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Cycling South Africa suspends Zwift racer caught hacking data during world championships qualifier

Eddy Hoole was last week banned from Zwift racing for six months and sacked by his team, with more sanctions now likely to follow

Cycling South Africa has suspended Eddy Hoole's racing licence from all cycling disciplines and is engaging with the UCI after the Zwift racer was found to have hacked his data to facilitate a stunning win in a qualifying event for the 2023 UCI eSports World Championships.

Hoole was last week banned from Zwift racing for six months and sacked by his Toyota CRYO RDT team after the virtual racing platform's Performance Verification Board concluded, quite unsurprisingly, that the South African's race-winning 526-watt attack for four minutes and 16 seconds (8.5w/kg) was achieved by illegitimate means.

In a statement, Cycling South Africa said it has a "zero tolerance policy to any form of cheating" and has begun its own disciplinary process, which will include "engagement" with the UCI.

The rider's racing licence has been suspended from all disciplines and the governing body's own investigation has begun immediately.

Cycling South Africa acknowledges and recognises the Tier 3 sanction, which represents "Bringing the sport into disrepute" imposed on Eddy Hoole.

This sanction entails a six-month suspension from all events held under the Zwift Cycling Esports Rules and Regulations. The sanction comes after Eddy's recent result at the European and African Zwift Continental Qualifying race held on Sunday 13 November 2022.

Eddy won the second round (Hillclimb) of the Continental Qualifying event by breaking away from the pack and thus securing an automatic entry to the start line at the Esport World Championships.

Following this performance, Eddy was contacted by the Zwift Accuracy and Data Analysis Group (ZADA) and informed that an investigation would take place to verify his performance.

After the investigation by ZADA, he was found guilty of manipulating power data resulting in a 25 per cent higher power reading than actual and the use of signal jammers for the actual power reading not to be picked up in Zwift, amongst other things.

Cycling South Africa has a zero tolerance policy to any form of cheating in order to ensure fair play in competitions. This is at the core of our responsibilities as a governing body.

Cycling South Africa is with immediate effect, instituting its own disciplinary process, which includes engagement with the UCI, based on the UCI Cycling Esports Regulations.

Cycling South Africa subsequently imposes a suspension of the rider's licence from all cycling disciplines while the investigation is in process.

 "Something we've almost never seen before"

Hoole's staggering ride to win and qualify for the 2023 UCI eSports World Championships raised suspicions immediately, with mountain biker-turned-Zwift broadcaster Nathan Guerra describing the effort — which saw him drop the bunch on the final climb before flying past the former leaders with ease — as "something we've almost never seen before" and "what I thought was absolutely impossible."

According to Zwift's investigation, Hoole's 526w attack at his given weight "equates to a sustained average power output of approx. 8.5 W/kg, a performance that requires a VO2max of over 90 mL/min/kg."

Eddy Hoole Zwift stats (Zwift)

"For comparison, these values are significantly greater than those that have been measured for Olympic pursuit champions and world record holders (average power output over 4min, approx. 7.5 W/kg) or Tour de France GC winners (VO2max, approx. 85 mL/min/kg)."

The report also noted, damningly, that there is no "circumstantial evidence that might suggest that the rider is a globally significant world class athlete" and could not back up the ride in real life, only managing 400w during an independent test to prove his credentials.

Also, while the numbers from Hoole's power meter – broadly in line with his race stats – showed that it was significantly miscalibrated, Zwift pointed out that the trainer the rider was using last month, and which recorded the data acquired by the platform, is self-calibrating (such as the Wahoo Kickr or the Tacx Neo), with a manufacturer-claimed accuracy of +/- one per cent.

Ultimately, analysing Hoole's data streams from his computer to Zwift's servers a pattern was found of the rider's data channels disconnecting shortly before his races started, something that did not happen when he trained.

 It has been suggested by some, including DC Rainmaker, that Hoole could have inserted a device or some form of software into the middle of the data stream to change it, allowing him to artificially boost his figures.

Zwift compared the absence of analytics information to being equivalent to the presence of a "masking-agent in anti-doping" and said it would "allow the rider to change their paired device from their trainer to a computer-controlled device that gave falsified power information, without such a change being recorded by Zwift's servers."

When questioned about this evidence, Hoole provided no answers, but instead deleted 150 dual-recordings from Zwift Power, a site used to prove race data, and also deleted or made private all of his social media profiles.

Concluding that Hoole's ride was the result of a "deliberate manipulation of data", Zwift banned the South African from racing until 12 May 2023 for "bringing the sport into disrepute".

Following Zwift's report, the Esports Team Toyota CRYO RDT confirmed that they had "terminated their relationship with Hoole". Now, with Cycling South Africa and the UCI involved, it seems more sanctions may be on the way...

Dan is the news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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