• NRS racing. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Faster, more unpredictable and (most importantly) it’s bike racing that’s on now! Cycling Australia (CA) has announced plans for a National Road Series (NRS) virtual calendar of racing on Zwift.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

18 Apr 2020 - 12:38 PM 

With plans for the racing to run over six races from May 2 to June 11, the ‘eNRS’ will be run with six-rider teams made up from the 30 mens and womens NRS squads.

There will be no individual entries as are common in NRS races, with riders restricted to the existing team structures.

Cycling Central spoke to Team Bridgelane sprinter Tristan Ward about how the racing will play out in this different environment.

“There’s no working for each other, at least not to my knowledge on Zwift,” Ward said.

“It’s more trying to hang on for dear life. You’ll get to see a few boys go for the win that don’t necessarily have the chance."

The strongest teams often exert a strong control on races in the regular NRS races, but that will be largely out the window in the shorter Zwift races where drafting works quite different from real life.

“There will be no control, you can’t really control a race on Zwift. It’s so hard to draft, you go from the front to the back, front to back. It’s going to be the strongest bloke getting the win," he added.

Elements of road racing like handling, aerodynamics, race knowledge and bunch skills are not important on the virtual platform which focuses on power outputs and weight primarily.

That could see a number of names not so familiar with the top of the leaderboard at NRS races take the win.

“Andrew McCosker (Phoenix Cycle Collective) has a lot of experience, he’s on Zwift a lot,” said Ward of potential improvers in the Zwift races.

“Brendan Johnstone (CCS Racing), he’s an animal on the bike anyway, but he’s awesome on Zwift. 

“Whitey (Nick White), Ben van Dam (both Team BridgeLane) and Cam Roberts (GPM-Stulz), he’s a hammer on Zwift. Plus, anyone that can time-trial for 50 minutes, they’ll hold themselves in good stead.”

Ward wasn’t so optimistic on his own chances in the online races, but acknowledged the potential for an Australian series of races to showcase the local teams.

“I think it’s the best they can do in the situation the world’s got,” Ward said.

“Everyone’s in the same boat and it’s definitely a positive. Personally, I do a bit of Zwift, but it doesn’t really suit my style as I’m a bit big and a sprinter. But that’s alright, it’s a lot of fun going full-gas.”

The series is an initiative of Cycling Australia and Cycling Central spoke to CA’s Head of Sport, Kipp Kauffmann, about where the virtual races sit within the cycling calendar.

“We wanted to move really quickly to have an offering up for the riders, to keep some consistency around them in giving them a series that is theirs.

"The value around that to their sponsors is to keep interest high in the series while we can’t provide an NRS on the road. Hopefully it brings a bit of interest into the series, as it’s one of the few races happening with much structure.”

Zwift racing by its very nature happens remotely and there can be ways to cheat, outside of the normal physiological cheating that has been associated with cycling and other sports.

The Zwift National Racing Series won’t have prize money attached to racing but it is an issue that Kauffmann acknowledged.

“I think we should consider them and they’ll probably be a bigger issue into the future,” Kauffmann said.

“Right now, we want to have the opportunity to race and showcase the NRS. A bit of fun, a bit of entertainment and a chance to see what the NRS is and people can get to know the riders and the teams. 

“Certainly there’s the possibility of cheating, people not putting in the right information and then also incorrect set-ups and things like that. We’re not here to police that, we want the teams to get on and get some exposure.”

The news has been greeted with positivity from Australian domestic teams, with many heading to social media to highlight their participation in the series.

Zwift-style racing is generally hard from the start and an attritional struggle to the end of the race, with races clocking in at under an hour. 

In many respects it is quite similar to the Australian style of racing, obviously quite a bit shorter, but it should give viewers of the live stream on the Zwift and National Road Series social media accounts a taste of Aussie racing.