Several racers were polled about Zwift’s ban on racer Eddy Hoole, this is what they wanted to know, and Zwift responded.
As I watched it all unfold live, I could feel every muscle in my body tensing up. The subconscious visceral reaction foreshadowed what I knew was about to come down. It came to a crescendo at 40:10 of the November 13, 2022, Men’s Europe & Asia Continent Qualifiers broadcast when the catch and the roll-through occurred.
I immediately messaged a few people I knew would be watching too. “No way, did you see that?” I asked. I meant the NO WAY part, but only some people I spoke with were as convinced.
They seemed dazed by the dazzling unprecedented performance they witnessed. We wanted to believe it was true. I know I did, but I sadly knew better.
The Vultures Are Circling
I sensed the vultures circling, swooping to pick at the lifeless remains of another Zwift cheating scandal.
The ban came down, and the predatory pack formed—purists, pundits, journos, and other platforms lined up to regurgitate the report until no life was left. Truth be told, a few editors asked me to write a cheating article, saying, “people love talking about that.”
I refuse to play into the promotion of Zwift cheating sensationalism. It’s quite frankly not a challenge, and I don’t believe it to be true. Unless, however, I could write impactfully and further the positives of esports and its athletes. The majority of them don’t have a cheating bone in their bodies.
If you had the chance to ask Zwift a question, what would it be?
The community’s cries for blood are deafening. I knew I had to write MY cheating article. I polled some elite racers, team managers, and other trusted and respected esports people and said, “If you had the chance to ask Zwift a question, what would it be?”
One thing led to another. I brought my idea to Zwift representatives Chris Snook and Andrew Bernstein, who let me in.
The meeting revealed many significant aspects of the incident, most of which you’ll read in this feature published by road.cc on December 20, 2022, entitled, “Is Zwift racing ‘cleaner’ than pro road racing? Dissecting the furore around cheating in virtual cycling”
I saved the questions the racers asked for now because the comments struck me. I heard things like, “The scene is toxic. We’ve lost faith in Zwift racing. Zwift doesn’t have our backs. We can’t trust it because there’s no transparency, and, We don’t get any support.”
Here are a few of the questions I repeatedly heard, in no particular order. Chris and Andrew were forthright and open in their responses, and I’m fortunate for the opportunity. I hope it helps.
Are other riders currently under investigation?
Yes, of course, there are riders that we have on the watch list. We have people that we are monitoring.
Does Zwift perform real-time data validation? Are there standard thresholds in place to flag a rider’s performance if they deviate from data supplied during baseline testing?
Live verification does take place to an extent, but there is only so much you can do during a race. The falsification techniques used by Hoole would only be picked up during the verification process.
Only certain things are picked up live, like grossly miscalibrated trainers or no heart rate. Those riders are removed from the race and aren’t permitted to finish. It’s complicated. Like in outdoor racing, you will see an offending rider pulled mid-race. Other times you hear days, weeks, or months later that a racer in the same race has been sanctioned, penalized, or DQ’d. It depends on the circumstances and the situation.
Will new policies and procedures be instituted by Zwift to prevent future exploitation of the hack? Will those measures be in place for the 2023 UCI Cycling Esports World Championship?
Yes, but we can’t publicize that information. We can’t go into detail about how we monitor it because it helps give information to potential cheaters.
When the Free Luciano thing happened last year, the minute his article ran on how to cheat, a problem only known about by a few people, we saw it being immediately used by hundreds of people. A minor issue became a major one because it was approached incorrectly.
Is Zwift able to identify cheating behavior retroactively as new information is discovered, and are those investigations performed?
Someone would be stupid to try and use this hack again, but it is certainly being monitored very closely. ZADA’s advantage over WADA is that we can retrospectively examine unlimited historical data infinitely. It’s all saved on Zwift servers, and there’s no hiding from that data. A racer can’t erase what they’ve done.
In light of the reaction from elite racers and the community that the penalties are too lenient, does Zwift feel the 6-month ban on Hoole is justified?
Outdoor cycling doesn’t have automatic lifetime bans on doping violations. There’s no reason Zwift would do that. The sport is in its infancy. These are community racers. They aren’t professional athletes, but they are elite. Some are sponsored and might get prize money, but it’s not their livelihood. We have to be mindful of that.
The reality is that when a Zwift racer gets a ban, it’s effectively a lifetime ban. They don’t come back. The reaction from the community is harsh, and no team will be willing to take a banned rider on.
Does Zwift watch all of the weigh-in videos before every race?
No, we don’t for Premier Division or Zwift Grand Prix. There are too many. We have them to look back on if necessary. The performance team is larger for the Worlds, and every video is examined before the race.
If skeptics see what we do, they won’t be as critical, so why can’t we share our ZADA videos publicly?
Privacy concerns related to body image are why the weigh-in videos are private.
Author’s note: Chris Snook wasn’t certain whether the videos taken while riding were permitted to be shared publicly. I’m awaiting clarification and will update when it’s received.
Does Zwift intend to respond to the negative press surrounding Hoole and the cheating issue and defend the racers?
It’s a frustrating situation, to be totally honest. We put our necks on the line by taking interviews and engaging with journalists like you, DC Rainmaker, and the other big sites like CyclingNews, CyclingWeekly, and CyclingTips when these investigations come up. That’s how we try to fight for the racers.
It’s also frustrating that the media are only interested in the sport when there’s a cheating scandal. There is only media coverage when there’s an Eddy Hoole. There is a similar perception in road cycling that everyone dopes.
It’s also the reason why we partner with the UCI, for the added level of credibility. They do bring in more stringent anti-doping checks.
The riders may feel that Zwift is closed off. It’s always helpful, and Zwift is receptive to the racer’s concerns. Riders are always welcome to raise their concerns, and Zwift wants to work with them. It’s always more beneficial to work together than fight against one another.
The Free Luciano issue created a lot of hot air and only made things worse. It highlighted problems and helped cheaters find new ways to be deceptive.
We much prefer to work with the community, especially if they have suspicions or know of ways that riders are cheating. It’s better to go through the Zwift process and the rules and regulations to ensure that the verdicts are fair and that rider welfare is considered.
Sensitivities to riders that are cheating are one thing. Falsely accused riders are completely another, and trial by the court of public opinion is a significant risk to mental health. Leave it to ZADA and the official process of checks and balances.
What questions do you have, and what do you think about the answers?
Comment below. The conversation is an important one to have.
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!