PARIS (Reuters) - Elite women riders still lack an actual Tour de France in which to showcase their talent but over the next three weekends they will achieve equality in the inaugural “virtual” version of the event.
With cycling’s most prestigious race shifted from its traditional July slot to August because of the coronavirus pandemic, online training platform Zwift, together with Tour organisers ASO, has helped fill the void.
The event, featuring six specially-designed animated stages, will see the likes of world time trial champion Chloe Dygert and Dutch great Marianne Vos riding the same course as the men.
In all, 23 men’s and 17 women’s professional teams are confirmed with four-times Tour champion Chris Froome joined by his Team Ineos colleagues Egan Bernal, the reigning champion, and 2018 winner Geraint Thomas.
Stages one and two this weekend will be held on Zwift’s fantasy volcanic island of Watopia, including visual additions inspired by Nice, the Grand Depart host city in August.
Other stages include familiar French terrain including the fearsome Mont Ventoux on Stage Five before the traditional finish on a virtual Champs-Elysees.
“I cannot imagine the month of July without cycling,” said Christian Prudhomme, Director of the Tour de France.
“Thanks to the virtual Tour de France, which will be widely broadcast on TV, the champions and their fans will fill in the void left by the Tour de France, which will reunite with
the public in Nice on 29 August.”
Viewers in 130 countries will be able to watch the action while amateur riders have the opportunity to compete in mass participation races on the same roads as the pros.
“Since I was a boy, I would always be glued in front of the TV for three weeks in July, so I feel incredibly privileged for Zwift to be able to play host to the first virtual edition this year,” said Eric Min, Zwift CEO and Co-Founder.
The six hour-long stages offer equal opportunities for sprinters, climbers and all-rounders, and teams will battle for the traditional yellow, green and polka dot Tour de France jerseys through a points-based system.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.