The Zwift Tour de Oz is coming to living rooms, garages and pain caves around Australia, with the three-stage race run on January 16-17.
SBS Cycling Central

8 Jan - 10:54 AM 

Making its return in 2021 after a few years hiatus, the Zwift Tour de Oz finds itself in an important place in a disrupted Australian summer of cycling. The virtual race comes ahead of the major on-road staples of the 2021 Australian calendar, the Tour Down Under (reconstituted this year as the Santos Festival of Cycling) and the nationals road race championships.

Day 1 of competition on Saturday January 16 will be a 6.3 km time trial followed soon after by a criterium, with Sunday's final stage a road race. 

Some Australian cycling royalty will be turning out for the event with former professional Graeme Brown keen to get into racing, highlighting the benefits of the event and the Zwift platform for an early season schedule that has seen races fall due to coronavirus restrictions.

"Tour de Oz gives the Aussies a “local” feel of an event and that’s always special," said Brown. "The last year of course has been a challenge for the professionals. The online training, events and racing has helped immensely. Getting hours in the saddle is always the focus so that’s not necessarily on the road thanks to Zwift."

Brown's career in the professional ranks came to an end before virtual racing was a big deal, but now as a coach in Perth with his own setup GB coaching, he incorporates online racing into his regimen more regularly.

"I would have really loved to have Zwift when I was racing as a professional," said Brown. "Getting a short race in here and there throughout the season can help a lot. I lived most of my pro career in Belgium and the weather wasn’t always the best which was a challenge. Zwift would’ve been great to have had. Ah well, I have it now."

For those that are more interested in watching along as some of Australia's best athletes compete against the wide and varied field of the open Tour de Oz, SBS Cycling Central will be broadcasting the event as a live stream on the Cycling Central Facebook page. Matt Keenan will be behind the microphone, calling the action with former world champion Kate Bates. For Keenan, the focus on the local riders and the chance for insights into the efforts they put in are the attraction of the event.

"I get to see a lot of the riders that I haven't had the chance to commentate on because of my commitments to commentating internationally," said Keenan. "What I find fascinating about the racing on Zwift is that we often speak in real-world races about wanting to get all the data on riders, on Zwift you can get that for every rider all the time.

"We do have a few athletes where you can cut to a picture of them and they're in their lounge room or in their pain cave trying to get the race done. That's a special insight."

The Tour de Oz comes just after a breakthrough for Australians on the online platform. Both of the winners of the Zwift Academy at the end of 2020 were Australian, securing professional contracts due to their showings in the Zwift Academy finals. 

"We've seen with Zwift racing over the last 12 months how important it is for Australians wanting to make that next step for a professional contract," said Keenan. "This year it was Neve Bradbury and Jay Vine who have the opportunity to race at a WorldTour level having gone through the Zwift Academy. It's a brilliant stepping stone for them."

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While there won't be guaranteed contracts up for grabs for the winners of the Tour de Oz, good performances on Zwift are meaning more and more when it comes to getting real-world attention.

"It only takes the right person to be watching," said Keenan. "It could be a sports director from a National Road Series team watching someone they haven't heard of before and see that they are producing really big numbers that can be verified on ZwiftPower. That starts a conversation and they might get a ride on a team.

"The other thing I like about the Tour de Oz is that you or I can ride it. You could be a D-grade club cyclist, but you get the chance to see how you stack up against top-level cyclists."

Aussies of all levels will be able to participate and compete across three stages during the weekend of January 16-17, with all three women and men’s races receiving equal streaming time on Zwift Live, and co-streamed on SBS Cycling Central.