An IRL bike racer’s experience in his first winter of cycling eSports races. (Part 2)

Part 2: Figure out what is actually going on.

Let’s be honest, cycling eSports is a cycling inspired video game. It is NOT (at least so far) a cycling simulator. This means that while you do ride a bike to play the game, the bike is just a controller for something quite different from racing a bike. First and foremost, you can’t crash and you can’t cross wheels with others. This lack of basic physical realism means you can just go mashing around full gas without being concerned for others’ or your own safety. The cascade of affects on the racing goes deep — to the point that cycling eSport racing is really only recognizable as a bike race because the avatars are on bikes! 🔥🔥

Sticky Draft

My first major realization is that the games have a draft power “window” — sometimes referred to as “sticky draft”. In real life, drafting is pure physics and actually quite complicated. The algorithms cycling eSports platforms use aren’t open, so it’s not clear exactly how they work, but it seems they go something like:

  1. and you are within a given distance behind that rider
  2. you will stay at their speed down to some lower power threshold
  3. you will have to ride some upper threshold harder than them to pass.
RGT Drafting 100>>> <<<240 is the draft window for the current speed.

Dual Recording

In high-level races, you are required to use a smart trainer that is designed to read out within 2% of actual power applied as your primary power source. With most racers also recording power with a power meter, there is the inevitability of mismatch and confusion. There is a solution — the game platforms actually accept both data streams, either as a signal and validation or as two signals that are combined in some way. But this is not currently the situation. Both Zwift and RGT use a single power source and racers routinely create “dual recording” reports after a race. There are multiple platforms that are capable of creating such reports. At the end of the day, they create a curve of maximum power to duration (what is commonly called a critical power curve) for both power sources.

Critical Power Curve Example

Course Design

Bike races are dictated by the racers that take part and the roads they race on. A tight corner or especially steep hill has a drastically different effect on a race than an open corner or shallow slope hill. On Zwift, you don’t so much design the course you want to ride as you select the pre-defined route you want to ride or race on but the effect is the same. This, coupled with the fact that cornering doesn’t affect a group on Zwift in a real-to-life way (basically not at all), means that Zwift is really more about selecting the climb duration and spacing you want with “crits” generally having many short climbs and road courses having spaced-out short or long climbs if any.

Designing GPX Points for a Race Line
Crazy Caldera
Yes, someone did it…
Fun to race the last 100k of Milan San Remo!



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David Blodgett

Recovering coached athlete focused on road and cyclocross racing for a decade. Father, cyclist, hydrologic information specialist. My opinions are my own.