Why eRacing is a 'game changer' for cycling

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What are the National eRacing Championships?

Two new national cycling champions will be crowned on Thursday - but neither of their bikes will move an inch.

At least, not in the real world.

British Cycling's first ever National eRacing Championships are being held in London. The competitors will use the app Zwift to race computer-generated versions of themselves against each other.

Those behind it have high hopes for the format - believing it could one day feature at an Olympic Games.

Indoor cycling app Zwift already holds a weekly racing series for professional riders
Indoor cycling app Zwift already holds a weekly racing series for professional riders

What are the eRacing Championships?

The British Cycling eRacing Championships were open to anyone with a bike, a turbo trainer and access to Zwift.

The app recognises how fast you are pedalling. Once you've selected a virtual race, your chosen avatar will travel at that speed.

Almost 400 people entered a qualifying event held in February - all racing from their home or local gym.

The fastest 10 men and 10 women were selected for Thursday's final.

One of them - Welsh professional cyclist Jon Mould - says eRacing will be a "game changer" for his sport.

The 27-year-old from Newport has used indoor cycling apps for the past two winters and even credits them for boosting his training before last April's Commonwealth Games - where he won a silver medal in the road race.

"It has made a massive difference," he told BBC Sport Wales.

"[Before eRacing] the longest time I think I'd spent on the turbo was probably an hour and a half.

"But when you're doing races and your mind's occupied, I ended up doing three and a half hours [one day last winter].

"That's what I love about riding a bike. It's not the efforts and the hard work - it's racing someone."

Welsh cyclist Jon Mould credits Zwift with boosting his winter training before he won silver at last year's Commonwealth Games
Welsh cyclist Jon Mould credits Zwift with boosting his winter training before he won silver at last year's Commonwealth Games

'Your avatar will get a champion's jersey'

Zwift will not publicly reveal how many people subscribe to its platform - but it does say participation peaks at 13,000 riders racing at any one time.

Its weekly Super League series for professional riders is streamed live online and watched by thousands of people.

Mould and his Madison Genesis team-mate Ian Bibby have both won races in the Super League.

Both will now compete to become the UK's first national eRacing champion - with British rower-turned-cyclist Rosamund Bradbury and national road race masters champion Mary Wilkinson lining up in the women's final.

An event of this size - endorsed by a national sporting governing body - marks a significant moment for eSports.

"At British Cycling we want to encourage more people to enjoy cycling," says the body's commercial director Jonathan Rigby.

"eRacing or indoor racing is an exciting new addition - tapping into the prolific growth of eSports and opening up cycle sports to new audiences.

"We have national championships across all of our different cycle disciplines and we're proud to say that eRacing will now be afforded the same status.

The Zwift app recognises how fast you pedal and your avatar travels at the same speed
The Zwift app recognises how fast you pedal and your avatar travels at the same speed

"The winners will be given a white jersey - both a physical one and we will give one to their avatar on the screen."

The eRacing Championships will be comprised of three races - an elimination race, points race and a scratch race.

It will be held over two sessions on Thursday - the first starting at 13:30 GMT before an evening session to crown the winners at 20:00 GMT.

eRacing for an Olympic title?

Zwift itself has high hopes for the future.

A Super League series at World Tour level could attract the likes of Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.

And with eSports increasingly talked about as a future Olympic event, it feels its brand of eRacing could earn inclusion.

"I don't think it's really a secret that we're aspiring to the highest level," says Zwift's senior growth and marketing manager Tom Hargreaves.

"What company wouldn't want to see their product and their sport part of something like the Olympics?

"It's definitely something we've got our sights on."

But for now all the attention will be on Britain's first National eRacing Championships.

If viewing figures of the televised event - and subsequent participation - are strong, this could well be the first of many.

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