Dr. George Gilbert and Bjoern Ossenbrink unite to create indieVelo leaving the cycling esports community wondering, and Zwift responds
On June 3, 2023, the newest virtual cycling platform to hit the scene, indieVelo, launched in Beta. The announcement in itself isn’t earth-shattering. The online cycling landscape has gotten more crowded in recent years, especially since the pandemic, with industry-leader Zwift leading the way, a far-off blip on the horizon.
indieVelo was born from a single thought—Imagine if online cycling was an Olympic Sport—and is built from the ground and focused on tactical and credible racing.
The gaping void that the addition left in Zwift’s Esports and performance verification division has racers and fans questioning the short-term consequences and future of elite-level competition on the platform.
Before his contract expired, Dr. George Gilbert spent several years at the forefront of Zwift’s cycling esports policy creation and anti-cheating protocols as the chairman of the Zwift Cycling Esports Commission, where he was Chief Commissaire to multiple UCI Cycling Esports World Championships. He also has experience as a major cycling event organizer who ran one of the test events ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games and as former Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of British Cycling.
Bjoern Ossenbrink is a widely-acknowledged expert in digital cheating detection in online sports and the former leader of ZADA, the Zwift Accuracy and Data Analysis team. Together they formed the backbone, quite possibly the totality, of the Zwift-funded Esports division and ZADA that oversaw elite-level and international competition on the platform.
Will the pair’s departure jeopardize the realization of Zwift’s Olympic dream, future World Championships, and a 2023/24 elite-level racing season?
No, according to Zwift’s Director of PR, Chris Snook, saying, “Zwift is currently working through plans for elite racing, including the UCI Cycling Esports tender process. We are excited to share more about our plans for competitive community events and elite racing on Zwift for the 2023/24 season in the coming months.
In the near term, we look forward to delivering the cycling events for the IOC’s Olympic Esports Series, in partnership with the UCI, on June 23. This is set to be the biggest world stage to showcase the very best of cycling esports on the Zwift platform.”
The statement emphasizes the significant role Zwift plays in creating and developing the cycling discipline and its investment in promoting the sport, according to Snook.
“Over many years, Zwift has committed to the advancement of cycling esports by investing in developing the core platform experience to make racing more enjoyable to participate in and more engaging to watch. Indeed our investments in broadcast production and distribution have helped take cycling esports to global audiences of cycling fans, helping shine a spotlight on this new discipline.”
The list includes introducing cycling esports to worldwide audiences on Eurosport, SBS, JSports, NBC Sports Gold, and GCN+. A momentous achievement not lost on indieVelo’s Gilbert, who acknowledges getting esports to the next level will require cooperation on multiple levels.
Gilbert states: “indieVelo, the UCI, and many others all aim to get cycling esports to the Olympics. Achieving that will require much hard work from many people working together and focussing on their different areas of expertise.
It’s imperative to stress that putting on elite racing, a World Championships, and ultimately the Olympics is about more than just having a platform; for example, it requires a significant team to provide the graphics, create the broadcast, and manage the broader organization.”
Gilbert continues: “indieVelo’s core purpose is to innovate, develop and deliver the technology to create tactically interesting, fair, and credible racing, as that is where our expertise lies. To put on a great show, however, other companies must provide the rest—a genuine team effort.”
It’s clear Gilbert founded indieVelo to progress the technology of cycling esports by creating a virtual platform devoted to legit racing from the ground up.
“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to define the future of a sport, starting from a blank sheet of paper,” declares indieVelo founder Dr. George Gilbert, and “all the existing platforms were originally designed for casual riding, not competitive events, so don’t fully cater to what elite athletes want and need.”
However, Zwift’s Snook may not see the need, stating, “Our commitment to delivering the very best racing experience of the highest integrity remains unchanged. We will continue to invest in performance verification, and both ZADA and the Zwift Cycling Esports Commission will continue to uphold those standards for the foreseeable future.”
How will that happen without Gilbert and Ossenbrink, and what form will it take? Gilbert has an answer and, in it, potentially a glimpse at esports’ future. The two entities mustn’t be mutually exclusive to achieve the common goal effectively.
Gilbert shares: “Critically, for athletes and fans to believe in a sport, there needs to be independent assurance over the legitimacy of results. To paraphrase, you cannot mark your own homework.
Bjoern, and the rest of the former ZADA team, in consultation with the UCI and Zwift, have moved to indieVelo as an independent company to help provide that governance and oversight. In particular, indieVelo doesn’t see itself as a competitor to Zwift or any other platform but as complementary to them.
A symbiotic relationship where our independent expertise in technology, cycling dynamics, and performance verification ensures that online racing, wherever it takes place, is credible and together we achieve that Olympic dream.”
Gilbert’s proprietary RPTR Engine—Ride, Pace, Train, Race is trademarked and pending patent. Does that open the door for licensing to other platforms or creating an independent performance verification body like the ITA (International Testing Agency)?
That’s the direction we need to head, according to Ossenbrink.
“Physical esports is pushing into boundaries and levels which require independent verification. The World Rowing Federation (WR) and the International Cycling Federation (UCI) have offered the highest level of competition over multiple years in awarding Esport World Championship titles.
These titles bring responsibility for ensuring accurate performances and results. An independent verification and testing service will conduct performance testing using verification tools that are constantly being developed and tested. Therefore international federations, major event organizers, or other sporting bodies can rely on true sports and its value of fair play, integrity, and sportsmanship.”
Will the two platforms co-exist in the minds of virtual cyclists choosing to consume one platform for racing and another to interact socially in a communal group-oriented setting?
Only time will tell, but history isn’t kind to potential business associates reaching for a piece of Zwift’s virtual cycling pie. Look no further for examples than CVR (Cycligent Virtual Racing), as virtual cyclists knew it then, seen as one of the live-hosted online esports events pioneers. The CVR World Cup League attracted Zwift’s top-level talent competing for the global CVR World Cup invitation. When cooperation dwindled, founder Frank Garcia broke off to form CVRcade in 2019, now CADEsport.
Or the group who took back their 2018 investment in Zwift esports after becoming disenchanted by the perceived lack of commitment. Zwift’s esports division underwent significant restructuring, and the capital is seeding the creation of the rival platform, MyWhoosh.
Regarding their relationship with indieVelo, Zwift’s Snook said, “The founders have kept us updated on their development plans.”
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!