At their core, competitive cyclists have simple needs. Provide them with a fun, safe, and stable racing environment on a level playing field with consistent competition, and, for the most part, they're pretty satisfied. For the burgeoning subset of indoor cycling racers who've found a virtual niche to scratch their competitive itch, it's no different.
The up-and-coming newcomer to the virtual cycling game, MyWhoosh, prioritises promoting and legitimising high-level esports racing. MyWhoosh claims to check all the boxes on the racer's wish list with ground-breaking innovation and development of the industry's most robust validation, verification, and categorisation model and a realistic race experience.
The platform's ever-evolving verification data analysis model is the two-year project of MyWhoosh's director of data analytics, Holden Comeau. The early esports adopter, who won the 2019 USA Cycling Esports National Championship, admits the model continually improves.
Add one additional spicey ingredient not found in any other platform's recipe... one million dollars!
MyWhoosh, the free-to-use virtual cycling platform, will host the 2023 MyWhoosh Championship with the largest prize pot in cycling esports' short history on the offering. Registration for the seven-stage Championship, spread across eight days beginning on 28 April 2023, opened on 27 March.
“Yeah, I plan on participating!" answered Team USA and NeXT Esports pb Enshored racer J Bruhn, formerly Zwift #1 ranked and multi-time UCI Cycling Esports World Championship contender.
"The why, I’ll be honest, the money is what got my attention, but I think more importantly, this is huge for the credibility of our sport! It is raising the bar for other virtual cycling platforms, setting an example, and catching the eye of sponsors.
"If we want virtual cycling to become a true professional sport, we must bring in sponsors to pay the bills. So, yeah, the money caught my eye, but I plan to try to compete because I think it is great for the sport, not because I plan to win.”
The timing of the big money announcement, several days before the Marquis race on the Zwift and UCI cycling esports calendar, the World Championship, may signal that MyWhoosh is playing to win and flashing the cash to get noticed by not only the competitors. Big money may motivate more than just the racers.
When representatives were asked, "What is the ultimate goal for MyWhoosh?" in an interview with Cyclingnews last year, the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships, the Olympics, a professional racing league that pays racers a living wage and allows them to focus on esports and continued technical development letting fans engage with the platform and racers were all mentioned.
Like many Grand Tours, the MyWhoosh Championship sets off with a flat stage for the sprinters. It increases elevation for the climbers daily — building to the 5th stage with almost 2,000m of climbing — and a time trial on the penultimate stage. The men will complete 460km of racing with over 6000m of climbing, and the women will conquer 330km with over 4000m of climbing.
Regarding the clever timing of the announcement, representatives said: "We are excited to launch the MyWhoosh Championship Series at a time when esports and virtual cycling are more competitive than ever.
"MyWhoosh already hosts a weekly Sunday Race Club that offers one of the largest weekly prize pots in the sport. With the Championship Series, we aim to bring more attention, opportunity, and competition to the broader virtual cycling industry."
The strategic timing of the initial announcement came under further scrutiny when MyWhoosh pulled back to postpone the event, citing overwhelming racer interest and the implementation of performance verification upgrades and experience enhancements. They include a player attack notification that will alert you whenever a rider near you is trying to attack, voice chat allowing the racers to communicate vocally, emotes to enhance self-expression, and the ability to connect a secondary power source.
Dual recording, when a racer uploads a secondary source of power data, like from a crank or pedal-based external power meter, in addition to the power from their turbo trainer, is required for participation in the series. MyWhoosh postponed the event to imbed this feature and ensure they collect the data effectively to implement real-time verification.
The MyWhoosh Championship Series will debut the real-time verification feature. In theory, the verification team will remove a non-compliant rider from the race in real-time to decrease the impact on the outcome.
MyWhoosh’s recent game update came with its share of bugs, but that’s nothing new or unique to virtual cyclists across multiple platforms. The platform partially addressed the issues by increasing hardware performance specs—recommending a high-end gaming computer—and streamlining the supported iPhone and iPad models.
According to MyWhoosh: "We are a platform with professional racing at its heart, and therefore we have a robust performance verification programme. Every (Championship Series) registered user must submit a height/weigh-in video and an FTP test as part of the registration process.
"Once registration closes, 260 riders (130 male, 130 female) will be selected through our dynamic categorisation system and placed into four categories based on ability level. The Championship Series is open to all riders, including UAE Team Emirates riders."
The platform requires a 48-hour window to submit weigh-in videos, compared to Zwift's two-hour timeframe. The difference raises questions with racers regarding extreme dieting and dehydration behaviours to gain a competitive edge.
Michael Vink is a long-term MyWhoosh user, and UAE Team Emirates scouted him after noticing his impressive results on the platform. "There are going to be a lot of riders in this Championship—the biggest field for a MyWhoosh event—and I’m looking forward to seeing who’s going to throw their hat in and stick it out for the full eight days," notes Michael.
Vink continues: "Imagine the hardest race in your career and anticipate doing that every day. Nothing can really replicate indoor training. Not even the guys on the World Tour would be able to jump into a MyWhoosh race and win convincingly without any indoor practice."
Joining riders from UAE will be many of the Zwift cycling esports elite, like Team Italy and Castelli pb Elite racer Luca Zanasca: "MyWhoosh is an excellent alternative for riding indoors. First of all, it's free! Second, I see all the improvements they made on the platform. They took significant steps.The draft is different, and the races are much longer. If you want to finish in the top 10, you must give 100%, but 70km per day with many climbs is ideal for my characteristics."
Several elite Zwift riders surveyed didn't find the pack dynamics and race physics ideal or realistic on MyWhoosh. The draft within the group could be more generous, leaving little opportunity for tactics and emphasising pure watts.
It results in races that become a series of tests — max 60-minute power for the entire race, with a few shorter max efforts depending on the course topography, usually ending in a ramping 20-min, 10-min, 5-min max watts-per-kilogram showdown for the finale, often on a climb. For many riders, trying to hang on is a survival effort, while the strongest battle it out, gradually dropping everyone on the way. If you're not one of them, it isn't a very interesting or enjoyable race, and the dynamics don’t leave you any tactical or strategic options.
That was the big complaint in the early days of Zwift competition, where the races were 'all out' from the start, and they rewarded the most powerful rider regardless of savviness or experience. The Zwift race team is constantly tweaking the game physics and recently released its fourth generation—PDv4.
Zwift developers designed the latest version to encourage riders to race more aggressively and try breakaway opportunities to create more dynamic racing scenarios. They intend to enhance the realistic racing experience by reducing cyclists' forward and backward movement in the pack while tempering the overall speed of larger groups. All aspects of the race dynamic are lacking on MyWhoosh, according to the elite Zwift racers asked.
“The platform itself comes with super hard racing since the dynamics are different than on Zwift, and the pack doesn’t stay together that easy," observes Team Germany Esports World Championship racer and Toyota CRYO-RDT elite cyclist Martin Maertens.
"Hiding in the draft requires a lot of practice.
“On MyWhoosh, the races have no easy sections. You always have power on the pedals. The Zwift Grand Prix (the platform's highest level) is way more tactical, whereas, on MyWhoosh, it comes down to the power numbers.”
Michael Vink's massive power numbers while racing in MyWhoosh's Sunday Race club caught the UAE Team Emirates' attention, landing him a pro contract.
"Michael has multiple national championships, so we were well aware of his ability to ride a bike and find his way in the peloton," notes UAE Team Emirates representatives, but "he was consistently winning races on MyWhoosh with impressive power numbers, and that’s, ultimately, what put him on our radar."
Using their platform as a scouting vehicle validates MyWhoosh's esports focus.
According to representatives: "Identifying talent is important to MyWhoosh, and something the business has a legacy in. We are proud to be one of the reasons, beyond individual riders’ efforts and dedication to the sport, that professional career progression becomes possible.
"MyWhoosh will not specifically be using the Championship Series for talent identification. However, we welcome any entity to use our race series as a talent scouting opportunity."
MyWhoosh shares a vested interest in talent identification with industry leader Zwift. The Zwift Academy was the first to use a virtual platform in this capacity. In its seven years, the annual competition consisting of baseline rides and pre-determined, structured pro contender workouts has produced several successful tour racers, like Jay Vine.
2020 Zwift Academy winner Jay Vine won two stages in three days in the Vuelta de Espana and crashed out while wearing the polka dot jersey. Vine signed a two-year deal with UAE Team Emirates and won the 2023 season’s first major race, The Tour Down Under, alongside his new mates.
Four new Australia routes will be added to the MyWhoosh map for the Championship Series, taking riders through six regions of Vine's home country: Sydney, Cambewarra, Great Barrier Reef, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Uluru, covering over 80km of new road and nearly 1,000m of elevation.
"As a big fan of virtual cycling myself, I feel a touch of home when I jump on the bike,” says Jay Vine, UAE Team Emirates professional cyclist.
Already a staple on the MyWhoosh platform, the Colombia world is gaining five new routes and expanding three, taking the cumulative distance to over 100km and riders from the depths of the Amazon rainforest to the heights of El Limonar and Verjon Bogota.
And is it a level playing field?
“Yeah, I think it’s legit and probably as much as other platforms. I have no reason to believe otherwise,” says J Bruhn.
Not all athletes agree. The complaints of suspected unrealistic performances are predominately limited to the lower categories. It suggests a lesser focus on the 'community level', much like the Zwift platform.
Except when South African Eddy Hoole, whose brazen cheating hack in a 2023 UCI Cycling Esports Qualifier earned him a high-profile ban, showed up high in the results of a recent Cat 1 MyWhoosh Sunday Race Club qualifier.
MyWhoosh representatives responded: “At MyWhoosh we are committed to ensuring fair racing is maintained. Every rider who enters MyWhoosh’s esports racing events is subject to the MyWhoosh Performance Verification Program.
"After an internal investigation, the MyWhoosh Cycling Esports Race Commission has annulled Eddy Hoole’s participation from March 12's Sunday Race Club, and suspended him from partaking in any MyWhoosh races until further notice. Eddy Hoole has violated Clause 188.8.131.52 of the MyWhoosh ruleset for participating in a MyWhoosh esports race while serving a suspension from Cycling South Africa.”
The commission erased Hoole's name from the results shortly after that. Much like the other platforms, there’s a lot of work to be done to identify and eliminate otherworldly performances and transparently persuade the racers there’s a level playing field in sight.
However, the blatant oversight of the rider banned in the season's most highly publicised cheating scandal leads racers and onlookers to question what else has slipped past the verification team, blinded by the promise of big payouts.
So, does the money make a difference?
In the mind of the popular Finnish elite racer for Wahoo le Col Teppo Laurio, it definitely does: "Yeah, and it's not Zwift Grand Prix money. It's real money. If I can take one or two segments, it's more than for the whole Grand Prix season. If I take the podium, it's more prize money than in the UCI Cycling Esports World Champs.”
He's not the only one. Money was the primary motivating factor during the informal survey of a cross-section of elite esports performers. Is it enough to sway the racer's loyalty and overlook the inadequacies in race realism, verification, validation, categorisation, and other growing pains?
Money can't buy happiness for several elite female esports athletes that have enjoyed tremendous success on other platforms and the road. They characterise the races as pedestrian (seemingly to keep the overall race power average below scrutiny) until the pack reaches a selection or the final climb when performances uncharacteristic of elite female cyclists are commonplace.
Many of the athletes interviewed speculate about gender misrepresentation and exploitation. For the Championship, MyWhoosh reserves the right to request riders to live stream their race to a supplied link. Failure to live stream will result in immediate disqualification.
Despite this, the inequity is too much for many female athletes to accept or overcome, and they choose to compete elsewhere. The massive cash incentive has other seedy side effects.
The “code of silence” culture surrounding the prize money deters community-building and engagement between riders. Exclusive chat groups of the 'inner circle' of experienced and strong riders communicate behind the scenes, and arrangements between only the dominant riders emerge. Racers criticise MyWhoosh for inefficient and ineffective communication when faced with integrity, validation, and categorisation enquiries.
Despite the perceived correctable shortcomings, the positive potential for esports is game-changing. A summarisation of the winnings of the top earners rivals some riders in the pro peloton. The cash infusion could go a long way towards raising awareness and supporting athlete and esports development if allocated appropriately and in the best interest of the sport and its athletes.
If the MyWhoosh Championship is only the beginning, as they contend, the platform will tip the scales in favour of the racers and the viability of esports. A professional racing league that pays racers a living wage and allows them to focus on esports? There are a million reasons to say "YES!"
However, if the platform doesn't harness the power of the almighty dollar to build a respected, trusted, nurturing, and enjoyable venue, then, in that case, it incentivises cheating, justifies overlooking the negative aspects of the platform and rider safety, and prevents the creation of a cohesive racing community that makes other platforms successful.
If you think you have what it takes to compete for the prize pot, then registration for the MyWhoosh Race Championship closes today. Hopefuls must submit an FTP test, weight/height videos, and complete an online registration before participating. The final selection will consist of 130 women and 130 men. Participants can enter as individual riders or team members.
It's free to enter the MyWhoosh Race Championship, and the link to sign up is here.
A physical therapist with over 25 years of experience, Christopher Schwenker is on a journey to give back to the cycling community for rewarding experiences and fulfilling relationships through the pages of his virtual cycling blog, The Zommunique.com. He rode his bike across the US in 2022 to raise awareness of his cycling-related non-profit, The DIRT Dad Fund.