Elite sports events are still largely closed to the world – but July 2020 has still been an unprecedented month for the global sporting calendar thanks to the world’s first Virtual Tour de France, which – despite the name – was based nowhere in particular, as riders took part from their homes in all parts of the world.
It’s historic, not just because the event brought together the world of esports cycling and the iconic and gruelling race – this was also the first time that women competed in a multistage Tour.
There were some key differences. Rather than being an individual race, it was run in teams, it was a lot shorter than the actual Tour and, most importantly, it involved cyclists sitting on their bikes indoors plugged into the Zwift virtual cycling system. Yet, for the audiences tuning in via YouTube, it’s easy to mistake it for an actual broadcast of a road race, as the graphics emulate the physical map and terrain of the route. Even the broadcast commentary was similar.
The Tour is the latest in a whole range of digital innovations that have brought sports into the homes of millions of people during the COVID-19 lockdown, when they all had to press pause on their physical