of people enjoy, in different ways, and it just so happens that pros have got involved a lot recently, myself more than most. We need to appreciate Zwift for what it is, and that’s another asset of cycling, another discipline, like cyclo-cross or mountain bike. E-racing is another discipline.

"I 100 pert cent agree with Vaughters that because I’m winning a Tour de France Zwift race, it doesn’t mean I’m going to win the Tour de France – of course not – but it doesn’t mean it can’t help my maybe one day down the track try and do something like that."

Teammates with Froome

Ovett currently rides for the Israel Cycling Academy Continental team, although UCI rules now allow him to make sporadic appearances for the team’s WorldTour outfit, Israel Start-Up Nation, as he did at this year’s Tour de Rwanda.

On Sunday, he reiterated that he and the team have a long-term vision that will involve him moving to the WorldTour but when that will happen is still up in the air.

"They already know about my numbers on Zwift and in training. It’s similar to what Vaughters is saying; to put that into road races is a different story. If I can do that this year, or next year, or whenever, that’s something we’re working on and I’m certain it will happen at some point," he said.

"Whether it’s sooner or later, we’ll have to see. I definitely want to ride in the WorldTour as soon as possible but only when I’m ready for it and deserve it. I want to warrant that spot."

If he ends up graduating to the WorldTour set-up in 2021, Ovett would find himself riding alongside Chris Froome, whose transfer from Team Ineos was announced this week. After a ride with the Tour de France champion four years ago left a big impression, it’s something he’s particularly excited about.

"I had a fantastic experience a few years ago where I got to do a training ride with him, just one-on-one. He probably doesn’t remember that but I certainly do. He’s a fantastic guy. I was just a young kid in my first year of cycling and he was nice enough to do a ride with me for four hours," Ovett explained.

"For someone just starting out in the sport, was quite a moment. I think it says quite a lot about the guy, that he would do something like that. It personifies him for me, if you like. When I heard he was coming, it was extremely exciting, and it’s huge for the future of the team. We’re excited to see what he can do and learn from arguably one of the greatest cyclists of all time."