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UCI Esports World Championships 2022

Latest News from the Race

Zwift caught the world’s eye when it hosted the inaugural UCI Cycling eSports World Championships at the end of 2020. Never before had the international governing body of cycling – the UCI – been involved in the world of virtual racing. Zwift had been around for a few years, of course, but had grown to new heights during the coronavirus pandemic. With thousands of races cancelled around the world and cyclists stuck inside during lockdown, millions turned to Zwift.

With an adjusted position in the calendar, Zwift will host the second running of the UCI Cycling eSports World Championships on 26 February 2022. The winner of the men's and women's races will each receive the UCI Cycling eSports World Champions Jersey which they can wear on Zwift, as well as an equal prize payout to the tune of €8,000, plus €4,000 for second place, and €2,000 for third. 

This article will cover everything you need to know about the upcoming World Championships, from the course and riders, to ZADA, race equipment, how to watch, and more. 

2022 UCI Cycling Esports World Championships course 

Continuing with the theme of a KOM/QOM finish – the inaugural UCI Cycling eSports World’s finished atop the Watopia Forward KOM – the 2022 course hosts the finish line atop the NYC KOM Forward after two and a half laps of the Knickerbocker circuit. In full, the race will cover 54.7km (34mi) and 942m (3091 ft.) of climbing.

The map and elevation profile of the Knickerbocker course shown in Strava

Based mainly on the real roads of New York's Central Park, the Knickerbocker course features a steep climb on each lap. See the full ride at Strava. (Image credit: Strava)

Anyone who knows how to race on Zwift or has ridden around Zwift’s New York City world knows that it is the opposite of flat. The real-life roads of Central Park have been replicated in Zwift, with a constant flow of twists and turns, ups and downs around the entire park. However, Zwift then added a series of fictional roads above the city, which you can climb up to on either the north side or south side of the virtual Central Park.

The Knickerbocker route climbs up only the south side of the ‘sky’ roads, which is where the NYC KOM Forward and NYC KOM Reverse intersect for a few minutes of pure pain. Indeed, the NYC KOM Forward is one of the steepest climbs in all of Zwift, with multiple ramps over 16 per cent.

At 1.36km at an average of 6.4 per cent, the gradient is deceiving. The NYC KOM Forward is very much a stair-stepping climb, with pitches of 15 per cent immediately followed by flat sections, and repeated five times before the crest of the climb. We’ll dive deeper into the details of the route below when we discuss how and where the UCI eSports World Championships could be won or lost.

Continental qualifiers 

In November 2021, Zwift hosted the Continental Qualifiers to the 2022 UCI Cycling eSports World Championships, wherein the Top 5 finishers from each race - both men’s and women’s - would earn a spot on the start line of the 2022 eSports World Champs. The Qualifiers were held over two laps of the Figure 8 Forward course in Watopia which, to many riders' dismay, was relatively flat. In fact, most of the Continental Qualifiers ended in a bunch sprint, which became a sticking point as riders were trying to qualify for a race that finishes on a steep climb. 

Nonetheless, the Continental Qualifiers were a huge hit and gained the world’s attention in late November. Thousands of riders went through ZADA (Zwift Accuracy and Data Analysis) protocol to earn their place on the start line, which included vigorous power testing, height and weight verification, as well as equipment verification. More on that process below. 

Five Continental Qualifiers were held, for men and women each, across five different regions: Oceania, Asia, Europe, Africa, and America. The size of each field varied wildly, as the Men’s European race saw nearly 400 riders take the start, while some races were even cancelled for having so few participants. 

As previously mentioned, the top five finishers from each race earned a spot on their respective National Federation’s team for the 2022 UCI eSports World Championships once their result was confirmed by Zwift and ZADA. The European women’s race granted the top nine riders spots at Worlds, which was never fully explained by Zwift, but likely has to do with smaller women’s fields in other Continental regions. 

Those who earned their Worlds qualification through these races then had a few items added to their to-do list before the World Championships. Each rider’s data was fully verified by ZADA, and then added to their National Federation’s squad. Then, each athlete was added to a registered testing pool for anti-doping purposes, which meant that they would likely be tested by anti-doping authorities and may be required to submit whereabouts information. 

As of writing this on 28 January 2022, I - Zach Nehr who will be representing Team USA at Worlds - have not been contacted by or tested by any registered testing pool. 

Finally, each rider would also be sent hardware for the UCI eSports World Championships in the form of a Wahoo Kickr V5. By late January 2022, it seems as though most riders in the Americas and Europe have received their trainers, which will give them a bit of time to practice on and test them before the race. 

 ZADA 

The Zwift Accuracy and Data Analysis (ZADA) group helps regulate Zwift and eSports to help ensure fair racing for the sports' biggest competitions. Each and every competitor at the Zwift eSports World Championships will be required to complete a number of pre-race checks just to earn their place on the start line.

Riders from the continental qualifiers have already passed ZADA protocol, but only for that race. They will need to undergo additional testing on their new equipment (see below) and redo their height and weight verification videos that have become a staple of Zwift racing.

These videos follow a strict protocol that is laid out bullet point by bullet point, and each video must be live-streamed and or timestamped, as well as including the rider’s face, and done in full racing kit. Zwift may be updating some of their technical regulations ahead of the UCI eSports World Championships, but the current rules state that riders must be on a direct drive smart trainer or smart bike with a manufacturer claimed accuracy of +/-2 per cent (Wahoo Kickr V5 for Worlds), dual record using a separate power meter and head unit device, use the cadence sensor connected to the smart trainer, and use a heart monitor for the duration of the race.

 

Perhaps the toughest challenge of the ZADA process is the infamous ZADA test, which is a structured power test that includes all-out 1-minute, 4-minute, 7-minute, and 12-minute efforts, plus two 15-second sprints, in that order. The ZADA test must be completed within an allotted time frame, and the entire ride must be live-streamed from start to finish, with a camera showing both the rider and smart trainer, the calibration of the power sources, and the entire warm-up and cool-down. Needless to say, it’s a laborious process.

Riders must also send in pictures and proof of their smart trainer and power meter(s) including the serial number, calibration factor, and more.

The last and final pre-race performance verification is the weigh-in video, which must be submitted within two hours of the race start. Previous iterations of weigh-in verification used larger windows such as 24 or 12 hours, but the current two-hour timeframe really narrows down the window and is likely intended to prevent extreme weight cutting. 

Once all of that pre-race data is in – don’t forget to update your in-game weight after your weigh-in – you will be allowed on the start line with your ZADA-approved smart trainer and power meter source.

As if that weren’t enough, ZADA analyses post-race data of at least the top 10 finishers and sometimes more, just to triple-check that there has been no data manipulation amongst the riders. 

Standardised equipment 

In order to ensure fairness across country and continent, Wahoo shipped a Wahoo Kickr V5 smart turbo trainer to each rider competing in the upcoming World Championships, that's over 200 of them in total. By using the same trainer with the same settings, Zwift is doing everything in its power to ensure fair competition in this virtual sport.

As we covered above, the anti-doping, anti-cheating, and anti-data manipulation protocols are unbelievably thorough and, though the process can be laborious for an individual rider, it is well worth it for clean sport.

100 per cent trainer difficulty is a feature new to the Zwift racing rulebook as recently as December 2021, and may be utilised at the Zwift World Championships, though Zwift has not yet confirmed this. In previous seasons of the Zwift Racing League Premier Division and the inaugural UCI Cycling eSports World Championships – the highest level and most restrictive events in Zwift racing – a rider’s trainer difficulty (the virtual representation of gradients) was required to be 50 per cent. That meant that a 14-per cent grade felt like a 7 per cent grade in terms of the resistance applied through the pedals.

But if the requirement is moved up to 100-per cent trainer difficulty, then a 16-per cent gradient will feel like a 16-per cent gradient, which will present some interesting challenges to the Worlds competitors. Personally, I had never before used my 39T chainring in a Zwift race, but with a final climb like the NYC KOM Forward, I’ll be sure to triple-check the function of my front derailleur before the race.

How to watch 

Zwift has yet to finalize its broadcasting lineup but has said that a range of broadcasters are in the conversation to host the UCI eSports World Championships including Global Cycling Network (GCN), Eurosport, Twitch, NBC, YouTube, and Fox Sports. 

Events will kick off on Saturday, February 26th, with a rumoured start time around 17:00 UTC for the women's race, and 18:15 UTC for the men's race. 

Teams

At this stage, the start list is yet to be published in full, but here are the names we know so far, and we will be sure to update this section as teams are announced. 

Africa

Angola

Men: Andre Matias (ATP)

South Africa

Men: Brad Gouveris (Toyota CRYO RDT), Aaron Borrill (Toyota CRYO RDT), Gary Muller (Canyon eSports), James Barnes (NeXT eSports pb Enshored), Pieter Avenant (Wahoo Le Col), Eddy Hoole (Toyota CRYO RDT)

Women: Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (Rocacorba Collective), S'annara Grove, Catherine Colyn (Rocacorba Collective), Courtney Webb (Rocacorba Collective)

Americas

Canada

Men: Thomas Thrall (NeXT eSports pb Enshored), Leandre Bouchart, Travis Samuel, Kris Yip, Noah Ramsay, Brad Bickley, Oliver Dowd

Women: Monilee Keller (AEO), Evelyne Gagnon, Josee Rossignol, Esta Bovill, Adele Normand, Karol-Ann Canuel

United States of America

Men: Zach Nehr (NeXT eSports pb Enshored), Brian Duffy, Jr. (NeXT eSports pb Enshored), John Bruhn (NeXT eSports pb Enshored), Kevin Bouchard-Hall (Velocio), Brian Hodges (Wahoo Le Col), Jadon Jaeger (Restart), Ryan Larson (Saris | NoPinz), Spencer Seggebruch (Canyon eSports), Patrick Walle (NeXT eSports pb Enshored)~

Women: Shayna Powless (Twenty24), Jacquie Godbe (Saris | NoPinz), Liz van Houweling (Saris | NoPinz), Kristen Kulchinsky (Twenty24), Katheryn Curi (Saris | NoPinz), Maeghan Easler (Saris | NoPinz), Rebecca Larson, Arielle Martin-Verhaaren, Courtney Nelson (Saris | NoPinz), Stefanie Sydlik (Canyon eSports)

Asia

Hong Kong

Women: Lam Kong

Japan

Men: Takato Ikeda (World Elite Zwifters), Toshiaki Maegawa (NICO OZ), Hidenori Sasauchi, Tomoaki Takasugi (World Elite Zwifters), Ryusuke Honda (Team ZWC)

Women: Yuno Ishigami, Shoko Kashiki

Singapore

Women: Lyn Ahmad, Faye Foo, Tsalina Phang

Europe

Austria

Men: Stefan Kirchmair, Rainer Kepplinger

Women: Katharina Machner

Belgium

Men: Mathias Deroose (BZR-SPSD pb Le Col eSports), Lionel Vujasin (Canyon eSports), Jo Pirotte, Jasper Paridaens, Kjell Power, Fabian D'Evola

Women: Eleanor Wiseman, Amber Lecompte, Githa Michiels, Bonnie Delanote, Amelia Van Hove, Sarah Ten Hartog

Denmark

Men: Oskar Hvid, Daniel Guld, Aleksej Camann

Women: Louise Holm Houbak (HEINO RT), Fie Brandborg Osterby, Caroline Bohe

Finland

Men: Teppo Laurio (Wahoo Le Col)

France

Men: Hugo Viort, Adrien Vuillier, Alban Puech

Women: Sandra Levenez

Germany

Men: Jason Osborne (RV 1899 Hochheim), Jonas Rapp (Hrinkow Advarics Cycleang), Christoph Thiem (Beastmode p/b ROSE), Jan Emmerich (Beastmode p/b ROSE), Martin Maertens (Toyota CRYO RDT)

Women: Ricarda Bauernfeind (RSG Ansbach), Merle Brunnée (Beastmode p/b ROSE), Hannah Ludwig (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team), Julia Schallau (Beastmode p/b ROSE)

Great Britain

Men: Mark Bruce (NeXT eSports pb Enshored), Ed Laverack ( Wahoo Le Col), Andrew Nichols, Gavin Dempster, Joseph Rees

Women: Zoe Langham (Wahoo Le Col), Mary Wilkinson (Canyon eSports), lli Gardner (Wahoo Le Col), Alice Lethbridge (HEINO RT), Lou Bates (R3R, Harriet Gilson (Toyota CRYO RDT), Natalie Stevenson (Toyota CRYO RDT), Charlotte Colclough (Toyota CRYO RDT), Haley Simmonds, Helen McKay

Ireland

Men: Richard Barry (NeXT eSports pb Enshored), Nico Roche, Christopher McGlinchey

Women: Corless Mary

Italy

Men: Matteo Cigala (Wahoo Le Col), Liam Bertazzo

Women: Martina Fidanza, Elena Pirrone, Elisa Longo Borghini

Netherlands

Men: Etienne Van Empel, Pim Van Diemen, Antonie Van Noppen, Ric Ottema

Women: Loes Adegeest, Linda Klein (Toyota CRYO RDT), Joanie Reitsma (CRYO-GEN), Lieke Van Zeelst, Maaike Van Der Plas, Maud Oudeman

Norway

Men: Haarvard Gjeldnes (KALAS eSRT), Vidar Mehl, Kristian Oftedal, Hendrik Fjellheim

Women:A Tiril Jorgensen, Ane Iversen, Anne Nevin

Poland

Men: Michal Bogdziewicz, Pawel Kalita, Michal Kaminski, Kacper Skalski

Women: Aurela Nerlo, Agata Flis, Sonia Cieciel

Portugal

Men: Fabio Costa, Fabio Fernandes

Women: Beatriz Pereira, Sofia Gomes

Spain

Men: Soto Guirao Antonio Jesus, Nicolau Beltran Joel, Aparicio Munoz Mario

Women: Benito Pellicer Mireia, Horcajada Henche Ania, Martin Martin Isabel

Sweden 

Men: Samuel Brannlund, Jon Werme

Women: Cecilia Hansen (HEINO RT), Emma Belforth, Anna Svardstrom, Marlene Bjarehed

Switzerland

Men: Niki Hug

Women: Melanie Maurer

Oceania

Australia

Men: Aiden Sinclair (Canyon eSports), Ben Hill (AERO), Jay Vine, Freddy Ovett, Orben Partridge-Madsen, Sam Hill, Alex Bogna

Women: Vicky Whitelaw (HEINO RT), Justine Barrow, Katie Banerjee, Bre Vine, Sarah Gigante, Neve Bradbury, Racheal Wales

New Zealand

Men: Ollie Jones (Canyon eSports), Paul Odlin (World Elite Zwifters), Sam Lindsay (dPAC-Elite), Alex Heaney, James Harvey

Women: Sarah Morrison, Sonia Foote, Ella Harris

 Riders to watch 

When looking at the course for the 2022 UCI eSports World Championships, there are three possible scenarios to decide the winner: a long-range breakaway, a solo attack on the final climb, or a reduced bunch sprint. Riders who specialize in three-minute efforts will be the favourites should the race come down to the final climb, especially those with a strong 20-second punch which will be required to get over the final bump with a couple hundred meters to go. 

Men

The number one ranked rider on ZwiftPower, Belgian powerhouse Lennert Teugels (Belgium), will not be in attendance for the 2022 UCI eSports World Champs, as it seems he will be racing in real life with his professional team, Tarteletto-Isorex.

Teugels’ teammate, Mathias Deroose (Belgium), will certainly be one to watch. The 18 year-old has won a stage of the Zwift Premier League and is one of the strongest climbers on Zwift. 

Brian Duffy, Jr. (USA) is another to watch. The American has picked up countless top 10 finishes in the Zwift Premier League with NeXT eSports pb Enshored, and is a rider who specializes in one to five-minute efforts.

Thom Thrall (Canada) is another rider who could certainly take the rainbow stripes. The Canadian rider won the only Zwift Premier League stage to finish atop the NYC KOM Forward, so he knows how to win on this climb.

Lionel Vujasin (Croatia) is one of the most popular and seasoned riders on Zwift, and will certainly be looking to make it to the top this February. The 32-year-old won the European Continental Qualifiers in a bunch sprint, and has been on flying form with Canyon eSports in the Zwift Premier League.

Ollie Jones (New Zealand) is another popular name in the Zwift space, and was the winner of the 2017 Zwift Academy. Jones is a rider who loves late attacks – usually in the final 1-2km – so this final climb could suit him well.  

James Barnes (South Africa) is on an incredible run of form, having finished 1st, 3rd, 3rd, 6th, 1st, 2nd, and 1st in his last seven Zwift Premier League races. No other rider has matched the consistency of the South African who is certainly one of the race favorites. 

Women

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (South Africa) is the overwhelming favorite as returning champion from the 2020 UCI Cycling eSports World Championships. The South African wasn’t as seasoned on Zwift as many of her indoor competitors, but Moolman Pasio still blew their doors off on the final climb to take victory. 

Cecilia Hansen (Sweden) claimed the bronze medal in the inaugural Zwift World Championships, and will certainly be looking for the top step in 2022. 

Team USA placed five riders in the Top 12 in the 2020 eSports World Championships, and three of those five return to the team for 2022: Jacquie Godbe, Kristen Kulchinsky and Courtney Nelson. 

 PowerUps 

Zwift has yet to announce which PowerUps will be available in the 2022 UCI Cycling eSports World Championships, but we are expecting the Zwift PowerUps to have a large impact on the race. Zwift typically chooses three different PowerUps for a given race, and with seven chances to grab one throughout 2.5 laps of the Knickerbocker course, riders will have plenty of opportunities to obtain their preferred one. 

In-game equipment will also be neutralised during the World Championships, which means that all wheels and bikes will be on a level playing field and riders can choose whichever equipment they’d like. We’re not sure if that extends to Tron bikes (Zwift's Concept bike that is universally the fastest in normal scenarios) or Buffalo bikes (the replica heavy-duty bikes built with World Bicycle Relief as cheap transport in Africa), but that would certainly be a sight to see. 

 Course tips 

To summit finish atop the NYC KOM Forward is one of the most brutal finishes you could conjure for a Zwift race. It’s somewhere between a three-minute power test and a set of 20-second sprint intervals. The climb’s nature – constantly alternating between 0 and 15 per cent – makes it difficult to master.

The flat sections of the climb keep the speed high and allow the peloton to string together in one long line rather than shattering into a million pieces. Thus, it’s difficult to break away on this climb, especially since the longest flat section comes just before the finish. 

Let’s break down this climb a little further. Starting from the roads of Central Park, the climb is actually 1.7km long rather than 1.36km, with that extra ramp bringing you from the valley floor to the start of the official KOM. The first uphill section is around six per cent for 250m, before flattening off as the KOM begins. Then, there are two short ramps of 15 per cent before a 200m flat section – this allows many riders to catch up from the first minute of climbing.

Next up is the toughest part of the entire climb – the middle section of the NYC KOM Forward is 10.6 per cent for 400m, with the final 100m at 15.7 per cent. This is certainly where the race will be lost. Legs will shatter, but there is still 500m to go.

With half a kilometre remaining in the 2022 UCI eSports World Championships, there could be an intriguing stall as the road flattens out. Like the peloton regrouping over the top of the Cauberg, we will see the front group come together before the final sprint atop the NYC KOM Forward.

The final 200m is broken up into two sections: first, a steep climb of 100m at 10.8 per cent, and second, the flat sprint to the finish. In all of the Zwift races that I’ve seen finish atop the NYC KOM Forward, there have only been a few riders left sprinting in those final few hundred metres and rarely was it a solo rider.

It is incredibly difficult to form a winning breakaway on Zwift – any seasoned Zwift racer will tell you that – and the UCI Cycling eSports World Championships are no different. Perhaps a group could go away on the flats, and stick it all the way to the finish. Or maybe the entire peloton comes into the final climb altogether. As with any bike race – real or virtual – anything could happen. But if I had to guess, I’d say that a reduced group of 30-35 riders will come into base of the final climb together. The group will string out but not shatter and there will be 20 riders left sprinting for the win in the final 200 meters. 

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