Germany’s Jason Osborne was perhaps a surprise first men’s UCI Esports World Champion but he deserved to take the first-ever rainbow jersey avatar by combining his world-class rowing physiology and polished Zwift racing skills.
Osborne is already qualified for the Lightweight Men’s Double Sculls event at next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games, was sixth in German time trial championships last year, and took the Strava KOM record from several NTT WorldTour riders on the Monte Serra climb in Tuscany, which is often used to test riders’ ability and form.
The short power climb at the finish of the men’s race on the Zwift Watopia circuit was perfect for Osborne to combine his talents and beat some big-name WorldTour riders like Victor Campenaerts, Tom Pidock, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Zwift star Lionel Vujasin of Belgium.
“When I saw the riders who were participating in the event, I saw some big names. I had a lot of respect for them, but of course there’s always competition between the Zwift pros and the WorldTour riders. They have the power while the Zwift pros know the algorithm and how it works,” Osborne after the race.
Osborne powered away from a group of 50 riders on the short climb to the finish at up to 12 Watts/kg, opening a two-second gap and then holding it thanks to a well-timed power-up in sight of the line.
The Danish duo of Anders Foldager and Nicklas Pedersen finished 1.74 and 2.09 seconds down on Osborne, respectively, while Canada’s Matteo Dal-Cin was the best pro road racer, coming in seventh place.
“I knew my form was good and I’d prepared well. I have good one-minute power and that can be very important on that course. My main focus was to keep calm, swimming in the pack and conserve my energy for the last 80 seconds,” Osborne explained.
Osborne is focusing on rowing for Germany at next summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games but knows that the first-ever Esports Worlds title could divert his career down a more digital path.
“I’ve been cycling since 2012, a lot of rowers do cycling because it’s a great sport to do and also helps develop your rowing,” he said.
“Since Strava came about, I got into the competitive side of it and like to compare myself to other riders on some KOM and stuff. I did pretty well in the German time trial championships and was sixth in 2019, only 28 seconds down on WorldTour rider Jasha Sütterlin (who finished third).
“I don’t have road race experience, I’ve only done TTs but I came to Zwift a couple of years ago and used it as a training tool. It’s motivating and I really think Zwift is a great opportunity to race people. I don’t need to ride outside because it’s so fun.
“Maybe I’ll switch to cycling after the Olympics and see what I can achieve. With Zwift developing, there’s an opportunity there, so I’m excited how it will all develop,” said Osbourne.