In what can only be seen as the ultimate expression of lockdown life, Zwift and Amaury Sport Organisation - the organisers of the Tour de France - have announced that the iconic cycling road race will be taking place virtually during July.
Over the first three weekends on July, 23 professional men's teams and 17 professional women's teams - including names such as Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, Marianne Vos and Kirsten Wild - will compete in six virtual stages, each lasting about an hour, on the Zwift virtual platform.
Those stages won't all be on the normal routes of the Tour de France, however. The first and second stages will take place on Zwift's classic Watopia map, which will be given visual highlights inspired by the French city of Nice - the location of the Grand Depart for the re-scheduled TdF starting at the end of August.
Stages 3, 4 and 5 will take place on a new French map in Zwift, while the final stage will of course be on a new Paris map.
- Saturday 4 July, stage 1: Nice, 36.4km (4 x 9.1km, hilly stage)
- Sunday 5 July, stage 2: Nice, 29.5km (682m of ascent, mountain stage)
- Saturday 11 July, stage 3: North-East France, 48km (flat stage)
- Sunday 12 July, stage 4: South-West France, 45.8km (2 x 22.9km laps, hilly stage)
- Saturday 18 July, stage 5: Mont Ventoux, 22.9km (finish at Chalet-Reynard, mountain stage)
- Sunday 19 July, stage 6: Paris Champs-Elysées, 42.8km (6 laps of the circuit)
There will be jerseys awarded through the stages for points gained too - and the aim of the whole event is to bring some form of cycle racing to the fans, as well as raise money for charities supported by the Tour de France United fund.
It's not only about the pros. There's also a Zwift-based Virtual l'Étape du Tour de France series. The Étape normally allows fans to ride one of the Tour stages on the same roads as the professionals in a mass-participation events - and there's going to be three Étape stages in Zwift too, meaning you can join in the action.
- 4 and 5 July, Stage 1: Nice, 29.5km (682m of ascent, mountain stage)
- 11 and 12 July, Stage 2: South-West France, 45.8km (2 x 22.9km laps, hilly stage)
- 18 and 19 July, Stage 3: Mont Ventoux, (22.9km, finishing at the observatory)
"Thanks to the virtual Tour de France, which will be widely broadcast on TV, the champions and their fans will fill in the void left by the Tour de France, which will reunite with the public in Nice on 29 August. The Tour Virtuel puts technology to work for passion and the cause of cycling for everyone," said Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France.
"The Virtual Tour de France will be a celebration of the event featuring the stars of the men's and women's pro pelotons, all in aid of five great causes. Let's also not forget, there is a great chance to take part through the Virtual l'Étape du Tour de France rides as well!" said Eric Min, Zwift CEO and Co-Founder.
The partnership is something of a coup for Zwift; leveraging its popular virtual cycling platform will only raise awareness of the technology in the eyes of cycling fans around the globe.
What's clever about Zwift is how dynamic it is as a platform. To participate you need a bike, a compatible indoor trainer and to be signed up to the platform - but that covers a wide range of options, from a basic indoor trainer with a couple of sensors through to hugely sophisticated smart trainers which can also simulate the change in elevation on the route.
We've seen a boom in cycling in 2020 and platforms like Zwift provide an indoor option for those who can't get out on the road or don't want to. It's the gamification of cycling and there's no bigger game in the sport than the Tour de France.
You can discover a lot more about the Tour de France event on the Zwift website.