How an ecycling race will look when British Cycling launches its championships in 2019. Photograph: British Cycling
British Cycling is to take its search for the next Geraint Thomas or Victoria Pendleton into people’s homes with the launch of a new virtual reality championship. The competition, which is expected to start in February, will see thousands of riders competing in a simulated 3D environment by using their bike, a turbo trainer and the popular online app Zwift, which is used by around 500,000 people in 195 countries.
British Cycling’s commercial director, Jonathan Rigby, said the championship would encourage more people to get active and serve as a talent ID programme for potential future champions. “The esports market is particularly exciting for cycling as it enables so many more people to participate and be active,” he added. “We are also excited about what this could mean for identifying talent. We are proud to have a wealth of gifted riders competing on the world stage and we are confident that Zwift technology will enable us to unearth more future stars.”
The British Cycling eRacing Championships – which will be open to all UK riders – will comprise a series of qualifying rounds culminating in a live final event between the top-ranked riders from each age and gender category. These finals will see riders compete for the national jersey, in a multi-event format comprising a series of short races, including a time trial and elimination race.
The move is the latest attempt by the authorities to tap into the fast growing market. In September cycling’s governing body, the UCI, announced plans for an esports world championships while this year’s CVR indoor World Cup cycling event had a prize pot of over $50,000.
A growing number of cyclists have also progressed to the pro ranks after winning competitions on Zwift, which works by taking a rider’s turbo trainer data to power an online avatar.
In 2016 the former marathonrunner Leah Thorvilson beat 1,200 other cyclists on the Zwift Academy programme to secure a contract with the Canyon-SRAM team, while last year the former triathlete Tanja Erath won a deal for the 2018 season. Meanwhile Ollie Jones also won a place on the Dimension Data development team.
Zwift also created a virtual copy of the 2018 Innsbruck world road race course, allowing Britain’s Dani Rowe to study and train for the race at home before travelling to Austria.
As part of British Cycling’s two-year partnership deal with Zwift structured training plans will also be offered to the national body’s 146,000-strong membership, as well as virtual rides with the Great Britain cycling team.