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Zwift bans two riders for manipulating virtual race data

Lizi Duncombe and Shanni Berger both handed six-month bans for “fabrication or modification of data” during eRaces on virtual cycling platform

Zwift, the virtual cycling platform, has banned two riders from competing in races it hosts for six months after they were found to have manipulated data in previous events.

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During the period of suspension, handed down for “fabrication or modification of data,” neither Lizi Duncombe nor Shanni Berger will be able to take part in eRaces on the platform, but they will be able to continue to train on it.

News of the bans, which are backdated to when the manipulation happened, comes ahead of next month’s inaugural  UCI eSports World Championships.

Under Zwift’s eRacing rules, power data captured by the cyclist’s turbo trainer needs to be verified by a second source such as a power meter.

The decisions in both cases, which lay out the full technical decisions for the bans, have been published by the Zwift Performance Data Board.

The race for which Duncombe was handed her suspension was the Zwift Racing League – Women’s Qualifier #2 on 17 September, in which she finished fourth.

Data from Berger, meanwhile, was analysed after she finished second in the Off the MAAP – Women’s Race #2 on 17 August.

In both cases, the riders’ results were annulled from the races due to failure to satisfy Zwift’s technical requirements but it was the subsequent exchanges with each after they were presented with the inconsistencies identified in their data and invited to provide an explanation.

Berger, who appealed the annulment of her result, was found to have used a power meter as her primary source of data, which is against Zwift rules, despite claims by her and her team that she had used a smart trainer for it, and there were also inconsistencies in the data files they provided and the data captured by Zwift during the race.

Meanwhile, Duncombe initially claimed that she had erroneously uploaded her warm-up file, and submitted a second one that she claimed was from the race.

“Notably, at no point did the rider admit any fault, show any remorse or offer any plausible explanation as to how a file that had been generated by Zwift, came to be marked as being generated by a ‘Garmin Edge 820’, or have power data values that exactly differed from the Zwift file by a fixed percentage,” the Zwift Performance Verification Board said.

It added that in her case it was “beyond reasonable doubt that the rider did not correctly dual-record their ride, and therefore that the original judgement of annulling the result of the race for breaching the Technical requirements of the event should stand.”

In both decisions, the Zwift Performance Data Board found “beyond reasonable doubt” that each rider had made “a deliberate action to fabricate evidence to try to overturn the original decision by Zwift to annul the rider’s result in the race.”

Zwift’s popularity as both a training tool and a platform for eRacing soared earlier this year as countries around the world entered lockdown, including pro cyclists competing in virtual editions of the Tour of Flanders and the Tour de France.

Races were also shown on TV as event-starved sports broadcasters looked to fill their schedules.

The highest profile case that resulted in a rider being handed a ban predated the coronavirus pandemic however and arose from last year’s inaugural British eRacing national championships, with British Cycling the first national federation worldwide to stage such an event.

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Cameron Jeffers, winner of the men’s race held at the BT Studios at London’s Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park, 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 has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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