E-RACING: REFRAMING THE COVID19 CHALLENGES AS AN OPPORTUNITY

Globally, society has been massively disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. From a sporting perspective, this disruption has resulted in the rise in interest in virtual platforms as a way for individuals to keep fit and healthy. In addition to this, e-sports has gained prominence with many sports bodies adopting the virtual landscape to provide an alternative to keep fans engaged and clubs, event organisers, governing bodies afloat.

Although the UCI endorsed cycling e-sports into its constitution in 2018 and multiple countries including UK and Australia have held national e-racing championships, the e-racing discipline is still in its infancy in South Africa.

E-racing provides a unique opportunity for aspirant professional cyclists outside of Europe to compete on a level playing field. Virtual racing allows riders to compete in their home environment against the world’s best without the added pressure of visa requirements, travel and accommodation expenses and on-the-ground support, not to mention language barriers.

“As a team from South Africa and the African continent, we know how hard it is to break through into a very European traditional sport like cycling. In sport, it is often about who you know that gets you into teams and moves you forward.” said Doug Ryder (NTT Pro Cycling Team) in an interview with Peter Gray on 2 July 2020.

Virtual racing also provides an avenue for CyclingSA to identify raw talent which is backed up by quantitative data from the athletes’ performance on the platform.

NTT Pro Cycling were one of the first professional teams to embrace the Zwift platform to recruit new riders into their UCI Continental team, and their early adoption has come to fruition with their recent success at the first-ever virtual Tour de France.

“I think virtual riding and racing is here to stay. I look forward to having a virtual race programme alongside our existing race programme. We have connected with a broader audience now in a different way, and we need to continue connecting with them and engaging virtually. It drives health and wellness in the home and will move people to outdoor cycling too. ” said Doug Ryder (Team principal and owner of NTT Pro Cycling Team) in an interview with Peter Gray on 2 July 2020.

CyclingSA will be using the Junior E-Racing National Championships (to be held on 8 August 2020) to develop a blueprint to build a future series of events to act as feeder races building up from grass-roots, into provincial and then national championships.

While this new discipline offers many benefits, e-racing comes with its own set of unique challenges. Limited internet connectivity, accessibility and cost of the required equipment, are barriers not only for South Africa but other developing countries.

Transformation and development is a key focus for CyclingSA, and we will continue to develop long term plans to ensure that virtual racing is made more accessible for all aspirant e-racers.

“Ideally we would like for academies and clubs to have access to e-racing equipment but this is not possible at the moment. It is for this reason that we are currently working to create a club support structure whereby the bigger clubs around South Africa will assist in a sharing system, providing facilities and equipment in order to allow a more diverse cross-section of riders to partake in e-races.

“We have engaged with the provinces to assist any junior riders wishing to take part in the first Junior E-Racing National Championships. I have also directed a portion of our Lotto grant to the provinces to provide financial assistance for the clubs and participants needing support.” said Ciska Austin, President of CyclingSA.

To assist riders wanting to race in the Junior E-Racing National Championships, the provinces are currently engaging with clubs and retailers to make equipment available. Currently, Western Cape has 10 wattbikes and 3 smart trainers available for development riders, Gauteng has 3 retail stores who will be hosting riders for the pre-races and national championships, and KZN Cycling is overseeing specialised training sessions incorporating a number of identified PDI riders.

“The UCI has recognised e-racing as an additional discipline, and locally we are using the Junior E-Racing National Championships as a test event to roll out National E-Racing Championships across all categories. Looking at the progress made so far, it is encouraging what the future might hold in unlocking unidentified talent.” added Austin.

We ask that if any members of the cycling community are able to assist through making their equipment available to please contact the relevant provincial bodies directly. For a list of provincial contacts, please click here.

For more details about the SA Junior E-Racing National Championships or to enter, please click here

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