Some of biggest names in men's professional cycling will race virtually during the holidays, with Primož Roglič, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Giulio Ciccone, João Almeida, Mads Pedersen, Caleb Ewan and Sam Bennett all competing on December 26 in the Challenge of Stars event on the immersive Bkool virtual platform.
Created by Giro d’Italia organiser RCS Sport and first held during the spring COVID-19 lockdown in May, the head-to-head knockout format includes two races: one for climbers on the slopes of the virtual Stelvio and one for the sprinters on the virtual roads of the Tuscan countryside.
The virtual racing will be shown on television and online on different channels and social media platforms, including Eurosport, Flobikes and the Challenge of Stars Facebook page. The sprint race begins at 5 p.m. (CET) and the climbing race at 7 p.m. (CET).
Riders face off on a very short course, with the winner going through to the quarter finals, semi-finals, and then final. In May, the climber’s race was just 2.9km long, with the sprinters racing over just 1.2km.
The UCI recently held the first official Esports World Championships on the Zwift platform, with German rower Jason Osborne using his power to win the men's title, while Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio won the women's title.
Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) will clash with Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) in the first round of the climbers' race, with Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) facing Ben Zwiehoff (Bora-Hansgrohe), Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo against Harold Tejada of Astana, and João Almeida of Deceuninck-QuickStep against Belgium’s Harm Vanhoucke of Lotto Soudal.
Ciccone won the Challenge of Stars held in May, beating Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Soudal) in the final. Fabio Jaskobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) won the sprinters' race, beating Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers).
In the Boxing Day sprint race, Ewan (Lotto Soudal) will clash with Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), while Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) faces Sacha Modolo (Alpecin-Fenix). Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) takes on Ben Swift (Ineos Grenadiers) and Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) faces Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix).
"I’ve not raced since winning the Giro so it will be good fun to blow out the cobwebs and take on some of the best climbers in the world in The Challenge of Stars. Let’s see if I can do well in this knockout tournament," Geoghegan Hart said when he was confirmed for the event.
Démare won four stages and the cyclamen points jersey at this year's Giro d’Italia but will not be able to count on his excellent lead-out train for the Challenge of Stars.
"I’m not as competitive as I was during last Giro d’Italia but to me, this is a game, a cycling party as well as a nice moment of sharing with the public at a time when we don’t usually interact much with our fans," the Frenchman said.
"The level of contestants is impressive and challenging. This format is all new to me, I’m already caught up in the game."
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