On December 10th, the world’s best indoor specialists took on some of the world’s fastest real-life pros at the first-ever UCI cycling esports world championships. One and two-thirds laps of the Figure 8 loop on Watopia were contested, with a finish atop the Watopia Forward KOM, a 900-meter long climb with an average of 5.5 percent. Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands), Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (South Africa), and Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) headlined the women’s race, while Eli Iserbyt (Belgium), Rigoberto Urán (Colombia), and Michael Valgren (Denmark) featured in the men’s race.
In the end, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio strong-armed the women’s finish by taking the lead with 800 meters to go and never looking back. The South African champion powered all the way to the line with Sarah Gigante (Australia) being the only challenger who came close to foiling Moolman Pasio’s attack.
In the men’s race, Germany launched a two-rider attack with just a few hundred meters to go in the men’s race, helping Olympic rower Jason Osborne power away to a surprise victory ahead of a small chase group.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the power numbers from “Zwift worlds,” and see how experience and timing, when matched with power, can overcome superior numbers.
Women’s UCI esports cycling world championships
The women went first in the race for the rainbow stripes, setting out an hour before the men. The field was blown to bits on the first major climb of the day, the Watopia Reverse KOM.
Lauren Stephens and Jacquie Godbe (USA) stayed near the front, following the top ten wheels as world-beating names like van Vleuten and van der Breggen were already dropped. This is where Zwift experience played its biggest role – we knew that this Dutch duo has the power to stay in the front group on these climbs. As each are multi-time road and time trial world champions, these women were certainly two of the strongest riders in the world.
But in combination with the December (i.e. off-season) timing and a lack of Zwift experience, the Dutch duo fell out of the draft and never made their way back to the front group.
Stephens (USA) – start to top of first KOM:
Average Power: 239w (4.5w/kg)
Peak 1min Power: 356w (6.7w/kg)
After a few kilometers of flat, the peloton turned onto the Watopia Forward KOM for the first time. With gradients exceeding 9 percent, and long 6 percent stretches lasting nearly 500 meters, everyone knew that this climb was the crux of the course. Team USA amassed at the front on the first time up, covering attacks and accelerations while also stringing out the rear of the field. Another handful of riders got dropped as the peloton blobbed again going over the crest. And with one lap down and 20km to go, there were less than 30 riders left in contention.
Gigante (Australia) – lap 1 Watopia Forward KOM:
Average Power: 302w (6.4w/kg)
There was little action until about 10km to go – at this point, the peloton was still all together, and the focus was on the final climb. Coming through downtown Watopia for the final time, Team USA put their last-minute plan into action, sending Christie Tracy up the road, and forcing the favorites to chase.
Moolman Pasio realized the danger and immediately took up the chase at the front of the field. A few moments later, Tracy hit the lower slopes of the Forward KOM, and Moolman Pasio put in a massive dig at over 11w/kg just a few meters behind. Stephens, Godbe, and the rest of the field couldn’t quite follow, and it was only Gigante who was able to claw her way back to the South African’s wheel.
In a matter of moments, the leading duo swept up Tracy and kept going. Moolman Pasio never let up, sustaining over 9w/kg for almost the entirety of the climb. Even on the flatter sections, she continued pushing the pace, never letting Gigante gain an advantage or even a moment to rest. The pair were glued together all the way to the line, and by less than a second, Moolman Pasio beat Gigante to claim the first-ever Zwift rainbow jersey.
Moolman Pasio (South Africa) – finish atop Watopia Forward KOM:
Average Power: ~426w (8.7w/kg)
Gigante (Australia) – finish atop Watopia Forward KOM
Average Power: 387w (8.4w/kg)
A few seconds behind, Stephens and Team USA battled their way up the climb, and with a couple hundred meters to go, Stephens launched her sprint, seeming to come across the line in third place – but the official review and timing said different, so it was fourth place for Stephens and fifth for Godbe.
Stephens (USA) – finish atop Watopia Forward KOM
Average Power: 417w (7.9w/kg)
Godbe (USA) – finish atop Watopia Forward KOM
Average Power: 513w (7.6w/kg)
Men’s UCI esports cycling world championships
A field of nearly 100 riders from real-life racing, indoor specialists, and even triathlon took the start of the men’s race, firing off the line at over eight, nine, and ten watts-per-kilo, before settling in to a slightly less ridiculous 4-5w/kg until the first climb of the day. The men’s field didn’t split as severely as in the women’s race, with just a small number of riders, such as Tour de France stage winner Daryl Impey, falling off the back.
Pedersen (Denmark) – start to top of first KOM:
Average Power: 353w (4.9w/kg)
Urán (Colombia) – start to top of first KOM:
Average Power: 327w (5.4w/kg)
The esports specialists are masters at saving energy, and we can see just how big of a difference it is in the first ten minutes of the race between an indoor specialist like Pedersen and a real-life pro like Urán. On the first trip up the Watopia Forward KOM, again, only a few riders fell off the back, and the expected field split never happened.
Osborne (Germany) – lap 1 Watopia Forward KOM
Average Power: 511w (7.2w/kg)
With less than 25km to go, the attacks began. First, it was Canada who launched multiple riders over the top of the Watopia Reverse KOM. Jordan Cheyne, Lionel Sanders, and Matteo Dal-Cin attacked on the climb, gaining a couple of seconds advantage over the top, and pushing over 7w/kg down the descent. But the field was keen to chase, and after a brief moment of panic, the race was back together.
Cheyne (Canada) – attacking on lap 2 up the Watopia Reverse KOM
Average Power: 410w (6.7w/kg)
The next action came with 10km to go, when Belgium sent Victor Campenaerts up the road, sparking a reaction from Jadon Jaeger of Team USA, and kicking off a series of counterattacks that strung out the field and dropped another handful of riders.
Canada tried again through the Seaside sprint banner, sending Cheyne and Sanders up the road, but with a bit more chaos in the mix this time. Sanders never quite caught up with Cheyne, who now had a few seconds on the field with less than 5km to go. Jaeger continued to chase, and with the help of Belgium, they glued things back together with under 4km to go.
Cheyne (Canada) – attacking before the final climb
Average Power: 406w (6.6w/kg)
Peak 2min Power: 453w (7.4w/kg)
Rolling into the final climb, everyone knew that this was it: The race would be decided on the final climb up the Watopia Forward KOM. The peloton kicked over the lower slopes at over 9w/kg, almost a sprint effort, but still with nearly a minute and a half to go.
With 700 meters to go, the German duo of Jonas Rapp and Jason Osborne hit the front. Having moved slowly through the field, the German team rounded the switchback with a few meters gap…and growing. As Rapp finished his turn, Osborne kicked around his teammate at over 12w/kg, sustaining over 11w/kg to the final corner, and still over 10w/kg all the way to the line.
Osborne (Germany) – finish atop Watopia Forward KOM
Average Power: 713w (10w/kg)
Final kick: 793w (11.2w/kg) for 32”
The race was well and truly over, and the chase group could do nothing but race for second place on the day. Denmark had two riders in the front group, and they joined forces in the final few hundred meters, launching their sprints around the bend and crossing the line in 2nd and 3rd place. Ollie Jones came across the line in 4th while Ben Hill was 5th, and second through seventh being separated by barely a second.
Pedersen (Denmark) – finish atop Watopia Forward KOM
Average Power: 673w (9.4w/kg)
Peak 30sec Power: 806w (11.2w/kg)
Jones (New Zealand) – finish atop Watopia Forward KOM
Average Power: 677w (9.1w/kg)
Peak 30sec Power: 783w (10.6w/kg)
Hill (Australia) – finish atop Watopia Forward KOM
Average Power: 597w (9.5w/kg)
Peak 30sec Power: 673 (10.7w/kg)
In the end, no one expected Jason Osborne to take the win – but after looking through the numbers, the German rider was simply the strongest on the day, and there’s nothing anyone could do to stop him. The chase group needed just a half a watt-per-kilo more, and they could’ve stayed with the German. But that minuscule difference became the winning margin, as Osborne powered away at nearly 800w.
We saw a similar story in the women’s race, where everyone expected an attack from race favorite Moolman Pasio; and when it finally came, there was simply nothing they could do, she was simply the strongest.
Jason Osborne (Germany) – Men’s UCI esports cycling world championships – 1st
Average Power: 334w (4.7w/kg)
Normalized Power: 377w (5.3w/kg)
Peak 10min Power: 400w (5.6w/kg)
Peak 5min Power: 445w (6.2w/kg)
Peak 2min Power: 602 (8.4w/kg)
Peak 1min Power: 740w (10.4w/kg)
Women’s riders on Strava:
Men’s riders on Strava: