We live in complicated times, when the extraordinary has gradually become ordinary and vice versa. Professional cycling has not escaped this madness. What started as a wave of cancelled races has led to completely new formats adapted to the “new normal.”
In the end, the important thing is to be able to continue enjoying our sport. Precisely with that objective, The Challenge of Stars was born, a unique virtual pro cycling competition. An idea that just a few months ago would be considered truly insane, has dramatically come to life.
The culprits of this precious madness
The Challenge of Stars was born from the collaboration between Bkool and RCS, the organizing company of the Giro d’Italia, among other renowned events.
At Bkool, we had already broken the ice with DeRonde2020. It was the first virtual edition of the Tour of Flanders featuring top professional riders, and it yielded great results. We knew what we were capable of, but needed a little help to make history again. RCS, with their wealth of experience, stepped up and made organizing the Challenge of Stars much easier. Within days, we had confirmed a large contingent of top riders from different pro teams and had settled on the format of the competition. We were working against the clock; but for a company of cycling fanatics such as Bkool, there is nothing more motivating than the pressure of putting on a world class event.
The first knock out online cycling tournament
From the beginning, we wanted to create something innovative, an event that would really be dramatic and new. Here, the RCS experience was essential in developing a fun format that would be interesting for both participants and spectators. And what better way to do it than with a knock out tournament, where the best pros in the world could face each other in frantic qualifying heats until they reached the final?
It was something never seen in a traditionally team sport like road cycling. And it was precisely this lack of precedent that made it especially appealing. For the first time in history, the best cyclists in the world would meet face to face, without the support of their teams, in a fight to get through to the finals.
The big day arrived. Weeks of work, dozens of online meetings between Spain and Italy, tests and more tests… all of it reduced to just a few hours of competition. But at Bkool, we could not be more proud of the result.
Our entire team was working from their homes, conducting tests and doing the impossible, yet every detail was ready when the time came. And there we had them: Froome, De Gendt, Barguil, Ciccone, Nibali, Fuglsang, Trentin, Ewan, Pedersen, Geshcke, Majka and more. It was just a year ago that these same protagonists kept us glued to our TVs as they battled in the Giro or the Tour de France. Suddenly, they were there, waiting to face off in Bkool.
Climbers would face the climb to Stelvio. It’s a fast, steep, short ascent. Getting up it quickly requires watts, watts and more watts! Our new format was one that these professionals were probably not used to, making it even more spectacular.
Chris Froome, after a bad start, was left out after the first heat, but not before treating us to a spectacular comeback attempt. Ciccone and De Gendt were the best during all the qualifying rounds, with the Italian prevailing in the final thanks to a frenetic sprint to the finish.
In the sprinters’ category, the first surprise was the elimination of world champion Mads Pedersen in the first round. Jacobsen reached the finals after eliminating Ackermann in the semis. Philippi Ganna was waiting for him, as he had done the same with Jasper De Buyst.
In the end, there was no Italian double, as Jacobsen imposed his will by dominating the final face off from start to finish.
On the other side of the screen, thousands of spectators followed each duel live around the world. Even if it was only for a weekend, cycling was once again the protagonist in the media and on social networks. The excitement of the competition was beamed into the homes of fans around the world, who could see the power, cadence and speed data of all their idols in real time.
It may have only been a couple of days; but for many cycling fans both inside and outside Bkool, it was a huge breath of fresh air – a reunion with the thrill of professional competition that we miss so much. For all of the fans, we will keep working, innovating and enjoying this beautiful sport.