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World's first eSports pro cycling team sacks rider for cheating on Zwift

“The team was left with a hard but simple decision to end the relationship,” says Canyon Esports

Canyon Esports, which bills itself as “the world's first professional eRacing team,” has sacked a rider after he was found to have falsified his data on Zwift.

The team announced on 8 February that it had terminated German rider Philipp Diegner’s contract.

But, as DC Rainmaker reports, no-one appears to have noticed the announcement at the time it was made and the story only emerged once Zwift itself announced its sanction.

Diegner is the fifth rider to have been handed a ban by Zwift after investigation of data relating to races ridden on the platform in recent months.

> Zwift hands two more bans to riders for falsifying race data

In its statement, his team said: “This decision has been made during an investigation by ZADA [Zwift Accuracy and Data Analysis] following Race No. 3 of ZRL Premier League.

“Evidence was brought to light that was previously unknown to Canyon Esports and its management staff.

“As per the team's internal protocols, a decision was made to terminate the rider's contract and part ways.

“Philipp had previously been suspended from race duties while the team and ZADA's investigation was ongoing. At the time of publishing this notice, ZADA and Zwift have made no further announcement other than the disqualification from Race 3.”

The team added: “Canyon Esports had been investigating in good faith whether the reported irregularities had occurred involuntarily during the exporting process.

“However, before we could conclude that investigation we were presented with additional evidence which undermined the necessity to continue. Following further conversations with the rider and ZADA, the team was left with a hard but simple decision to end the relationship.”

Rhys Howell, team manager, said: “We are an incredibly close-knit team, so losing a rider is like losing a limb. Personally, I can only describe my feelings as heartbroken.

“However, I did not hesitate for one second to make the necessary decision to terminate our agreement with the rider in question.

“Our team is more than any single rider alone and we believe firmly in transparency and a clean sport. There can be no deviations from that belief.

“Our sport relies on trust and a team like ours is founded upon it. We will now look at how we can avoid such situations in the future and I have reiterated to all our senior and development riders that they can and should always come to me first if they are struggling.

“I hope this episode will be but a lone footnote in the exciting story of our team,” he added.

Zwift’s decision in the case, which outlines the reasons for the ban imposed on Diegner, can be found here.

The most high profile instance to date of a cyclist being sanctioned for cheating on Zwift relates to Cameron Jeffers, winner of the inaugural British eRacing national championships, the first time any national federation had staged such an event.

> Zwift national champion stripped of title because he didn’t earn the ‘Tron’ bike he rode within the game

Following the men’s race at the BT Studios at London’s Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park, Jeffers was found to have manipulated data prior to the event to unlock a Zwift Concept Z1 bike – popularly known as a “Tron” bike – to give himself an advantage over his competitors.

He was stripped of his title, fined £250 and handed a six-month suspension from all racing, with the title awarded to James Phillips, who came second on the day.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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EddyBerckx | 3 years ago

Bloody sopers!! They're all doing it!  10

Gkam84 | 3 years ago

A part that all media is failing to pick up on, he coaches for a living and also made a name for himself as a WorldTour data/performance analyst for Velon. He is/was part of Dig Deep Coaching. 

Personally, I think he's been "testing" the system to see what got through, not to benefit himself as he's just an average rider in terms of Zwift "pros", but I feel he's been working on an algorithm to try and pass off data that will fool ZADA.

He took his secondary file and ran it through a program to increase his data by 2% across the board, that's easy to pick up, as no power meter or trainer can read like that and he's been doing it multiple times. So not just in this race, but across multiple races where he didn't come last. As I don't Zwift, I had a friend send me some files across and I manipulated those data sets to increase power, change what equipment it was supposed to be done one, removed and reduced heart rates. It's not difficult to do. The difficult part is making it convincing enough to fool the system you are uploading to. Just increasing the whole file by a percentage isn't going to work because of the way power files are created. There is a lag from your device to the file, so when you put down 650 watts, it isn't instantaneous on Zwift, it will take a second to register on their system, whereas your power file will read differently. This is why Zwift asks for secondary sources of recording from "pro" races.

zero_trooper replied to Gkam84 | 3 years ago

Thanks for the explanation. I can see the issues now.

Secret_squirrel | 3 years ago

It's not been particularly well explained how this cheating works. As far as I can tell the cheater rides with a badly calibrated trainer that's set to over-read, and then alters their secondary source to match?  
The problem I can see is that they are only being caught because of their inept file manipulation, and given it's a data file writing a program to invisibly edit a file is going to be child's play for a sufficiently talented programmer, which means either there is already 'pro' grade cheating going on or there soon will be....

We may have a situation already where those being caught are on the equivalent of amphetimines whereas the pro dopers are using the software equivalent of EPO.


PRSboy replied to Secret_squirrel | 3 years ago

The trick is getting the two sources to look convincing together. The power meter reading will track in a different way to the smart trainer power reading. In addition, high level e-Racers have to present 'real world' power data to support their virtual efforts. 

Waleskun replied to Secret_squirrel | 3 years ago

As I understand it he 'cleaned up' the data from his secondary power source. If you have connection dropouts this is obviously going to affect how two sources line up with each other. I think he manipulated his secondary source, so not the one that reports to zwift and no advantage was gained. I don't know why people don't just take a disqualification rather than risk being banned.

If you look at the differences from the files from his last race the difference was probably within the margin of error you may expect between a smart trainer measuring after drivetrain loses and a crank based power meter measuring before drivertrain loses which makes this data manipulation more perplexing because I doubt he would have been disqualified for it.


JohnMcL7 replied to Secret_squirrel | 3 years ago
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I don't think it's outright cheating especially in this case where the rider came last for the initial investigation, instead according to DC Rainmaker it seems to be people trying to cover up problems with the secondary recording:

"The point here is more simplistic. Every single case to date has revolved around something going wrong with that secondary source recording, and then the athlete trying to tweak that second file to make it appear like a secondary power meter. In most cases, it was simply paired to the trainer instead, or, not started at all."

I agree it's likely there's likely others who are also cheating but have been better at manipulating the data and I'd expect Zwift will catch more of them as they get better at analysing the patterns.  The difficulty is not in the file manipulation but in entering convincing data since different power meters have different behaviours. 

What does surprise me is Zwift don't seem that bothered about this which is something DC Rainmaker also specifically covers, they could take both power meter readings themselves and they could digitally sign or encrypt the data to make it impossible to modify.  

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