Zwift hosted the third annual UCI Esports World Championships this weekend. The race featured a new three race-format that took place within a 75-minute period. Riders qualified for the event by riding from home, participating in a few Zwift races then placing highly in organized regional races.
The first of the three races, called The Punch, was be held on the Rolling Highlands course, a 14.1 kilometer course with 105 meters of rolling climbs that never give competitors a chance to rest. The new course is part of Zwift’s Scotland map, which was built for the 2023 Cycling Esports World Championships. The rollercoaster-like roads will narrow the field down from 100 starters to only the first 30 riders across the line.
After a short break, the top 30 finishers from the first race will start the second race, The Climb, a hill climb scratch race held on Scotland’s City and the Sgurr course. This 8.6 kilometer course with 161 meters of punishing climbing per lap will challenge racers to repeatedly climb the toughest climb in the new Scotland world. Only the top ten finishers will advance to the third stage.
The third and final race of the 2023 UCI Cycling Esports World Championships, The Podium, will take place on the Glasgow Crit Circuit, a 3 kilometer loop with 33 meters of climbing. In a first for world championship cycling esports, this final race will feature an elimination format. Popular in track cycling, elimination racing moves the action from the front of the pack to the back; on each lap, the last rider across the finish line will be pulled out of the race. When the field has been reduced from 10 to three riders, the last remaining cyclists will race for the win and remaining podium spots.
Denmark’s Bjørn Andreassen took a commanding win in the 2023 UCI Cycling Esports World Championships after riding strategically through the first two rounds of racing and then leaping to an early lead in The Podium, the final event. Germany’s Jason Osborne, the 2020 UCI Cycling Esports World Champion, was second, with his teammate Marc Mäding finishing third.
86 riders started the men’s race, which was held in Zwift’s new Scotland world, launched earlier this month for the world championship races.
In order to win, Andreassen made it through the first two races. The first was The Punch, in which the top thirty finishers advanced. The second stage was The Climb, where only the top 10 riders to finish advanced to the final stage, The Podium.
Andreassen was largely hidden in the first two stages, but struck out early in the final race, almost immediately opening up a lead that eventually stretched to 15 seconds. The nine other riders were left to contest the remaining spots, with one rider getting eliminated at each of the courses’ two sprint points.
The devil was at the back, and USA’s Zach Nehr was the first racer eliminated, followed by Denmark’s Oskar Hvid, South Africa’s James Barnes, and Norway’s Haavard Gjeldnes. Pre-race favorite, Freddy Ovett of Australia, tried to start a chase on the fifth lap, but ended up getting caught out himself, followed by Kjell Power of Belgium. Denmark’s Anders Foldager was the last eliminated, leaving Andereassen as the sole Dane in the race, facing Germans Osborn and Mading. But with a lead that hardly ever dipped below 10 second in the closing laps, Andreassen was able to ride comfortably to the win, with his real-world teammates promptly handing him a bottle of champagne.
After the race, Andreassen credited mountain bike racing with helping him devise the winning tactic, noting that he treated the start just as he would a mountain bike race.
USA’s Timothy Rugg was the first to attack, shooting off the front in the opening kilometers, before quickly being brought back. He was followed by Australia’s Sam Hill. The move was soon neutralized by a strong Belgian team led by pre-race favorite Victor Campanearts of Belgium. The peloton was all together with seven kilometers to go when riders started to deploy their burrito powerups, attempting to breakaway. The race’s strongest move came at about three kilometers to go, and included Daniel Turek of the Czech Republic, Stian Lersveen of Norway, France’s Geoffry Millour, Johan Noren of Sweden, and Edward Lavarack of Great Britain. This group got a lead of six seconds as they went through two kilometers to go, leading into the last climb.
A big acceleration from the group neutralized the gap, setting up a full gas sprint with the first 30 finishers set to advance to the second race.
Rinus Verhelle, of Belgium, opened the sprint, and it was Germany’s Marc Mading taking the win ahead of Haavard Gjeldnes, of Norway, and Osborn.
The second race saw riders tackle the punishing steeps of the Siggur climb three times. Thirty riders took the start and only ten advanced to the final round. The opening kilometers saw the group largely staying together, but the racing soon heated up with an attack from Verhelle, who went off the front on the second of three climbs.
He earned a three second gap on the dirt descent while the bunch behind deployed a flurry of anvil powerups. The fierce pace caused a few riders to fall off the pack while the riders at the front spiked their power to seven watts per kilogram to push the pace.
Christopher Dawson, of Ireland, brought the group back together with two kilometers to go and Osborn took the win ahead of USA’s Zach Nehr and Belgium’s Kjell Power, setting up the final showdown in The Podium.
Final Men’s Results:
The Netherland’s Loes Adegeest won her second-consecutive UCI Cycling Esports World Championship by riding the three-race series conservatively, staying largely anonymous in the bunch of 87 of the world’s best Zwift racers, until the closing moments of the first two races, when she made it clear that she’d come prepared to win.
In the finale, the Dutch rider deployed a well-timed burrito power up to help her definitively out sprinted Great Britain’s Zoe Langham and the USA’s Jacquie Godbe to recapture her UCI World Champion’s rainbow stripes.
While Loes had demonstrated impressive patience in the first two races, she firmly took control in the last race, contested over six laps of Zwift’s Glasgow Crit Circuit.
The Dutch rider led the bunch through four of the six eliminations, choosing to use her speed to gain a lead, instead of taking a chance on a sprint. It was a dominating tactic, but one that required her to expend more energy than other racers who remained in the draft longer, counting on a sprint to avoid elimination.
With the display of power, speed, and tactical acumen, Loes made it apparent that she was prepared to win, despite lining up for the final race in a field that, on paper, looked like it should have been dominated by the United States, which started with four riders, twice as many as the next-largest team, Great Britain.
Once on the road, it quickly became apparent that the Americans were outmatched, losing pre-race favorite Kristin Kulchinsky and Zwift Academy finalist Liz Van Houweling in the first two eliminations. (Great Britain’s Lou Bates had to retire at the start due to a technical issue).
Next eliminated were Switzerland’s Kathrin Fuhrer, Sweden’s Mika Söderström, USA’s Arielle Verharren, and France’s Sandrine Etienne, setting up the final sprint between Adegeest, Langham, and Godbe. Adegeest used a small rise in the closing meters as a launch pad, cruising past the British and American riders to take the win. At home, she quickly donned her world champion’s jersey and celebrated her win.
The first of the women’s races was on the Zwift’s Rolling Highland’s course and saw a fast pace and a bunch that largely stayed together. Femke de Zee, of the Netherlands, made an early effort, gaining a small gap, but was quickly brought back. After that, riders seemed reluctant to attack, preferring instead to stay hidden in the bunch. The powerful American team, which started with seven riders, burned some matches to keep the pace high, trading pulls with the British team of 12 riders, while also seeing other nations mixing it up.
The British team lifted the pace with two kilometers to go, stringing out the group, but failing to break it up. The Americans moved all their riders to the front in the last kilometer and sent Godbe off the front in a strong attack that didn’t get a response. Godbe cruised to a win with more than a second of space between her and second-place rider Söderström. Langham finished third and Loes safely cruised across the line in sixth.
The shorter Climb stage presented the thirty remaining riders with three punishing climbs and mixed surfaces that added resistance on some steep grades. After winning the first stage, Godbe seemed eager to establish her dominance and went to the front early. Godbe, stretch out the peloton on the lower slopes of the climb.
The peloton started to splinter under pressure from pre-race favorite Kulchinsky, who led up the 8-percent grade. The descent proved critical, as some riders struggled to hang onto the furious pace. Zwift Academy winner Tanja Erath was among those who got dropped and never made it back to the bunch. Langham went to the front on the second of three climbs, supported by her Great Britain teammates.
The second descent, the longer of the two, saw nearly all the remaining riders deploy their anvil powerups at the same moment – with three kilometers to go – accelerating the bunch down the gravel descent, and literally leaving riders who couldn’t keep up in the dust. Godbe was among the riders gapped and had to expend a lot of energy to regain the bunch.
Great Britain’s Mary Wilkinson went to the front on the last climb, with Langham tucked behind. While the USA tried to challenge for control, the race came down to a messy bunch sprint with Loes again showing patience and tactics to get herself safely to the line first, seemingly without putting her nose in the wind until the closing meters, getting herself through to the final round having only expended the minimum necessary energy, and entered the last stage among the fastest 10 women in the world as a strong favorite.
Final Women’s Results:
Loes Adegeest, Netherland
Zoe Langham, Great Britain
Jaqueline Godbe, United States
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