As you can read in detail in My 2020 Cycling Tale, some goals were achieved, others forgotten in the haze of anxious days of COVID quarantine. The year started with my wife and I expecting a child — which lead me to put in big days, taking advantage of the last few months without a second kid. As the heat of summer and reality of COVID hit home, my riding went to six or less easy hours a week and my fitness dropped to the lowest level it’s been for a long long time.
Early in the fall, a friend who runs a virtual amateur cycling eSports team (Restart Racing) invited me to join them for a series of races on the RGT platform (Echelon Race League). This was pretty different from the usual racing Restart does on Zwift and was a really interesting experience. As a long time “In Real Life” bike racer who hasn’t done much cycling eSports, I was able to bring a fresh and critical perspective to the racing and had a lot of fun figuring out both the RGT platform and how to race Zwift for the other series Restart takes part in (WTRL).
What the hell are you going on about Dave?
I’ll step back for a moment… Cycling eSports has become a rather big deal in the cycling world with the introduction of smart trainers that can simulate cycling up and down hills as controlled by a computer. This cycling simulation has been mashed up with massive multiplayer gaming such that tens or hundreds of people can ride virtual bikes together using their smart trainer as a game controller. Since ever bike ride is the opportunity for a race, and computers are pretty good for figuring out the numbers, it was only a matter of time that cycling eSports racing would become a thing.
I’ve been resistant to this new discipline over the last few years for no real good reason but decided to give it a go this year.
A humbling experience.
The first race weekend of the Echelon series was on RGT’s “Real Roads” — A flat fast circuit on Borego Springs, a steep punchy circuit on the Paterberg, and an uphill TT on the Stelvio.
The RGT platform is extremely ambitious with its simulation of cycling physics. There are some nuances of the platform that can catch an unsuspecting rider out. For me, in the first race, a momentary lapse in concentration resulted in being tailed off the back of the group coming out of a corner.
The racers in the Echelon series were seriously strong. The idea of me (not a climber) staying with the group on the Paterberg’s 20% slopes was laughable but I was able to take some hope away from the Stelvio TT with solid numbers (for me) and a mid-pack finish.
Lesson learned: I’ve got some learning to do but if I get my shit together, I could probably do ok.
The RAGE QUIT!
One of the first events of the Echelon series was the Armed Forces Cycling Classic. One of the criteriums in the series featured multiple beyond 90 degree corners that really highlighted the issues with RGT’s cornering algorithm. That is, riders are allowed to go around a corner all at the same speed and many riders wide. In reality, one of two things would happen.
- A normal criterium is rarely more than two wide through corners. As a result, the whole race basically follows the same line around the course. Entering the corner from the outside, hitting the apex and entering the corner back to the outside in order to hold the most speed possible.
- In rare circumstances (maybe cyclocross start), a field will be many riders wide. When this happens, since riders must hold their line, those on the outside have a larger radius than those on the inside. As a result, riders on the inside are forced to slow down dramatically where those on the outside can carry more speed.
Neither of these things happen with how the RGT algorithm is implemented. Riders enter a corner many-riders wide and all get more or less the same speed around the corner. This results in those on the inside moving up and those on the outside tailing off. When tailed off around the outside, a person has to fight back to the front — which has to be done around the outside of the group — often ending up on the outside again for the next corner. This negative feedback loop all to often led to being dropped and/or quitting the game in a rage.
But it’s a game, right? Maybe there is a way to play the game to minimize this affect? Well, yes and no. There is an element of skill in that a person can learn to take opportunities to move up in the group at times that naturally move them to the line they want. But those chances aren’t always available and a person is inevitably at the mercy of their competitors and the churn of the group many times throughout the course of a race.
Lesson learned, skill is important but there is no replacement for being strong at the right moment makes all the difference.
That’s all for now. In part 2, I’ll talk about a couple projects I took on this winter to learn more about eSports — one focused on making RGT courses more forgiving and fun to race on and one focused on analyzing power data used in cycling eSports. In part 3 I’ll wrap up with some highlights from other races and how I finally found success in the last few races of the Echelon series.