Liz Van Houweling
The hype is real. Virtual racing is about to change! Behold the Zwift Grand Prix!
Elite esports bike racing is about to get a makeover. Like it or not, Zwift racing has always most closely resembled road racing. That is all about to be turned upside down!
Similar to makeovers, we’re all a little uncertain about if we’ll like the outcome, but we’ll soon find out with the big reveal! Behold the Zwift Grand Prix!
Esports World Championships
The format for the 2023 UCI World Esports Championships was announced just a few weeks ago. It is NOT a traditional road race performed via a video game. Instead, it will be three back-to-back short races with more riders eliminated in each subsequent race. With this announcement, we knew the upcoming elite indoor racing season would also see some significant changes.
Zwift’s primary goal for the Zwift Grand Prix is to create something “uniquely esports.” Gone are the days of one race where the first person across the finish line wins. Too boring?!
Nathan Guerra, the Voice of Zwift, and the “whiteboard” herself, Anna Russell, discussed the upcoming Zwift Grand Prix in a recent episode of The Wrap podcast. Guerra reflects,
The Zwift Knockouts this past spring proved to be a testing ground for some of these more original format ideas. By most accounts, it was a success, and Zwift has developed an even greater variety of formats.
Some of the goals for the upcoming season include:
Zwift Grand Prix Racing
Zwift invited Teams that raced in the Premier Division to apply to participate in the upcoming season. Twelve men’s and 12 women’s teams were accepted, and each selection is allowed five riders each week.
Depending on the format, there may be all 5 team members on course simultaneously, or there could just be one representative for each team!
The men will race one week and the women the following week. It will keep broadcasts to about an hour each week and give the men and women complete focus for their week.
The changing formats will also allow for more breaks between races for the riders. The season will run from mid-September all the way until the finals in March, but unlike the previous series, racing will not take place every week. And some weeks, each rider may only be racing for about 10 minutes!
Zwift Grand Prix Week 1: Parcours Picker
Men: September 24
Women: September 30
Teams pick five riders to take part in 5 different races (1 rider per race) on various courses and with different formats. The winning team will have the highest points across all five races.
12 riders per race. Power Ups are available for some races for added strategy.
1. Neokyo Crit Course, Points Race for first across the line, 8.58 km (2 laps)
- Alley Sprint (3,2,1) x 2
- Castle Park Sprint (3,2,1) x2
2. Sea to Tree, Scratch Race hill climb, 3.84km
- Finish Line (12-1 for 1st to 12th place)
3. Tour of Tewitt Well, Scratch Race with first across the line points, 10.74km
- Climb Arch (6,5,4,3,2,1)
- Finish Line (6,5,4,3,2,1)
4. Innsbrucking, Individual TT-mass start/no draft, 9.03km
- Overall Time (12-1 for 1st to 12th place)
- Innsbruck Sprint (2 bonus points available for the fastest through segment)
5 Downtown Dolphin, Points Race, 9.38km (5 laps)
- Climb Arch (4,3,2,1) x 5
- Finish Line (4,3,2,1)
Teams will pick riders who they think are best suited for specific courses. However, no one will know which riders the other teams pick for each race. You show up at the start line and have no idea who you will be racing, which makes it tough to come in with a definitive strategy beforehand.
My Saris NoPinz team has already decided which riders will be tackling each race. We’ll be talking on the team Discord during the race to encourage each other and offer helpful tactics and advice. As with most Zwift racing, you need to come in with a plan but be willing to quickly adapt based on who you are racing and how the race is playing out.
Some races offer points to all riders, while others only go a few deep. Do you go all in for the first segment to break the field up and hopefully collect more points in the subsequent segments and finish line than you might have? Do you try to win every intermediate and risk blowing up? Or do you play it safe and try to get consistent points for all segments by sitting in the group?
The small field size could mean that a solo rider has a greater chance of staying away, especially on a mostly uphill course. The mass start, non-draft iTT could allow a rider to tempt people into going out too hard and later explode. The possibilities are endless!
The short nature of each race and small field sizes should allow for some very interesting and bold tactics. Teams will really have to know their strengths and strategies. Essentially having double points in the final race will mean that it could all change at the very end, keeping anticipation high.
Anna Russell, my Saris NoPInz teammate who will be racing with me, is excited about the possibilities and discussed the importance of strategy with Guerra in The Wrap podcast:
The Parcours Picker format, in particular, will expose any chinks in the armor. Each team will only be as strong as its weakest rider. With only one jersey per team in the field, the racing dynamics are going to change. Teammates won’t have each other to rely on to go up the road, close gaps, set up for a sprint, etc. Everything is going to be on the line at each moment!
How do you think the strategy will play out? Comment below with your tactics, but don’t give too much away!
My Thoughts on the Zwift Grand Prix
I’m personally excited about these new format changes. As a punchy rider, many race formats should suit me. During long scratch races, I’m often the rider sitting in the field, drafting as much as possible because I know I can rely on my sprint at the finish line. However, these races will force me out of my comfort zone by encouraging aggressive riding.
My Saris NoPinz team is ready for an all-out “send it” style race season. Get pumped!
Virtual racing should never try to replicate real life road racing. While I was initially skeptical about the complexity of the rules and formats that Zwift proposed for the Grand Prix, I’m now entering the upcoming season with cautious optimism.
Short races, small fields, and innovative formats should deliver exciting racing. Teams must field a balanced roster, recon courses, and consider various strategies to have the greatest success.
The Zwift Grand Prix may take some time to find its groove, but exciting times are undoubtedly ahead. I believe this will significantly enhance the sport, and I’m honored to be a part of this evolution as esports becomes its own unique discipline.
What do you think?
What do you think about the Zwift Grand Prix? Is esports moving in the right direction? Comment below! We want to hear your thoughts!