How does virtual cycle racing work? Gemma Felstead & paul fitzpatrick


In this episode of Veloccino cycling podcast, we have invited guests Gemma Felstead and Paul Fitzpatrick. They are both virtual athletes, and Paul as DS (Directeur sportif) and organizer of virtual events. They joined the show to talk with us all about virtual racing – how it works, getting involved, joining a league, and racing with a team, all in one episode!

How Gemma started with Virtual Racing


Gemma had meet-ups once or twice a week, every time to get together, where they thought they were just going on a social ride, suddenly they are all competing against each other to try and get to the top of this not in a race just against each other.


Paul was training for triathlon and I was using the bar charts. And Zwift came along. It’s not like riding outdoors as much as we’d like to think. It is different. But the structure is amazing.


Paul got addicted to the group rides, group events, and the races. That really started it for him, two or three years ago, long before lockdown. Paul got into it because he realized that you just can’t push yourself in a sweaty room if you are doing it alone. If he wanted to do a really hard session, Zwift allows racing some random man or woman from across the globe even if it’s just pixels on a screen in front of you.


One of the great things about Zwift is having a race or something to focus on. It gives you purpose to the training. You’ve got a purpose for why you’re putting in those extra hours. That’s why following the graph along the line is meaningful, because you’re actually doing something,

What inspired Paul to set up a league?


Paul came along and developed the virtual Cycl-cross league


It came from someone on the central Cyclo-cross League who wants to race against one another and enter the same event. 


It was participated by Cyclo-crosses blasting around for 35 minutes trying to stay with the people they were with. They all rode the same course at the same time and when we they cross the green line, after the clock says 37 minutes or 40 minutes, the race is over. Then Paul goes to Strava to find the segments, add everybody’s times together on the segments, and produce spreadsheet. It just grew from there. And in the end, they ended up with 11 rounds, beginning of lockdown.


Tips on Selecting the Course on Zwift


Paul picked short loops and segments within originally Watopia in Zwift, and the the volcano circuit, which takes about six minutes to go around. They did 8to 10 laps of that.


Paul began looking for other courses. Eventually, he started doing one lap of one course. You have to find a good start point and a finish point. They will ride for 40 minutes. And when the clock says 40 minutes, the next time you cross the green arch, that’s the end of the race. Or they will do one lap of this course. And based on Strava, the fastest people would do it in about 28 minutes, the slowest will do it in 33.

Racing with Big teams



Gemma is part of the World Tactical Racing League. Every Thursday, they race as a group of 8 people in a team of eight girls. The top 10 teams are qualified in the Platinum League. Every week, the teams move around so if you don’t fall in the top 10, you will drop down to a different division.


24 hours before the race, you have to provide a video weigh in with date and time. You have to be in your race kit. You can’t wear your pajamas in a race. You actually have to wear Socks as well.


The reason they have the weigh in is like in real life, the lighter you are effectively against a certain power number, you will go faster.

Discipline of Cycling


Gemma thinks virtual cycling is a separate discipline itself. You can cross disciplines but it is different to racing in real life. There’s nothing that compares to riding with a group or team on the road. And listening to the sound that it makes it amazing, talking together, and having tactics 


Paul likes Zwift with the additions of power ups, kick changes, and bikes with fancy lights on and those kind of stuff. You have to learn to ride it.


On Zwift, there is drafting that is not the same as in real life. There is some element of drafting, but it is very difficult to get back on once you are dropped.


The good thing about Zwift is the league or various types of racing on is all done by categories, by watts per kilo. Whatever power you’re putting out, on whatever your weight is, there will be a category for you. And you can race against people who have the same ability as you.

When does it go wrong with the virtual racing?


Any broadband issues once you have no internet.  Well, for starters, you can’t even get into the race


If you lose your Internet, that’s it. Either you can’t get in at all or everyone around you disappears. You’re out because you’ll never catch back up again.

Where do you think this sport is going in the future?


There’s already eSports champions. They’re talking about trying to make it an olympic sport. There may have been use at International triathlon union. A competitor of theirs commercially funded triathlon event. They ended up doing a virtual indoor triathlon, where the professional triathletes raced in a pool, then got out of the pool and jumped on the pool side and got on Zwift and then got off their bikes and drifting jumped on a treadmill on Zwift.


Zwift is a niche part of any sport, but it has the capability to be more inclusive and global than any other sport, because of its very nature of being on the internet.

Key Quotes:

“One of the great things about Zwift is at a certain degree, you have a race to focus on and gives you purpose to do the training. The training is not just for the sake of it, you’ve actually got a purpose for why you’re putting in those extra hours.” [13:54-14:10]

“There’s nothing that compares to riding with a group or team on the road. And listening to the sound that it makes it amazing, talking together, and having tactics” [37:37-37:47] 

Want to connect with Gemma Felstead, make sure to follow her on Instagram 

Be updated on what’s going on in terms of the league. The best place to be is Central Cyclo-Cross League Facebook 

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