Zwift marks the origins of cycling esports after hosting three UCI Cycling Esports World Championship events, the groundbreaking Virtual Tour de France that achieved gender parity, and an Olympic Esports Series. Zwift also introduced cycling esports to a global audience through Eurosport, SBS, JSports, NBC Sports Gold and GCN+ broadcasts. Past achievements weren't enough for the UCI, however, which has granted United Arab Emirates-based technology company, MyWhoosh, the rights to organize the Esports World Championships for three years beginning in 2024.
"We were very much looking for a platform focused on competition," said the UCI's Head of Innovation and Esports, Michael Rogers, on the decision to move the World Championship from Zwift during a press conference at the Abu Dhabi Cycling Club on January 25. "What MyWhoosh is planning over the long term excited us very much."
Founded in 2019, MyWhoosh has become known for hosting big-money events, like the weekly Sunday Race Club series, with a monthly prize purse of over $284,000 spread across four categories. And the $1 Million MyWhoosh Championship series in April 2023 saw the largest payout in cycling esports’ history, lighting the path to professional cycling esports.
MyWhoosh is an Abu Dhabi-based Avrioc Technologies product and receives significant support and funding from the UAE government. The virtual platform prioritized high-level esports racing, embraced the sport's evolution as a legitimate distinct cycling discipline, and voiced a commitment to accessibility to the free-to-use platform.
Come October, the Cycling Esports World Championship will see its first in-person, live final in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and that will not be the only change to the quest for the virtual rainbow stripes.
"With the privilege of hosting the live final in Abu Dhabi, we are dedicated to changing the cycling esports landscape," says MyWhoosh CEO Akhtar Saeed Hashmi.
"In a significant move, we are expanding the semi-finals to accommodate over 150 riders, reflecting our broader strategy to foster global growth and inclusivity in cycling esports. The qualification pathways, blending National Federation selections and MyWhoosh's public qualification process, ensure transparency and fairness, opening doors for athletes worldwide."
The UCI will use a proprietary algorithm based on the international ranking system and the final athlete standings of the 2022 and 2023 UCI Cycling Esports World Championships to determine the team athlete allotment, with a maximum of 10 riders per team. The National Federations will assign 80% of the semi-final starting spots using their selection criteria.
To provide opportunities for athletes from emerging countries and those unable to follow traditional pathways in regions without a strong cycling culture, the remaining 20% of semi-finalists will qualify through MyWhoosh's public qualification process, with dates to align with National Federation team selection.
The expanded field will now include 150 men and 150 women in the semi-finals, marking a significant increase and aligning with the UCI and MyWhoosh's broader goal of promoting growth and inclusivity in cycling esports on a global scale.
The Two Stage Semi-Finals
The Semi-Finals will follow a two-stage virtual format scheduled for September (exact date to be determined). Stage One will feature a 9-kilometer circuit, utilizing a points system to select the top 80 riders who will advance. Stage Two will be four laps of a 4-kilometer circuit, identifying the top 20 male and female competitors who will progress to the final.
Two wild card entries per gender will automatically qualify, opening the door for high-profile entries like two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar, who rides for UAE Team Emirates.
It will be the first time all Cycling Esports World Championship finalists will compete in person in a live event using a points-based race format.
“When we have the best athletes in the world in a room competing against each other,” Rogers explains, “it will bring excitement and publicity to the sport.”
In addition to the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships, the UAE will also host the 2024 UCI Urban Cycling World Championships, the 2028 UCI Road World Championships, the 2028 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships, and the 2029 UCI Track World Championships. MyWhoosh is also the UCI's main virtual cycling partner for the next three road World Championships, giving the platform exclusive rights to create virtual versions of the courses.
Using their industry-leading graphics, MyWhoosh's team of 300 designers and engineers created a bespoke virtual world for the event using their industry-leading graphics. The virtual race routes feature several of Abu Dhabi's cycling venues, like the Yas Marina F1 circuit, where the public can ride free on the track on lender bikes, and cycling infrastructure investments, like the Velodrome, due to be completed in 2025.
"I see a future where more strategy comes into play in the competition," says the UCI's Rogers. "That’s what we want to achieve with the format for the upcoming Esports World Championship. If you can outsmart the strongest by being more strategic, that creates an interesting race perspective."
The Three-Race Final
As we’ve seen in previous editions, the final will again be a multi-race event, but this time, it’s points-based. The final will be an action-packed flurry of 15 to 20-minute races separated by just 10 minutes of recovery. Riders will compete on their own bikes hooked up to Elite’s Justo trainers, the official technical partner of UAE Team Emirates.
For race one, titled The Sprint, riders will be on a 1.7-kilometer flat circuit. Here, the MyWhoosh team took a page from the Formula One playbook, giving racers 15 minutes to set their fastest time through a 300-meter, timed segment. A live leaderboard will track the fastest times as the crowd looks on, and riders will earn points based on their best segment time.
The second race is titled The Strategy and takes place on a 9-kilometer circuit consisting of 6.5 kilometers of rolling hills followed by a four-minute climb, a fast descent, and a one-kilometer flat run-in to the finish line. Points are on offer at the base and top of the climb, and the finish line will award double points.
All Out is the aptly-named third and final race, and the racers will have no other choice if they want any chance of putting their avatar's arms through the sleeves of the virtual rainbow jersey. The 4-kilometer circuit concludes with a 50-second full-gas climb to the start/finish line. Riders will find an intermediate sprint point at the crest of each climb during the 4-lap affair.
By offering double points at the end of lap 4, Smithson and the MyWhoosh team seek to revolutionize cycling esports and realize their innovative vision for transforming the sport when it comes down to a thrilling final push to the line to crown a new champion using a new format on a new platform.
When the lights dim in the live event arena, the UCI's Rogers will define success for the groundbreaking partnership with MyWhoosh and the 2024 Cycling Esports World Champions simply as "an event that we will remember."
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