PARIS • Veteran South African rider Ashleigh Moolman on Wednesday became cycling’s first virtual world champion when she – or rather her avatar – won the 50km race on the digital roads of “Watopia”.
Organised by the International Cycling Union (UCI), the sport’s world governing body, and using the Zwift platform, she claimed victory on her 35th birthday without needing to leave her apartment.
The 2020 South African national champion defeated Australia’s Sarah Gigante and Cecilia Hansen of Sweden by clocking 73 minutes.
Her reward for the event, a hybrid of traditional road racing and e-sports, was a rainbow jersey.
Despite being a sceptic, Moolman admitted she had been won over by the virtual format.
“It was really awesome. I wasn’t a fan of virtual training before the lockdown, but lockdown really converted me,” she said.
“To win the virtual world champion jersey – I’m super proud.
“I know that virtual cycling and e-sports is something quite new but I think it will become a big thing. I’m proud to be the first-ever e-sports world champion.
“Of course, there will be some that say it’s not the same and it’s not as impressive but in time, more and more will convert, and they will enjoy it. I think the younger generation is really behind e-sports, so there’s plenty more to come in the e-sports world and I’m very proud to be part of that movement.”
Jason Osborne took the men’s title, seeing off better-known World Tour cyclists such as Victor Campenaerts of Belgium, Briton Tom Pidcock and Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen in 65 minutes.
The 26-year-old German will be heading to the Tokyo Olympics next summer – but in rowing rather than cycling.
Osborne has already qualified for the lightweight men’s double sculls event.