Beacon Ambassador, Mary Wilkinson wins CVR World Cup in Vancouver and secures ten grand prize pot!
“So, let me get this right…you’re going all the way to Vancouver to ride a bike fixed to a turbo trainer, racing against real people, but in a virtual world?!”
That was the reaction I got from pretty much everyone I talked to about the Zwift CVR World Cup Finals that I competed in last week, and yes, that was pretty much exactly what I was doing! The concept is based around the ever-growing world of competitive ‘eSports’ (Electronic sports) and uses the hugely popular Zwift platform that allows users to ride, train and race indoors with other riders located around the world in real time. CVR (Cycligent Virtual Racing) have combined these elements to create a worldwide league that cumulates in a season finale where the top ranked riders from each different time zones around the world compete head-to-head for a top prize of $10,000.
My journey to Vancouver started about 3 months earlier when by chance I chose a race on Zwift that happened to be the second round of the CVR World Cup League. The competition was strong and as racing is the best way to improve my overall fitness I decided to complete the rest of the 8-week league. It was only towards the end of the series that I found out that there were actual prizes to be won and as a Zone winner this meant I would be invited to compete in the finals in Vancouver!
I’m sure your wondering why I needed to travel half way round the world to compete in a game that can be played anywhere! The answer is simple, to ensure a level playing field. All turbo trainers are slightly different, they might not be calibrated correctly and for all I know Jane in Japan might actually be a man, several people or a machine! So, by all being in the same room on the same Cyclops Hammer turbos and weighed in accurately we were ensured that the power we were producing was a true reflection of our ability in the races.
Being my first ‘live event’ I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the Harry Jerome Velodrome in Vancouver. The set-up was certainly impressive, but also slightly intimidating as 10 turbos were lined up facing each other ready for the battles head. Somewhat different to the solitude of my own turbo trainer set-up in my shed at home and add to that meeting my fellow qualifiers who were no longer just virtual avatars on a screen, they were real people and very fit real people! The butterflies in my stomach were certainly growing, in fact I would say I was more nervous than I had been for my first ever road race earlier this year! Would the performances I had produced while Zwifting in my shed transfer to this set-up or would I be dropped immediately? I’d soon find out… Oh and there is also the small matter of the whole event being streamed live around the world to 10’s of thousands of people!
This year’s finals were utilising a brand-new racing format comprising 5 separate races, over 2 days on varying terrain (flat & hilly courses to ensure all rider types were catered for) but rather than points just being awarded for finishing positions there were multiple ‘lines’ within each race worth different amounts of points. This meant that as well as physical capacity, tactics would also play a significant role in who would come out on top. Do you go all out for every sprint line or pick and choose the higher value ones?
Race day arrived and as soon as I got on the bike the nerves evaporated and my auto-pilot racing brain took over. We were introduced ‘gently’ with an individual time trial over a flat 11km course. I say gently, it was actually far from gentle with 10 highly competitive individuals fuelled by adrenaline and urged on my spectators battling it out for the first blow. I was more than happy to claim 2nd behind former Australian Pro Vicki Whitelaw and build my confidence that I was meant to be here. With just 15 minutes to recover before stage 2, it wasn’t long before we were off and racing again. This time it was head-to-head, and no one was giving an inch. The regular sprints to each points line, with supporters cranking up the volume of support as every additional watt of power was laid down ended up with the closest of close finishes with millimetres separating myself and US competitor Claudia Behring. It certainly made for exciting racing and to be right in the thick of it was an exhilarating experience. I headed into day 2 at the head of the standings and raring to do it all again…but these girls were strong and I know I’d have my work cut out to hold on to it.
Day 2 and we faced 3 back to back races, a hilly one, a flat crit style race with sprints every couple of minutes and finally another hilly one. As a ‘climber’ I wanted to stamp my authority in the Mountain stages so I went out hard up virtual ‘Box Hill’ and managed to solo to a very sweet victory and pick up a lot of points along the way. The Crit race was one of the hardest things I have done on a bike; sprint, recover, sprint, repeat. By the end we were all running on empty but what a fantastic race. Last up, the decider. We were all tired so it was a bit more cagey to start with but as we hit the final hill myself and Claudia who proved to be my closest rival gapped the rest and battled it out the finish. Crossing the line it was confirmed that I was the CVR WORLD CUP WINNER! Unbelievable!
The concept of virtual racing certainly divides the cycling community. No, it isn’t ‘real’ cycling in the sense of travelling over ground by bike and there are no bike handling skills required but the effort, pain, competition and emotion are all very real. This really is the hardest video game in the world! It is also open to anyone. All you need is a smart turbo trainer, a bike and a membership to Zwift. From there sign up to the CVR League and you too could be competing to win what must be one of the biggest payouts in cycling.
Mary is an ambassador for Beacon Bikes https://www.beaconfell.com/ and https://www.thefellbiketri.com/ she races a Beacon BF-100 https://www.beaconfell.com/configurator/index/load/id/5062 endurance race bike with Shimano Ultegra Groupset