Zwift Taps indieVelo For Performance Verification: The Landmark Policy Shift That Could Define The Beginning of Specialization in Cycling Esports
In a “Rising tide lifts all boats” meets “You shouldn’t grade your own homework” moment for cycling esports, Zwift looked outside of the company to the experts behind cycling esports platform indieVelo for performance verification, data analysis, and governance of the 23/24 edition of the Zwift Grand Prix. Zwift is finalizing details for the company’s upcoming elite racing season through communication with the athletes and teams as it reviews applications.
In an August 11, 2023, email to prospective Team Managers, Zwift Race Organizers announced, “For 2023/24, we will continue to work with Dr. George Gilbert and Bjoern Ossenbrink from indievelo (previously part of ZADA), who will provide an independent governance and performance verification service for the ZGP on Zwift. This service will be delivering PV and governance solutions only.
This will provide continuity in process and personnel from previous years, with a few small alterations. The final framework is being developed, and this will be distributed to teams alongside answers to all of the PV and governance questions raised to date before the application deadline.“
Dr. George Gilbert served as the chairman of the Zwift Cycling Esports Commission for several years before his contract concluded. During his tenure, he was at the forefront of Zwift’s cycling esports policy development and the implementation of anti-cheating protocols. As Chief Commissaire, he oversaw multiple UCI Cycling Esports World Championships.
Besides his work with Zwift, Dr. Gilbert has significant experience as a major cycling event organizer. He managed a test event leading up to the 2012 Olympic Games and held the position of Vice-Chairman on the Board of Directors for British Cycling. The Cambridge-educated astrophysicist utilizes his cycling and physics background to design and develop the esports-focused virtual platform indieVelo.
He brought along the former Zwift Accuracy and Data Analysis team (ZADA) leader, Bjoern Ossenbrink, and the rest of the former ZADA team. Ossenbrink is renowned as an expert in digital cheating detection within online sports. Under Ossenbrink’s leadership, the team was instrumental in the in-house Zwift-funded Esports division, overseeing elite-level and international competition on the platform.
Zwift and the indieVelo team are finalizing the details of their working partnership. In the short term, Gilbert and Ossenbrink will be responsible for all regulatory duties that previously fell under ZADA’s regulatory governance, like performance verification protocols, data analysis, and disciplinary action.
Zwift’s Snook confirms, “In terms of details, the final details of the working partnership are being finalized but essentially they will be responsible for everything that previously fell to ZADA – performance verification protocols, data analysis and determining disciplinary action required if necessary.”
“We remain committed to delivering the highest levels of independent performance verification,” notes Zwift’s PR Head Chris Snook, and “This system will ensure consistency between seasons.”
Gilbert is steadfast in the belief that indieVelo is not a competitor to Zwift or the other virtual cycling platforms but a service provider working in collaboration. The partnership solidifies indieVelo’s position in the cycling esports landscape and Zwift’s commitment to advancing the sport by investing in the core experience.
“indieVelo was founded with the clear purpose of improving the credibility of online cycling,” Gilbert asserts, and “We’re happy to work with anyone who shares that vision so that all riders can benefit from the advances in technology that we’re making.”
As the fledgling cycling esports discipline evolves, it’s clear to many that specialization is vital to the sport’s success. Expecting a single company to be world-class in every necessary nuance of event production and performance is unrealistic.
“Everyone involved needs to focus on what they’re good at and develop their niche so that they can deliver a truly world-class service,” Gilbert concurs, and “By working together, we can deliver something bigger than the sum of our parts, and provide a better experience for the athletes as a result.”
Zwift’s Snook agrees, saying, “We believe that partnership is the right approach for the sport at this stage of its development.”
They didn’t always feel this way. In a June 23, 2023 interview, Zwift’s Snook responded to Gilbert and Ossenbrink moving on from the company by 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.”
Zwift’s significant policy shift is a step forward for cycling esports and furthers its commitment to evolving with the rapidly changing landscape. For athletes and fans to believe in a sport’s credibility, there must be independent assurance over the legitimacy of the results. Moving the performance verification outside Zwift’s walls will go a long way. Both parties know the significant task at hand for developing the sport to live up to international and Olympic standards.
“Performance verification is just one part of it,” admits Gilbert, “but it’s fantastic to be taking the first steps towards the vision for the future, and we all look forward to seeing what we can create by working together.”
Gilbert emphasizes that he founded indieVelo from the ground to enhance cycling esports for all platforms, athletes, and enthusiasts alike, and as a service provider to other platforms, raise the standard of online cycling. A recent indieVelo game update secures this possibility, opening the door to National Governing Bodies, International Organizations, and Broadcast entities.
With the update, indieVelo supports a fully customizable user interface and access to API data. The third-party entities benefit from indieVelo’s back-end data processing, game engine, the accuracy and precision of results, and built-in performance verification, but skinned to look like their own with their logos, branding, and every other unique aspect of their organization.
Learn more about the UI Customization Feature and “Skinning” in this Virtual Velo Podcast interview with Dr. George Gilbert!
Will the working relationship cause a conflict? Only time will tell. With all parties sharing a limited pool of elite talent, there may be little to gain.
The significance of the mutually beneficial relationships required for the success of cycling esports is not exclusive to indieVelo and Zwift. The UCI’s deadline to announce a host for the 2024 through 2026 Cycling Esports World Championships came and went on July 19, 2023. If the decision were easy, it likely would have been made already.
Of the three potential bidders vying for the coveted distinction, one isn’t a virtual cycling platform. The UCI’s tender agreement included a special clause added this year, giving commercial entities demonstrating a commitment from a cycling esports platform the opportunity. It makes the service provider position an extremely attractive place and specialization a valuable commodity.
Further fueling the speculation, Abu Dhabi will host the 2028 Cycling Road World Championships. The virtual platform MyWhoosh’s strong financial ties to the region could add dividends to that value and make a strong partnership more alluring.
Zwift deservedly stands on its record as the industry-leading platform whose longstanding and ongoing collaboration with the UCI has evolved into the new discipline of cycling esports. By relinquishing control of its elite-racing oversight and specializing in what it has for years done best in pioneering the industry, it will improve online cycling for all, especially the athletes and fans of Zwift Grand Prix elite racing. That may be the right approach for the sport at this stage of its development.
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!