Over the past few years, there’s been a surge of indoor trainer users subscribing to various virtual platforms, like Zwift, to race, train, and socialize. Until recently, one of these virtual platforms’ untapped demographics was women. But that is changing as more women are embracing this online technology.
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Kate Veronneau, Zwift’s Director of Content and Women’s Strategy, a few questions about the company’s initiatives around women’s cycling both virtually and in the real world.
Sheri: What is the percentage of males vs. females on the platform?
Kate: 16% women, and our fastest growing demographic.
Sheri: Zwift has pivoted to focus more on women’s cycling over the past year. What was the impetus for this change?
Kate: We have a strong history of championing parity and creating opportunities in Zwift. Starting with our groundbreaking global talent ID program, Zwift Academy. The first Zwift Academy was a women’s program, developed with leading women’s WorldTour team CANYON//SRAM Racing to use our platform to find the next pro for their squad.
When we started elite racing in Zwift, we committed to complete parity from the onset. Equal distance, broadcast and prize purse for all our competitions, including the UCI Esports World Championship and our Tour de France Virtual. We’re now in a unique position where we can carry this positive impact into the outdoor space and this is aligned to our mission statement – to make more people, more active, more often.
Sheri: By providing a virtual community for women to ride socially or race, have you seen an increase in women subscribing to the platform?
Kate: Yes, our women’s community is our fastest growing demographic. I’m excited to see the impact of these race partnerships.
Sheri: How did it come about, Zwift, a virtual platform, decided to sponsor an actual race like the Tour de France Femmes for the next 4 years?
Kate: It was definitely the Tour de France Virtual in 2020. We partnered with the ASO to host a 5 day virtual competition during the pandemic, when the IRL race was postponed. The best women’s and men’s WorldTour teams raced on Zwift and it was widely broadcast to a global audience. There was complete parity in the competition, same distances, prize purse and broadcast, and we even switched up the broadcast order each stage, where the women went first the first day, then second the next day and so on. We saw incredible viewership and at the end of the day, the women’s racing was much more exciting. It was more dynamic because many of them had been Zwifting regularly, so it made for some great racing. At that point, the conversations with the ASO naturally turned to ‘let’s work together to create an IRL Tour de France Femmes that will stand the test of time, showcase the incredible action and character of the women’s WorldTour and inspire the next generation of heros.
Sheri: How does the route and prize money compare to the men’s TdF?
Kate: I find direct comparisons challenging for the Tour de France. I don’t want to always talk about women’s cycling in terms of men’s cycling. Women’s cycling has the opportunity to be so much more. The peloton has so much dimension and dynamism. Our mission is to shine a light on all the things that make women’s cycling so compelling.
The TDFFaZ is 8 stages, which the pro teams are very happy with. Teams and riders aren’t currently built or trained to compete in a 21 day race. The route is fantastic, with iconic cols, some wild gravel through wine country and epic sprint stages. Every stage of this race is going to be edge-of-your-seat action. I can’t wait to see the first stage, where they start at the Eiffel Tower and finish with grand panache on the Champs Elysees. Maybe the race will add stages each year, and maybe it will prove a new successful format. We look forward to working directly with the women’s pro peloton to hear what they want for future iterations of the race.
The prize purse of 250,000 euro is the largest prize purse of any pro women’s race. It’s distracting to directly compare to the men’s at this stage, when the men’s race and sponsors have been building for over 100 years. This inaugural edition of the TDFFaZ represents massive progress and is just a starting point. This year, the visibility is the most important thing. The Tour de France accounts for 75% of annual global cycling viewership. Introducing women’s racing to that audience is the key to elevating women’s pro cycling and drastically improving opportunities in terms of sponsorship, prize money and fans. We’re already seeing a huge domino effect, with races and sponsors increasing broadcast and prize purses weekly. A direct comparison in this moment doesn’t do justice to the progress made or the bright future ahead.
Sheri: What’s does Zwift have in the works for women’s cycling—virtual and real?
Kate: We look forward to the next 4 years of growing the TDFFaZ and Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift. In Zwift, we’ll continue to grow our women’s community by offering inspiration at the top level, and opportunities for riders of all levels to connect, race and train with women around the world. We are committed to elevating women’s cycling in and out of Zwift.
Sheri Rosenbaum regularly contributes articles and reviews products for RBR. She’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in the Chicago area and a major advocate for women’s cycling, serving on the board of directors and volunteering with the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club. Click to read Sheri’s full bio or visit her web site sunflowersandpedals.com.