CyclingNews broke the story today that a virtual men’s and women’s Tour de France is set to happen on Zwift in July.
Is it true? Well, something significant is definitely happening. At the very least, the ASO is clearly in serious talks with Zwift about hosting a virtual TdF. As CyclingNews says, “proposals from ASO, seen by Cyclingnews, set out plans for a men’s and women’s race…”
We don’t know if those are final documents, and Zwift has told us “we cannot confirm or comment at this time.” So let’s talk about what CyclingNews posted, and what the Tour de France coming to Zwift might mean for our favorite virtual cycling platform.
The racing will be held across three weekends during the dates when the IRL Tour is typically held, beginning on Saturday, July 4, and ending Sunday, July 19 according to CyclingNews. There will be a total of six stages, so presumably one on Saturday and one on Sunday, for three weekends.
Stages will last around an hour and include a marquee mountain stage.
(It’s worth noting that the Tour has been rescheduled to August 29-September 20. There are still questions about whether it will actually happen, of course.)
CyclingNews says 15 teams are signed up for the event at this time, which would indicate that Zwift is well past the “proposal” stage with ASO. The field will be composed of four-rider teams.
Typically 20-22 teams participate in the Tour. Looking at this year’s list of teams for the IRL race, the following already have a strong presence on Zwift, especially after a few months of COVID-19 restrictions:
- NTT Pro Cycling
- Team Ineos
- UAE Team Emirates
- Lotta Soudal
- Israel Start-Up Nation
- EF Pro Cycling
- Deceuninck – Quick-Step
Our guess is these teams are the ones already signed up, with more to come. Pure conjecture, of course.
The article from CyclingNews says, “Zwift is set to build new race routes, including one in Nice for the opening stage and another in Paris to mimic the traditional finale of the Tour de France on the cobbled circuit of the Champs Elysées.”
New tarmac is always welcome news to Zwifters. It’s been 6 months since Crit City was released, and we haven’t seen any new routes since then. (Of course, we would have had the Tokyo Olympics course by now, but that got pushed off.) Zwifters are hungry for new roads to ride, and something iconic would be quite special!
According to CyclingNews, “10 television channels covering 130 countries have signed up to broadcast the event.” That’s huge, of course. If it happens, Zwift will be exhibited on a stage that is orders of magnitude beyond anything previous.
An ASO First
If this is true, it will be the first time the ASO has collaborated with Zwift to organize an event on the platform. ASO also organizes Vuelta a España, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastone-Liege, La Flèche Wallonne, Paris–Nice, and other top races. So this could be the first of other high-level virtual event collaborations to come.
What Does It Mean?
If Zwift is able to host a virtual Tour de France in July, what would that mean for the Zwift community? Here are a few thoughts:
- More Zwifters: with the platform getting in front of more eyeballs, we’ll surely see more cyclists coming on board. This move could legitimize Zwift in the eyes of many cyclists who have kept Zwift at arm’s length.
- More Game Development: surely Zwift will be making some improvements to game play, or at least the racing portion of it, for an event as high-level as Le Tour. These changes will trickle down to the community-level races as well.
- Improved Broadcasting/Spectating: if the major broadcasters who typically support the IRL Tour carry the virtual race, Zwift’s current broadcasting software will surely be improved to provide a better viewing experience. (Some Zwifters have been wondering why the pace of game development has been a little slow lately… this may explain it.)
- Further Development of eRacing Rules and Enforcement: Zwift already has a fairly robust ruleset in place for its high-level races, but surely a race of this caliber will force all parties to take a closer look at these rules, and the ways they are enforced, in order to ensure competition is fair. How will teams verify rider weight and power meter accuracy? It can be handled by independent parties, and that may very well be necessary for a race of this caliber. No significant hardware development can be made by July, but strict hardware requirements will certainly be in place (verified calibration, a narrow list of acceptable power meters, etc). All of this will filter down to everyday Zwift races in various ways over time.
- Watching Amazing Races: we like to watch top Zwift races… but watching the TdF on Zwift? That would be next-level, and we won’t miss a single event.
- More Pros on Zwift: if this happens, the pros won’t be messing around. The TdF is the biggest thing on cycling’s annual calendar, and with the IRL version still in question, this could turn out to be the biggest cycling event of the year. The pros will be out in force on Zwift, training to get the feel and fitness required for top results.
- Parity Progress: cycling has been talking about gender parity for a long time, but it really hasn’t happened in IRL road racing like it has on Zwift. If Zwift holds a men’s and women’s TdF, we’re guessing women will get just as much airtime and prize money as the guys. And that’s big news for women’s cycling.
Of course, this is all unconfirmed at this point. But if it does happen, if the Tour de France is hosted on Zwift, it will be a very big deal. It will be Zwift’s breakout moment. It will signal a sea change in the world of cycling. And it will further the development of a platform we Zwifters use day after day, week after week.
It will be big news. The biggest bit of Zwift news since Zwift began, back in 2014!
We hope it happens, and we’ll be here to share more on this story as it develops. We think we’ll be hearing more very soon…
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