‘It’s a different sport’: Some pros aren’t convinced by virtual racing

Plenty of riders have been lining up online, but how much does it tell us about real racing?

Tom Dumoulin racing the time trial in Tirreno-Adriatico 2019 (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

(Image credit: Getty Images)

For many cycling fans virtual racing has been a welcome spectacle, allowing us to watch our favourite riders race on pure watts from the comfort of their living rooms, garages and gardens.

But some pros are less convinced by racing in the online world, including stars like Tom Dumoulin and Thibaut Pinot.

Whether it’s the results or the brutal effort of racing indoors, these riders seem less than impressed with the virtual racing scene.

The most recent rider to share his thoughts on racing online is Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), who spoke about the phenomenon during a Zwift session Q and A with Dutch broadcaster AD.

Kruijswijk, who finished third in the Tour de France last season, said: “It is a different sport. You have to adjust tactically with things like drafting.

“If you train on it, you will succeed, but it has little to do with our competitions.”

The Dutchman said he does see a future for Zwift racing but as a different discipline, comparing it with football game FIFA, saying you wouldn’t recruit a left winger at PSV Eindhoven because they’re good at video games.

Kruijswijk’s team-mate and compatriot Tom Dumoulin shared a similar sentiment, suggesting there was a limit to what you can learn from a virtual race.

Winner of the 2017 Giro d’Italia Dumoulin told De Limburger: “The results are not to be trusted either – they say nothing.”

“The devices [turbo trainers] come from different brands and are not properly calibrated, which is essential. Weight must be exactly correct, otherwise it will be unfair.”

Dumoulin pointed to the Virtual Tour of Flanders as an example, where Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert finished 10th despite being “the king of pedalling power.”

He added that virtual racing is “better than nothing.”

During the coronavirus crisis, teams have been forced to find a new way of gaining exposure for their sponsors and staying in touch with their fans, with many outfits choosing virtual racing as a way to keep their riders visible.

Velon and the Tour de Suisse recently held the Digital Swiss Five series of races, with Rohan Dennis (Team Ineos) emerging as the star rider, while Remco Evenepoel was left chasing despite being one of the strongest riders in the world out on the road.

French Grand Tour star Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) is another rider who is sceptical about the virtual revolution.

Pinot told Sporza: “Those virtual races fascinated me for two week, but now that’s enough.

“I’d rather be in lesser form when lockdown is over than squeeze myself mentally now.”

Former world champions Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) have both spoken about their dislike of training indoors, as Valverde argued indoor training can burn you out physically and mentally.

>>> Belgian pros forced to cancel ‘inappropriate’ time trial

Sagan’s team-mate Lennard Kämna raced his first virtual event during the Digital Swiss, with the German telling DW: “It’s a whole different ball game, so you can’t set the same standards for the two.

“I believe it’s not ideal for professional cycling. It’s a nice diversion for now, but it lacks the flair of a true road race.”

But Kämna said he did see a big future for virtual racing, with people able to train into the evening and throughout the winter.

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