Editor’s note: Charlie Issendorf, Event Director at Zwift, recently shared his perspective on the creation of Zwift’s Richmond map. This was Zwift’s third map, and it was used this week for the Zwift Classics race (hence Charlie’s post). Read his story below, along with a few of the original IRL pics he took, which he so generously shared with us.
Why is this race named the Richmond Challenge? Because getting virtual Richmond in Zwift was a challenge. This is the story behind virtual Richmond.
I joined Zwift in August 2014, when we were in full startup mode. Zwift wasn’t even open to beta testers (that came a month later) and Jarvis Island was the only route. Yes, it was very early days for us.
That same winter, I contacted the organizers of the 2015 UCI Richmond World Championships. I knew a few of the staff so I had my foot in the door. My proposal was simple: we wanted to make a virtual version of the 2015 World Championship course. The organizers had never heard of Zwift, or virtual cycling, and they were not quite sure what I was proposing. I explained how Zwift could make a replica of the Richmond World Championship course and, for the first time ever, riders from around the world could ride the same course as the Pro racers, from their homes. This would set the Richmond World Championships apart from previous editions of the World Championships and that was very appealing for the organizers.
For Zwift, it would be the first time we made a virtual version of a real world. As a U.S. based company, supporting the Richmond World Championships was a source of pride. The last time the road World Championships was held in the U.S. was 1986 so if we missed this opportunity, we might have to wait another 30 years.
The race organizer requested a Zwift demo before they would commit. So I packed my Zwift station into my car and drove the 6 hours from New York City to Richmond, Virginia to demonstrate how Zwift works. Also at the meeting was a UCI representative and several sponsors. They were impressed with what they saw and we signed the contract.
Did I mention we were still in beta?
After the meeting, I drove around the race course and stopped to take photos of the key parts of the course. This was a request from Zwift HQ: they wanted our first real-world route to be stellar. I took photos of Libby Hill, 23rd Street Hill, and Monument Avenue. Seeing the climbs, I knew this would be a very demanding course and the virtual version would be super fun and technical.
Some of the original photos from 2015
I then drove the 6 hours back to New York, excited about our first IRL world.
We launched virtual Richmond at the end of August 2015, about a month before the IRL World Championships. It was a success in two ways: we proved we could replicate an IRL course and we received a great deal of media coverage at the same time. Big milestones for Zwift.
The legacy of the Richmond World Championships still lives on with the virtual route. It’s a a superb course that always delivers an exciting race.
Questions or Comments?
Did you like the origin story of Richmond? Comment below… we’ll see if we can get Charlie to share more!