A Zwifter Does Worlds—2022 UCI Road World Championships, Wollongong, Australia 2022

Level 52 Zwifter Team DIRTs Stuart Moore takes on the World at the 2022 UCI Road World Championships.
2022 UCI Road World Championships

In the words of Stuart Moore, Level 52 Zwifter and occasional IRL Cyclist!

As soon as I heard the 2022 UCI Road World Championships were coming to my home state, I knew I had to go and watch. While I don’t consider myself a ‘superfan’ of road racing, I follow it enough to know the main players and teams. Plus, it’s always more exciting to experience any sporting event in person rather than via the TV Producers’ chosen camera angles.

The only question remained “What bike should I take down with me?”. My only road bike at the

time had taken up permanent residency on my Wahoo Kickr for the past four years and was a little worse off for the experience. Frame corrosion from sweat has relegated that bike to indoor-only status. Some bargain hunting on the local classifieds netted a very lightly used 2012 Giant Defy for $150 to use outdoors, so I was all set

rainbow over australian harbor with lighthouse
Rainbows over Wollongong for womens elite finish

Friday - 2022 UCI Road World Championships

I planned to do some spectating on Friday, a big ride on Saturday, and then enjoy watching the Men’s 2022 UCI Road World Championships race on Sunday before heading home. I arrived mid-morning on Friday after an easy 2.5hr drive from my home north of Sydney.

I came across several of the Belgian Men’s team on a training ride and managed a cool “G’day boys” while we shared a moment at the traffic lights. Too busy gawping at them rolling off, I missed the perfect photo opportunity, unfortunately.

2022 UCI Road World Championships U23 road race
Mens U23 Field

Unlike my modest hotel outside of the town area, my Dad had secured accommodation within 300 meters of the race course. He was excited to inform me that the Czech team was staying at his hotel and that he had chatted to Cadel Evans in the street that morning while getting a coffee. Having attended many editions of the Tour Down Under, it seemed Dad had a few aces up his sleeve on how to attack these events!

2022 UCI Road World Championships Mens U23 start
Mens u23 start

First Real-Life Cycling Experience is the 2022 UCI Road World Championships

Being my first ‘in real life’ cycling event, the speed and size of the peloton as they rolled through caught me by surprise. They are seriously close to each other and were still traveling at over 40km/hr in the neutral zone. Amazing!

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I spotted Tim Searle from AHDR in the crowd and said, “hello.” He was hosting a few group rides on behalf of Zwift and Specialized, but the weather had forced them to call off the Friday ride. Tim assured me the Saturday ride would go ahead, though, and we were rolling out at 7 am.

Zoe Backstedt Junior World Cycling Road Race
Zoe Backstedt Junior Women

The 2022 UCI Road World Championships U23’s course was ten laps of the ‘city circuit,’ each 17km with two punchy climbs close together about halfway into the lap, around 2,000m of climbing over the 170km race. In the rain.

Two riders gained a small break into the final lap and managed to hold out with an 8-second buffer at the finish. 1st to Federov from Kazakhstan, and Czech rider Mathias Vacek was 2nd. Dinner back at Dad’s hotel restaurant that night included some controlled but exuberant celebrations from the Czech team, with Mathias rightfully placed at the head of the team table.

It was great to see the camaraderie between the team riders and the dynamic of the managers chaperoning them. It looked a bit like a school camp!

Czech team winners are grinners dinner

Saturday - 2022 UCI Road World Championships

Saturday was big ride day, with a plan to cover as much of the course as possible, so I headed out at 0530 to ride a lap of the ‘city circuit’ before they closed off the roads again. It was easy to follow with all the barriers and signs, and many cyclists were out early with the same plan as myself, by the looks.

View from Mt. Kiera in Australia
View from Mt Kiera plateau back to Wollongong

I met a local guy keen to attempt the two climbs AGAIN with a mission to make it over. I didn’t ask how many attempts he had made so far, as I was concerned about how steep they must be! We soon found out, with the Mt. Ousley climb quickly followed by the very poorly named Mt. Pleasant. Neither was long, but with up to 14% gradients, I could only imagine the sting after multiple laps at race pace.

Cyclist climbing up a mountain
Mt. Pleasant Climb

Zwifting in Real Life

The city loop was complete, and it was time to meet up with Tim Searle and the other AHDR guys and girls for a group ride up the coast to Stanwell Tops. For those that don’t know, Zwift and Tim go hand in hand, having ridden over 200,000km, leading countless group rides for his AHDR team, and being an ambassador in every sense of the word.

Stuart Moore at 2022 UCI Road World Championships

The route mimicked the neutral lead-in section of the Worlds course, which featured a remote start point some 30km away from Wollongong. At one point, we had over 40 by my count and were riding three abreast. The motorists following didn’t seem too impressed, but the crowd forming on the side of the road gave us a hearty cheer, perhaps mistaking us for someone far more talented.

Group of cyclists at top of mountain in Australia
Zwift AHDR group ride halfway at Stanwell Tops sea cliff bridge in background

Bacon Rolls with AHDRs Tim Searle

Not having ridden a road bike outside for several years, I was pretty mindful of watching wheels and that the draft effect of the blob is also true in real life. I think my $150 bike, much like a good horse can sense a nervous rider, looked after me very well, and there were no concerns or mechanical issues. Not even a magpie strike for our entire ride, although there were several eyeing us off!

 

Tim, Sherriff, and Magnet kept the group together well, and Tim reported that his average watts for our effort were 2.7w/kg. Right on the suggested target pre-ride and matching his legendary Bacon Rolls Zwift rides.

We made it back to the start area just in time to see the final minutes of the Junior Women’s race, with Brit sensation Zoe Backstedt soloing 50+km to win by over 2 mins. On her 18th Birthday. For the second time this week. For her fourth Rainbow Jersey for the year!!!!

2022 UCI Road World Championships Womens field
Womens elite over Mt Kiera

I had already covered almost 100km and had a little time before the Women’s Elite race to stop by my hotel for a quick kit change into my team Australia bibs. I was still rocking my DIRT jersey and had received a few nods from random people. The last part of my ride now beckoned—the Mt Keira loop.

 

The racers would complete this 35km climb and descent loop before tackling multiple laps of the city circuit. I grabbed some food, packed it in my new Zwift musette bag that Wes from Zwift Australia had kindly handed out after our group ride, and headed for the hills.

Annameiks winning move at 2022 UCI Road World Championships
Annameiks winning move just entering frame left

Mt. Kiera is an impressive fixture on the local landscape, with a flat top and sandstone cliffs on the three ocean-facing sides. At 473m, it’s not exactly the French Alpes, but starting from sea level over a 9km ascent, it was spicy enough with a steep start in the 12% range.

 

Some of the French team riders went blasting past me, one wearing a huge backpack of what I assume was bidons and food for their women’s team as they summited. I made it up to the top with plenty of time to wait for the Women’s race.

spectators at a cycling race

KOM and Polka Dots

There was a small crowd at the summit and no KOM banner, given it was a road race, not a stage race. Some polka dot jerseys and red devils had still made an effort, and a rowdy group of guys who appeared to be on a lad’s weekend away provided some light entertainment while we waited for the Women.

 

A slight break of around 20 seconds by one of the French riders gave us our first glimpse at the Women, and then the majority of the peloton summited together. Then chants of “one more, one more” went out, and we all stayed to cheer the last riders through, and I headed back down behind the Women’s race motorcade.

Group of bike racers go around a curve
Women's elite over Mt. Kiera

My suspect descending skills were on full display now, managing only a brief 65km/h top speed after carefully navigating the remnants of an intentional oil spill on one of the hairpin turns by a disgruntled local and an uneventful flat section through the industrial areas, I was back to the start of the city circuit for a total distance of 140km and just under 6hrs riding.

 

Luckily I was back in time to witness Annamiek’s epic and somewhat unexpected move to gap the field and take the rainbow jersey from the vantage point near the old fishing harbor. What a day!

Sunday - 2022 UCI Road World Championships

Sunday was the Men’s race, and I had no plan to ride. We got to our spot early, as the weather was fantastic, and we expected a big crowd for the ‘blue ribbon’ men’s event. The morning talk was the growing rumors around Van der Poel, with the commentators mentioning that he had a “rough night.”

 

MVP would end up withdrawing from the race at the end of the lead-in section, and it’s fair to say he will not be leaving Australia as a fan or a satisfied Novatel customer.

Feed zone at2022 UCI Road World Championships

As the race proceeded down the coastline and over the Sea Cliff Bridge, it was a great feeling to reminisce on my own experiences on the same roads the day before. The men seemed keen to get into Wollongong and onto the Mt. Keira climb, with a handy breakaway forming and stretching a lead of several minutes.

 

The peloton did not seem overly concerned with much of the 270km left to race. The men mostly stayed together over Mt. Keira and started 12 laps of the city circuit loop, with 12 turns up the double climbs of Mt. Ousley and Mt. (un)Pleasant. Better them than me.

Throughout the day, I checked out different areas of the city course, including the finish line, the feed zone, and a few tighter corners. Clearly, the message was that a proper world cycling race was on, as there were people who had flown and driven in from all states to be part of the spectacle.

The Feed Zone

The feed zone was interesting. There are no team radios at the Worlds, and it offered the best and possibly only communication line to the riders. Watching the team managers furiously jotting names and times down on whiteboards and then waving them frantically at their riders as they whizzed past at 45km/hr was quite amusing.

The soigneur’s ability to deposit a bidon into their riders’ hand at that speed is quite the sight, almost matched by the frantic scramble by the local kids to score a discarded bottle! I thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere and feeling the thrill in the crowd.

The Remco Show

As the race built to a climax, it was back to the park and jumbo screen to watch the Remco Show and a clinical take down by one of the brightest talents on tour. There is no doubt that with race radios, the peloton would not have given him such a long rope, but the way he Time Trialled and climbed over the last two laps, I doubt they would have caught him anyway.

Evan Remco wins the2022 UCI Road World Championships
The Remco Show!

A somewhat unexpected group sprint for the minor placings was an excellent finish to an epic weekend, with Aussie hope Michael Matthews nabbing Bronze, to the delight of the home crowd.

Suppose you, like me, have never seen top-level cycling in real life and perhaps consider yourself more of a Zwifter than a cyclist. In that case, I recommend finding a local event to go and watch and even a local ride group to get out there on real roads. After all, that’s what we are all training in our garages and basements for, right? Well, not all of us!

Have you ever?

Ever been to a professional cycling event in person? How was it? Comment below! Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know.

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