• Some of the interactions that make #CyclingGame21 special (Twitter)Source: Twitter
It's not the glitz and glamour of over-produced video, audio or the photo op, but #CyclingGame21 is bringing a direct connection between fans and cyclists, with a fun bit of engagement on Twitter.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

29 Jan 2021 - 12:02 PM  UPDATED 29 Jan 2021 - 12:03 PM

Originating in 2017, #cyclinggame was the brainchild of Twitter personality David Hunter (@cyclingmole), and has grown to a sub-community of passionate, fun-loving fans within cycling social media. The supporters who follow cycling are generally better than most sports, where the social media interactions can be abusive as much as helpful, but the game has brought out the most positive aspects of interaction between fans and riders.

SBS Cycling Central spoke with Hunter about the concept behind the game that has created a web of postive interactions.

"I was always amazed with how open the pro cyclists were on Twitter," said Hunter. "If you message these guys, quite often you get a reply and I was amazed how different it was from other sports.

"I was thinking, 'how can I do something where I can involve more of the cycling Twitter community with the pro riders'? I had this daft idea to do the cycling game.

"Basically, at the start of the pro season, you choose a pro cyclist, you become their 'superfan' for a year. If they engage with you on Twitter you get points."

It's an informal game, points are kept but don't always determine the final winner, prizes are nonexistent, some interactions are awarded massive points under Hunter's discretionary 'Rule 8' and the competition is friendly rather than cutthroat.

"We're somewhere near 170 take part each year," said Hunter. "Some people develop friendships with pro riders, there's been present go back and forward, it will encourage fans to go to races, meet up with them and get a picture, say hello. That's brilliant, that's really cool."

While the sign-up process from fans is set at the start of the year, it's very much a leap of faith from fans, as riders aren't necessarily onboard with the game when it starts, and it's up to the fan to do the hard yards to win them over sometimes.

"I don't know if the pros appreciate it," said Hunter, "but when a like flashes up on somebody's phone from Philippe Gilbert, Edward Theuns, Oliver Naesen... it makes the day for that person. If we can do that on a bigger scale, it's not just they liked my tweet but we're having a conversation."

"Some of the pros are really superb. They take it for what it is. It's fun, it's a little bit taking the piss out of one another and they just go for it. Quite often, they'll give their superfans stick if they don't message them."

The game has grown over the years to the point where most riders and teams will engage to some extent, though it's not uniformly accepted.

"Some teams are much better than others," said Hunter. "Some teams are warned off Twitter. For example, INEOS, Mitchelton-Scott (now Team BikeExchange) aren't particularly active on Twitter, they see it as a negative. Whereas the European-based teams are a lot more open, particularly the Belgians, they embrace it.

"Apparently, at Lotto Soudal team camp as part of a presentation, they used #cyclinggame as an example of how riders can get involved and interact with fans on social media in a positive way. It's just a bit of fun."

In #cyclinggame21 there's a clear leader at the moment, with the tandem of Sarah Gigante and Belinda (@reallyspoketome) dominating on and off-road with their interactions. 

"Sarah Gigante she's crazy on the #cyclinggame," said Hunter, she and her superfan Belinda are smashing it right now."

SBS Cycling Central reached out to Belinda, known to many who follow SBS cycling broadcasts as one of the social media stars on the #couchpeloton in recent years.

"I just like encouraging people," said Belinda, "and I was like 'this is a great opportunity to encourage someone I don't really know'. This is right up my alley."

Belinda has teamed up with a number of other professionals in the past, Lucy Kennedy, Ben O'Connor and Sam Bewley, with varying levels of success.

"Sam Bewley, I think he unfollowed me after the first day, which I think was fair enough," laughs Belinda. "The athlete doesn't owe you anything, so it's always nice to receive a message. They're doing to be kind to fans which I think is lovely."

"I don't just pick a random rider, I pick someone where I want to see how they race and learn more about their race. Picking Lucy Kennedy last year was about wanting to watch more women's cycling and Lucy was a perfect pick for that, she's such a dynamic racer. Ben O'Connor, it's been fun to follow his trajectory and pick the riders out in the peloton."

The other side of the game aside from the partnership interaction is getting to see what all the other pairs are doing.

"One of the things I love about the cycling game is that you meet the teammates of these other riders," said Belinda. "You see Kelly Milligan who does these incredible drawings, this year she's teamed up with Toms Skuijns, FlyingCloud, who won last year. Just such passionate people who are in it for the love of cycling and the ability to cheer someone on."

Belinda and Gigante are now the proclaimed frontrunners of the competition, but social media star expects stiff competition from the chasing peloton.

"She's so great," said Belinda of Sarah Gigante. "I think it seems to be who she is as a person, in interviews she thanks everyone she's ever met, just so lovely. She's been great to cheer for."

"Sarah's had some massive breakaway leads this year, what was it seven minutes and 51 seconds up in the Tweed race? We've got a big headstart on the world being an Australian team, but we're in the breakaway at the moment and have to hold that lead. I'm thinking we can do this!"