Sport has taken a backseat in recent weeks with countless events cancelled or postponed as the world tries to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Cycling is no exception, with the Spring Classics and Tour de France put back until later in the year, but top teams have joined forces to create innovative virtual events.
Reigning Olympic road race champion Greg van Avermaet won the Virtual Tour of Flanders just over two weeks ago, and he will face the likes of 2019 Vuelta winner Primoz Roglic and Grand Tour triple crown winner Vincenzo Nibali in the Digital Swiss 5 comprising five daily one-hour stages from the Tour de Suisse.
You can watch the action live on Olympic Channel with coverage starting on Wednesday 22nd April. Click here to find the timings of our live streams in your region (not in USA/Canada).
"I’m happy we are giving fans something to watch while we are not racing on the road. We’re in for some tough races so I'll give it everything I have to get another virtual win under my belt." - Greg van Avermaet speaking to Velon.cc
How the Digital Swiss 5 works
Avermaet's CCC Team is one of several which co-own the Velon business group staging the Digital Swiss 5.
All teams scheduled to race in the real Tour de Suisse were invited to compete with the cyclists putting road bikes on smart roller trainers which are hooked up to the virtual cycling platform ROUVY.
No fewer than 16 WorldTour outfits have signed up along with two ProContinental teams as well as the Swiss national team for 19 in total. They are:
AG2R La Mondiale, Bora-hansgrohe, CCC Team, Deceuninck-Quick-Step, EF Pro Cycling, Groupama-FDJ, Israel Start-Up Nation, Lotto Soudal, Mitchelton-Scott, Movistar Team, NTT Pro Cycling, Rally Cycling, Team Bahrain McLaren, Team INEOS, Team Jumbo-Visma, Team Sunweb, Total Direct Energie, Trek-Segafredo, and the Swiss national team.
Three riders per team will take part on each of the five days with the option of changing the line-up depending on the stage routes.
They will be represented on the virtual course by avatars in their team uniforms and riding their usual team bikes.
As the profile of the course goes up and down, the trainer automatically reflects that in the resistance it offers to the turning of the pedals.
During the races, the riders can track their own data with their speed, power and cadence all on display.
Reflecting on his virtual Flanders triumph, Van Avermaet said, "Virtual racing is definitely not easy. The races may be much shorter than normal races but the effort is much more intense and you have a much smaller window of opportunity to make the difference when it comes to tactics."
Alaphillipe said, "I am really looking forward to racing The Digital Swiss 5. It is a new type of race for me, very different to anything I have done before, but it is great that have something where we can focus and test our condition. I hope that the fans will enjoy watching what will be some tough days of racing."
Denmark's reigning road race world champion Mads Pedersen is also competing for Trek-Segafredo.
He told Velon.cc, "Normally, I don’t like to spend time on my home trainer but right now, I actually enjoy it. It’s really nice that we can compete against each other and find a different solution in this difficult situation everyone is in."
Multiple Tour de France stage winner Edvald Boasson Hagen could be well suited by this type of racing.
The Norwegian NTT Pro Cycling rider told Velon.cc, "Our entire team is excited about this new event. I have spent a lot of time riding on the trainer at home in training, but to race on it will be a first. I think it will be exciting viewing for all the fans."
Meanwhile, the team directors are not sure they will have too much to do during these races other than cheer the riders on.
EF Pro Cycling's Tom Southam said, "I’d like to be in touch before and after for encouragement’s sake. We have selected a good amount of riders who can’t get outside; we are trying to give them some sort of focus and motivation in a difficult time.
"I can't see how one rider from a team can help another one during a race. I think it’s going to be more of an individual effort and that tactics will come from the visual motivation you get, like: ‘Okay, I’m close to this rider, and I can get past him if I just push a bit harder’.
Trek-Segafredo counterpart Gregory Rast said the riders went "flat out for an hour" in the Virtual Tour of Flanders and expects more of the same this week.
"In these races, they will go flat out the whole time. It’s pure power, it’s entertaining and it’s definitely better than no racing at all." Trek-Segafredo sporting director Gregory Rast to Velon.cc
Daily Digital Swiss 5 Schedule:
All Live on Olympic Channel, for free and without subscription (excluding USA and Canada). Click here to watch and check day-by-day streaming times.
Wednesday, 22 April
Race 1: Agarn - Leukerbad
Thursday, 23 April
Race 2: Frauenfeld - Frauenfeld
Friday, 24 April
Race 3: Fiesch - Nufenenpass
Saturday, 25 April
Race 4: Oberlangenegg - Langnau
Sunday, 26 April
Race 5: Camperio – Disentis-Sedrun