The 2020 Tour de Suisse, originally scheduled to take place from June 6 to June 14, is among the many races through this summer that have been canceled outright due to the coronavirus pandemic. But in its place, Tour de Suisse has teamed up with Velon—a group owned by 11 WorldTour teams that aims to provide fans more access to teams —and ROUVY—maker of virtual training software—to host a series of virtual races called The Digital Swiss 5 from April 22 to 26.
Words: William Tracy; images: Chris Auld
In total 19 teams are set to compete: 16 WorldTour and three wild card teams, including the Swiss National Team. And there will be plenty of big names. Reigning Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (Team CCC), fresh off a victory in the digital version of the Tour of Flanders two weeks ago, will look to establish himself as one of the most dominant riders in this period of online racing. Current world champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) along with Deceuninck-Quickstep stars Julian Alaphilippe and Remco Evenepoel are also set to race.
And there will be plenty of established GC contenders like Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo)—although there will be no GC portion of this event, unfortunately. Max Schachmann, winner of Paris-Nice last month, the last stage race to occur before the season was put on hold, will also be racing.
Rather than taking place during the Tour de Suisse’s original June dates, the Digital Swiss 5 will run from April 22 to 26 on ROUVY. Each day at 5 p.m. CET, racers will take on a relatively short course of 26.6km to 46km—each race a part of the actual courses for the 2021 edition—with anywhere from 180m of elevation gain to about 1,500m. Each day is its own standalone race, and there are no overall team or individual standings. The effects of drafting are not simulated in these races, adding an additional challenge.
For pros used to racing distances five times as far as these ones, these races bring their own unique challenges. “Virtual races are definitely not easy,” Greg Van Avermaet told the Tour de Suisse. “The races are in fact shorter than normal races, but the intensity is much higher, and you have a much smaller time frame in which you can make a tactical difference.”
For their part, the racers, competitive by nature, seem interested in doing well in these alternative events. “The cyclists are also very motivated,” said Van Avermaet, adding that he “will give everything to be able to celebrate another virtual victory.”
The pro races will be broadcast globally, with FloBikes carrying it in the U.S. Check velon.cc for a full list of global broadcasters.
ROUVY, the software the races will be held on, differs from other virtual riding software because it uses real world video footage, rather than simulated digital worlds, for riders’ digital avatars to ride in. Riders race from home on smart trainers, with their position being represented in the peloton by 3D avatars dressed in their respective team kits. Racing will be supplemented by live video of racers in their homes, as well as by live performance data provided by Velon. And television broadcasters will provide live commentary as well.
Every day at 7 p.m. CET, shortly after the pro races, fans will get a chance to see how they stack up against the best in the world in the Fan Race. Courses and rules will be the same as the pro versions, with winners receiving prizes from the event’s partners, including Trek, Wahoo and Škoda. The Fan Race will also be broadcast on ROUVY’s YouTube channel.
More information is available at digital-swiss-5.ch.