Just a few weeks after the inaugural UCI cycling eSports World Championships, season 2 of the Zwift Racing League (ZRL) kicked off with two laps of the Reverse Richmond UCI World Championships course on Zwift. Two KOMs and four sprint primes were on offer, in addition to a hefty points total at the finish line for 21 of the top men’s teams on Zwift.
Organized by World Tactical Racing League (WTRL) and Zwift, Zwift Live, and Zwift Community, the Zwift Racing League (ZRL) is both a massive and complicated endeavor that exploded in popularity after its first season at the end of 2020. ZRL hosts both Premier Divisions which are invite-only, and Community Divisions which are open to the public and riders and teams of all abilities. In its second season running, the ZRL has expanded to more than 1,000 different teams from across the world, with eight weeks of racing on offer from January through the first week of March 2021. The Premier League is the star of the show, with live broadcastings reaching hundreds of thousands of viewers worldwide.
The team at ZADA (Zwift Accuracy and Data Analysis) helps ensure fair competition for all and verification for all riders participating in the Premier Division. For the first round of season 2, a tough points race on the Reverse Richmond course offered opportunities for both puncheurs and sprinters, with intermediate sprint points on offer for the first 10 riders over the line. New to season 2 is the addition of bonus points for the rider with the fastest overall time for each segment, and not necessarily the first over the line. Most importantly, the points total is team-based, and so the stage win would go to the team who racked up the most points over the course of the entire stage.
In the end, there was 33km of full-gas racing on offer, with six intermediate sprints plus the finish; and only the strongest would survive.
While the Richmond UCI World’s course typically begins with nearly 10 kilometers of flat road, its reverse heads straight down Governor’s St. and towards the backside of 23rd St. and Libby Hill, the former being the site of Sagan’s winning attack at the 2015 UCI Road World Championships. At the beginning of season 2 of the Zwift Premier League, the men’s field bombed down to the bottom of the first KOM and then took on a 1.1km climb to the top of 23rd St.
Pim van Diemen (DTCH) launched an attack on the steepest part of the climb, holding 10w/kg for nearly a minute, before getting caught by Lionel Vujasin (Canyon eSports) who recently finished 6th at the 2020 UCI Cycling E-Sports World Championships. The Belgian took maximum points with a near-600w effort that would do well even on the real-life Koppenberg.
Vujasin – lap 1 23rd St. KOM
Average Power: 596w (8.5w/kg)
Peak 40sec Power: 776w (11.1w/kg)
After a quick regrouping and descent down the cobblestones of Libby Hill, the field approached the Broad St. Sprint, which, for a sprint point, is a lot tougher than it looks. Rather than a flat run-in, the Broad St. sprint comes at the top of a 1.2km long climb with an average of 4 percent. Attacks flew near the top of this rise, with a group of four slowly sneaking away just ahead of the sprint point. Michael Knudsen (POAUTO–CeramicSpeed) earned maximum points ahead of Håvard Gjeldnes (KALAS eSRT) and Johannes Rechenauer (KC-A1).
Knudsen – lap 1 Broad St. climb and sprint
Average Power: 515w (7.4w/kg)
Peak 20sec Sprint: 766w (11w/kg)
The next few kilometers offered riders the first real chance to catch their breath, but it wasn’t long before the power-ups were being dropped for the third sprint of the day on Monument Ave. Vujasin led it out, but Anders Foldager (POAUTO–CeramicSpeed) beat the Belgian to the line. A few kilometers later, the reduced peloton flew through the finish line for the penultimate time, and started flying down the descent towards 23rd St. for the second and final time.
Knudsen went first of the steepest section of the climb, and the only rider who was able to come across – and then over the top – was Gjeldnes, who took the points ahead of the Dane, and Joost van den Bosch (DTCH) who was third. Again, we can see that 600w for a minute is not the winning attack in the ZRL, but rather the minimum requirement to be anywhere near the front of the race.
Gjeldnes – lap 2 23rd St. KOM
Average Power: 617w (8.1w/kg)
Peak 1min Power: 712w (9.4w/kg)
At the top of the Broad St. climb, Knudsen timed his effort to perfection, slingshotting past the leaders just in time to take maximum sprint points for the second lap in succession. Rechenauer was second, and Frederik Muff (POAUTO–CeramicSpeed) was third, while other riders in the field conserved their energy for the final sprint.
Knudsen – lap 2 Broad St. climb and sprint
Average Power: 479w (6.9w/kg)
Peak 20sec Sprint: 710w (10.2w/kg)
A mix of new names contested the final intermediate sprint at Monument Ave. with less than five kilometers to go, as many of the heavy hitters and stage favorites saved their efforts for the finish. Jordan Cheyne (Finesse Rockets) went on a late solo flyer but was caught inside one kilometer to go.
Without real-life lead-out trains, and the bumping and barging of the fight for position, the final sprint was always going to be a messy one. Power-ups were dropping left, right, and center in the final 500 meters, with every single rider pushing over 10, 11, 12…and even 16w/kg in the sprint to the line. In the end, Macio Voets (DTCH) came out ahead of Vidar Mehl (KALAS eSRT) and Vujasin who were all separated by less than two-hundredths of a second.
Voets – final sprint
Average Power: 590w (8.1w/kg)
Peak 20sec: 971w (13.3w/kg)
Max Power: 1,108w (15.2w/kg)
Vujasin – final sprint
Average Power: 648w (9.2w/kg)
Peak 30sec: 881w (12.5w/kg)
Max Power: 1,155w (16.4w/kg)
Bunch gallops are incredibly complicated on Zwift – the timing, positioning, and physical effort are unlike anything in real-life racing, making Zwift sprinting as much of an art as it is a skill. By looking at Voet’s and Vujasin’s power files, we can see just how hard the final kilometer was, even before they opened their final sprints. Both Voets and Vujasin had to ride at 500-600w for more than 30 seconds, just to maintain their position at the front of the bunch. Immediately following that VO2max effort, each opened up their sprint with a few hundred meters to go and went flying towards the finish at over 70kph. It is interesting to see how timing and positioning can beat pure power in a bunch sprint, as Vujasin clearly had the better numbers, but was bested by Voets and Mehl at the line.
In the end, Vujasin missed out on the win, but had one of the best all-round rides of the day – the Belgian racked up a hefty points total for his Canyon eSports team by taking points in both the intermediate sprints and at the finish, leading them to a 3rd place finish behind POAUTO–CeramicSpeed, and Enshored p/b Pedalpower at the end of round 1 of the Zwift Premier League.
Lionel Vujasin – Premier Division / Zwift Racing League – 3rd overall
Average Power: 338w (4.8w/kg)
Normalized Power: 413w (5.9w/kg)
Peak 10min Normalized Power: 446w (6.3w/kg)
Peak 1min Power: 672 (9.6w/kg)
Peak 20sec Power: 955w (13.6w/kg)
Mens riders on Strava: