Roanoke brewery hosts first-of-its-kind virtual bike race

By John Carlin - Anchor

ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - A warm evening at Roanoke's Soaring Ridge Brewery.

A great night for a cold one and a bike race.

It's a first of it's kind: two races, one for women and another for men.

They ride their own bikes, but instead of a rear wheel, the bike is locked into something called a smart trainer, which in turn is attached to a computer.

It's an amazing blend of technology, algorithms and training that allows the region's, and in some cases the world's, best cyclists to race side by side as the computer reveals their actual effort and tactics through a program called Zwift.

"This is a full on virtual racing experience like you would with any other kind of a bike race except we can do it in an arena with a real life effort right here in of the game," explained Nathan Guerra, a professional cyclist and on this night, the announcer for the race. "It's measured in this device and goes out with a signal to the game, which communicates that power that's going out of their legs into the game," he said as he pointed out the smart trainer.

The race is so real the riders not only feel the up hills and down – but the advantage of the draft -- riding behind another rider, or bumps in the road. It even accounts for wind resistance for taller riders, one of the reasons riders' weight and height are all plugged into the computer just before the race.

Once the racing begins, the riders' effort is just as real as if they were on the road. Sweat pours off of them, and heart rates soar over 30 to 40 miles.

It's also real for the spectators who can watch the action on their smartphones through live-streaming service Twitch and search Zwift. Just as many; however, seemed to be watching the riders suffer on in front of them, while listening to Guerra's play-by-play.

"I guess it's just the competition more than anything. Just watching them. You can see them looking across seen how much work there doing it makes it more exciting to watch that," said Matt Pisenti who was seated at a table at the front of the crowd.

"You have pro road racers here from all over the country. It's really cool to see them," said Ashleigh Huggard

While dozens cheered there in the brewery, organizers say thousands around the world were watching online. And next time these riders in Roanoke may also be racing cyclists, in Europe.

"We can do it across the world. So we are planning on doing events linking up London and Amsterdam," said Neil Stewart the race official and longtime professional cycling support team member.

Worldwide, indoors and real.

"It was fun. It was realistic. It was a lot more realistic because I've never done this with before, so it was a lot more realistic than I would've expected," admitted Kate Buss of Blacksburg and the winner of the women's race.

Scotty Weiss, the current masters time trial and road race world champion said he was motivated by fans cheering behind him. "Yes, much more motivated to have the racers besides me and also the fans and people watching," he said.

Virtual reality on a warm night in Roanoke with real sweat and cold beer.

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