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What you need to know about UCI Zwift World Championships

The inaugural UCI Cycling E-Sports World Championships will take place on December 9. The rainbow jersey will be awarded to the best rider on Watopia as men and women will race through the virtual world of Zwift. Wondering how it will all work? Here's a guide to the basics.

Written by: Spencer Powlison

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Whether you’re a diehard Zwift addict or an old-school cyclist who refuses to ride indoors, you must admit it: virtual cycling has finally made the big-time. Need some proof? An honest-to-goodness rainbow jersey is on the line at the inaugural UCI Cycling E-Sports World Championships on December 9.

Zwift World Championships

The rainbow bands are sacred in cycling and they are there for the taking at the end of a 31-mile race around Zwift’s virtual world of Watopia.

Almost every cyclist understands the basics of world championship events. But a virtual race held on Zwift? Well, I think we all have some questions about how this will work. So, here’s The Pro’s Closet’s guide to how the UCI Zwift World Championships will go down. Just don’t ask us to predict who will win ...

Where are they riding?

Both the men and women will ride one lap of the Figure 8 Reverse route in Watopia. Then they’ll finish on the Watopia Hilly KOM Forward Finish. That means the race will be 31.09 miles, climbing 1,584 feet along the way.

Route profile for Zwift Worlds

Will there be “power-ups?”

Yes, but only two of Zwift’s bonuses will be on offer at the course arches: aero and lightweight. Riders will have an equal chance of getting either power-up along the way.

Where can you watch?

We’ve yet to get confirmation, but it’s safe to assume you’ll be able to catch the action live streaming on Zwift’s YouTube and Facebook channels. The only bummer is that racing will begin at 4 a.m. Eastern time on December 9. So set your alarms (or stay up all night!).

How do they make sure no one is cheating?

There are a few measures in place to make the racing fair. First, every rider will use the same smart trainer, a Garmin Tacx Neo. Don’t worry, the riders get these sent to them for free, so they’re not on the hook to buy this top-of-the-line trainer. The Neo also has an auto-calibration feature to eliminate one further variable.

Second, every rider has to perform a pre-race height and weight check 24 hours before worlds. They have to take a video of these measurements to allow officials to verify each rider.

Third and finally, the riders are all part of either the UCI or their national federation’s anti-doping testing pool.

Who are the best IRL riders in the race?

A few names stand out when you look at the men’s start list. Colombian Rigoberto Uran has won stages in the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. He’s also finished on the podium in both of those races. His EF teammate Alberto Bettiol is also noteworthy as the Italian won the 2019 Tour of Flanders.

We should also point out Edvald Boasson Hagen. While the Norwegian hasn’t won a major race in more than a year, he has 81 career professional victories to his credit.

The women’s start list is all about the Dutch. Anna Van der Breggen and Annemiek Van Vleuten, to be specific. Between the two of them, they have 125 pro wins, six world championship titles, and an Olympic gold medal, among many other impressive results.

Zwift World Championships

Who are the best Zwift riders in the race?

For the men, we have to call out our own Holden Comeau of Team USA and the Saris + The Pro’s Closet team. He’s been the top sprinter on Zwift for a while, and the hilly Watopia route could be good for his skill set so long as he can hang with the peloton until the finish.

Canadian Lionel Sanders will also be a marked man after he won the Ronde on Zwift, beating the likes of IRL Tour of Flanders champion Mathieu van der Poel on a virtual simulation of the famous Belgian classic.

In the women’s race, another American, Lauren Stephens, could be one to watch. She won the virtual Tour de France earlier this summer. She’s also a standout pro racer IRL, so perhaps she has the most diverse skill set in the women’s field.

There must be some silly rules, right?

Oh yes, the UCI cannot help itself. Here are a few gems:

Riders’ avatars must wear virtual socks in-game during the race. After all, this is not the world e-triathlon championships.

Riders cannot ride Zwift’s concept bikes, like the “Tron bike” during the worlds race. Eddy Merckx did not ride such a bike and therefore it is not proper.

Riders must wear a heart rate monitor, but their HRM straps cannot be seen in live footage. No unzipped jerseys. This is worlds after all, so why not make things a bit hotter … I mean, harder.