Thursday, October 29, 2020

There’s a “Zwift app” cycle around Covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is here, and it may be here to stay. As the world prepares to live with the virus, the sporting world may not be far behind.

Like any other event, sport is continuously trying to adapt to the new normal and some codes like cycling seem to be adapting much faster. Cycling is already riding on the saddle of technological advancement and many apps are mushrooming cycling tries to stay active and relevant during these times of uncertainty.

One such app is the phenomenal virtual reality training program Zwift, Co- founded by Jon Mayfield.

The app is helping transform once monotonous ‘socially distant’ indoor cycle rides into a world of competition and social interaction. 

So much success has come off the app and one of the world best races, the ‘Tour de France’ has adopted it.

With all sporting competitions cancelled, ‘Tour de France’ organizers are using the Zwift virtual reality platform to conduct the world-famous competition.

With al these latest developments taking place, how close is Botswana sport and in particular cycling to adapt to the new normal?

According to Botswana Cycling Association (BCA) spokesperson Game Mompe, it is still a little early for the country to adopt such technologies for competitions. “For now, as a nation I do not think we really need the device unless one individually purchases it for training,” she says.

The BCA spokesperson says this is mainly as the association’s competitions do not always attract a lot of people.

“If we are to host a competition, we will surely attract less than 75 people, more so that we hardly have spectators,” Mompe says.

She says as cyclists, they make most of their own support base due to the different categories of races they have. 

Commenting about the ZWIFT virtual platform, Mompe says the application has been in existence for a while now.

She says the only difference is that while it was solely used for training in the past, it is now being used to host cycling competitions. 

Mompe however says the BCA may still need around 10 of the virtual reality deceives for continental competitions should the African Cycling Confederation (CAC) adopt it to be used for a specific tournament. 

On how the application has been received by individual cyclists here in Botswana, she says at least 50% of their athletes do not have the device as it is expensive and it requires highspeed internet to connect. 

“So far, we have not yet had a competition which required Zwift, but we do have a few athletes who train with them even during lockdown it was one device to use that gave one the feeling of being outdoors,” she highlights. 

One such cyclist who has had the privilege to use Zwift is none other than emerging talent Lebopo Mompe.

Commenting on the use of ZWIFT, Lebopo says even though the device captures one in game mode and competitions seem like virtual game, it however is an interesting platform.

He says the application gives one the privilege to compete with any cyclist, even the elite across the world. 

With the current situation of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Lebopo says technology may totally change the sporting landscape.

“It is indeed true that the world is slowly taking the direction of including technology everywhere even into sport. The world is changing and we need to embrace it and be a little creative to still uphold the value of sport,” said Lebopo.

The young cycling sensation says he is still intrigued by the ability of the Zwift application, which he says can be used by anyone, including amateur cyclists. 

Like the actual cycling races, Lebopo says Zwift races are divided into categories from A to E, with category A being for elite cyclists. 

With regards to himself, Lebopo says he races in category B which is for the semi elite cyclists. 

“The big difference between Zwift races and the actual races is that with Zwift there are no challenges such as the wind to slow you down, rocks or trees to block your view. You are competing from the comfort of your own home,” he says.

“Even so, it takes you into reality and gives one the feeling of being the area they selected. for example, when you climb a mountain your legs feel the pressure and gives you the feeling of being there,” he explains.

Lebopo says while the bicycle stationed in one’s living room with aircon on and water readily available, cycling for about two to three hours nonstop is not a joke. 

While there is no doubt that the use of virtual reality may be the future for sport, many are however of the view that Botswana is not ready to fully embrace it.

They opine that for a country like Botswana, competing in prestigious events through virtual platforms may lead to disappointments as the country tends to have load shedding and internet problems.

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