Zwift Responds to Elite Racers in the Wake of Ban

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.

Zwift bans racer Eddy Hoole

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.

Zwift bans racer Eddy Hoole

What questions do you have, and what do you think about the answers?

Comment below. The conversation is an important one to have.

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Yip
Yip
1 month ago

Did you actually ask those questions or did zwift provide you a transcript?
I fail to see how any competent individual doesn’t fact check or push back on the answers

Luciano Pollastri
Luciano Pollastri
1 month ago

Luciano here. 
The whole piece is so ridiculous that I would have difficulties to create a parody more laughable than what is consolidated here. What a load of approximations and smokescreen / gaslighting compilation.
Mainly to avoid addressing the two elephants in the room:
1) where is the promised bug bounty program?
2) why is it still so easy to cheat on zwift? I have anow a list of 42 different ways to easily cheat that Zwift knows about and continues claiming that all is clean.
So, let me start with the statement that the weight cheat was known by only a few people. Not only it is totally untrue but Zwift knows it, as it was reported at least in 15 other occasions by other riders in the past and nothing was done about it. Those are only the ones who contacted me shown me that they reported it, imagine how many reported it that we don´t know.
I was an average rider, and I was made aware through a team colleague who was given the tip by another rider whose team was using it on ZRL every single race! All the team! So it was super well known. I was even laughed at by some more ancient zwifters who were making fun about the fact I thought I discovered something. The mere fact that Zwift continues claiming it wasn’t known is deceiving.
By the way, if it was a known issue why was it not solved immediately? It took only three days for Zwift to get a solution. But according to them, they knew about it but intentionally decided to leave the exploit there? Bravo!!!
Even more laughable, it seems that I am the universal origin of all cheating in Zwift, right? Before Free Luciano cheating did not exist at all, right? “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.”
Please, next time you want to collectively write a piece of comedy make it more visible that it is your intention, otherwise some people might think erroneously that it was serious and you meant it.

Paul
Paul
1 month ago

I’d love to read an interview you do with Luciano on this topic. It would help a lot to avoid uncritically publishing comments from Zwift where they complain about specific people who expose cheating on the platform.

Luciano Pollastri
Luciano Pollastri
1 month ago

I don’t think your intention was to attack me. Simply your standards in terms of objectivity in this post are far from the minimally required levels. I believe that when you publish something you have a certain responsibility towards your readers so they are certain you are independent. Your house, your rules. But if you feel comfortable swallowing the BS that was served to you and make it your own, then in my opinion you lose total credibility. You see it already from the first reactions here.

Rob Bane
Rob Bane
1 month ago

I was very much opposed to Luciano’s approach, but this does read as extremely biased against him.

Ben Finesilver
Ben Finesilver
1 month ago

I’m sorry you had a bad experience Luciano, but Christopher is not Zwift. I don’t think it is fair for you to rip into him here.
The more we focus on cheats, the more we cheat ourselves. The only competition we have is with ourselves. There are cases where I have suspected others of cheating, but it’s not worth getting aggravated nor is highlighting it a good idea, because it creates negativity and false accusations/bullying.
Zwift is not perfect. Christopher is not Zwift. He’s a nice guy that provides free content that I enjoy reading.
I wish you well. I wish Christopher well. I don’t agree that you should instigate something here, but I respect you.

Jose
Jose
19 days ago

Your point about Zwift not taking accountability and lacking any effective solution to cheating is valid. However, your approach here, similar to your original approach on the topic, is tactless. Criticizing the author because he presented the answers that Zwift gave him and calling it ‘laughable’, ‘comedy’ and saying people may mistake it as serious is bush league. If you have an axe to grind with Zwift, direct it at them. Don’t attack and criticize people within the community for not approaching a topic the way you would.
Yes, a lot of work needs to be done to make community racing in Zwift fair. But you are certainly not the voice that the community needs to lead that battle.

Ally
Ally
1 month ago

Really enjoying your writing Chris, and light being shone on areas that don’t get looked at, particularly as a keen and involved zwift racers (and not outdoor racer).

But……. this certainly feels like a Zwift PR piece and answers they have provided via email rather than face to face. Again and again the community has raised issues and NOTHING is done. It’s farcical to pretend otherwise.

Luciano Pollastri
Luciano Pollastri
1 month ago
Reply to  Ally

Thank you. I have been in silence for 10 months waiting for a public promise from the CEO of the company to launch a bug bounty program to be fulfilled. Nothing happened. I have been copied in dozens of complaints sent to Zwift through appropriate and official channels and that never received an answer or an explanation. Gaslighting and Gish galloping techniques is all we got. Plus silence. But now, pretending it’s the fault of the whistle blower… That says a lot about the values defended at Zwift. I hoped things would change. Obviously it is not the case. So be it.

James Eastwood
James Eastwood
1 month ago

A good start would be to put quotes around the stuff Chris said, versus what you said.

Terrible piece.

Sick of Zwift doping pros
Sick of Zwift doping pros
1 month ago

Having made multiple reports on riders, that I have spent hours collating the information around (which includes verifying with others that they are indeed dodgy and not supremely talented). Submitted to Zwift via their report platform…all for all bar one rider to ever be sanctioned/suspended. That suspended rider then returned and races ZRL for WeZ (but of course) and continues with the blatant data manipulation that saw him banned – at least before Zwift relented and allowed him back in.

For Zwift to claim the community ‘self police’ is not only a shirking of their responsibilities it is also clearly untrue.

For Zwift to claim ‘more is coming’ to police the cheats, well. An increase on what is such a low baseline to begin with I suppose is an improvement? All while ZRL becomes the wild west with the absurd amount of false wattages being inputted. Pro teams wish they had some of the talent on display.

And finally to lay so much blame at the feet of Luciano is, frankly, embarrassing. Zwift ‘break their silence’ on cheats only to, repeatedly, throw a community member under the bus? Even if all their positions were correct (clearly they are not) it’s exceptionally unprofessional to behave as we have seen here.

Thebigringblogger
Thebigringblogger
1 month ago

“The reality is that when a Zwift racer gets a ban, it’s effectively a lifetime ban. They don’t come back” Other than Duncombe who got a 6 month ban and is racing and winning on WLC now.

Curious Karen
Curious Karen
1 month ago

Did any fact checking before this? I can’t see anyone with that name there.

Thebigringblogger
Thebigringblogger
1 month ago
Reply to  Curious Karen

She is now Lizi Brooke

Rich Burton
Rich Burton
1 month ago

Given the stakes involved are comparably elite and world class given the aspirations of esports, you could equally argue a lifetime ban is entirely appropriate, however that can be accomplished (virtually).

And if it is effectively lifetime, let’s formalize that and make it so.

I would be amazed if the community disagreed with life time, or even multi-year, bans for serial offenders.

Zwift needs to step this up by an order of magnitude, take it seriously and be seen to take it seriously.

Jadon
Jadon
1 month ago

“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.”

Hey Chris Snook, I’ve reported numerous cheaters multiple times using your official form and NOTHING EVER HAPPENS. And ZADA is only contracted to look over races that are subject to Zwift’s official Esports rules (Zwift GP, Conti qualifier races, worlds, etc.) not the community races. So what we have right know, ‘name and shame’, is the result of you and Zwift completely ignoring cheating in the community until it reaches media outlets.

Ben Finesilver
Ben Finesilver
1 month ago

It’s the season of goodwill. There are more important things to be angry about. Thank you Christopher for providing excellent free content. We appreciate you.

Tennille
Tennille
1 month ago

Thanks you for pointing out that weigh in videos should not be public. As an athlete you suffered severe body issues in my teen years (and had an eating disorder) it is hard for me to submit to these videos, but understand it is part of making the Zwift racing “fair.” I would most certainly never want it shared, regardless of how many times people tell me I’m all muscle, I don’t look my weight etc.

Tennille
Tennille
1 month ago

Luckily I received help as a teenager, I left collegiate athletics my sophomore year before i went back down the dark rabbit hole again.

Body acceptance finally came as an adult athlete in my late 30’s. However body dysmorphia still lingers even now. It is helpful to have a very open team that focuses on mental health. No topic is off limits. Having IRL and teammates around the world to assist is a reassuring.

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