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Virtual Bike Racing

The first thing a coach or personal trainer does when starting with a new athlete or client is establish goals. For most this would be an event of some kind. In cycling we can race often and the old adage of, “there is no training like racing,” is acknowledged as being true. Professional cyclists will use races to build up to and prepare for races that are higher on their priority scale. So what now? With all races and events around the World having been postponed or cancelled, many recreational cyclists are struggling to find the motivation to train. 

It is ironic that many are working remotely from home at the moment. Saving time on the morning and evening commute offers more time to train but again, what for if we can’t show off our improved form at an event? Even regular group training rides are being reduced in numbers in order to comply with ‘social distancing’, so riding off your mates up the local climb is less of a challenge.

I am sure that many are tempted to just go, “oh well, time for a break and I’ll pick things up again when I have an event to aim at.” That would be a shame. If you follow the progress of any professional rider you will be able to see their progression from year to year and the same applies to all of us. Yes, some recovery time is needed but the less we detrain from hard training period to the next, the more we will progress year on year, season on season, race to race.

We have discussed indoor training at length and there is no doubt as to its efficacy as a training tool but there is a growing online racing scene that could provide the motivation necessary through this period. The online training and racing app, Zwift, has ever increasing numbers at their races and there are number of unique features where a virtual race trumps racing outdoors. One of the most significant is the fact that a rider can race others at their own level. Accurately putting in the data such as age, weight, functional power threshold etc. should make things a nice, level playing field. Sadly, there will always be those that crook these numbers but to what end only they will know.

Concept2 BikeErg

The BikeErg has the same flywheel and Performance Monitor as our Concept2 RowErgs and SkiErg, bringing to cycling the strengths and features Concept2 has previously brought to rowing and cross-country skiing.

There are a lot of similarities to racing outdoors but there are also a few significant differences that need to be learned and taken into account when doing your first Zwift race:

  • Although we should warm up before outdoor races, the warm up for a virtual one is even more critical because they start absolutely flat out. Riders are actually riding before the gun goes, so be ready to put in a big effort right from the get-go.
  • It is a good idea to actually build up your power output to VO2 levels just as the race starts so that you don’t get dropped. Things will settle down but if you are not in the wheels when it does, you will be looking for chasing groups.
  • On the subject of being ‘in the wheels’ – there is a drafting effect in Zwift as well, but it is not as easy to sit in a bunch as it is out on the road. So be prepared for a more constant effort throughout a virtual race than would be required outdoors where we are often afforded some lengthy periods of recovery whilst safely ensconced in the middle of the pack.
  • Training for a Zwift race should also be different to what you would do for your average 100km road race. For one thing, they are generally quite short, at around an hour. The effort is similar to a time trial but with the exception of some very intense accelerations. So, your training should be focused on improving your functional threshold power, or your long-term sustainable effort. You should also dedicate some of your training time to improving your one-minute and five-minute efforts, because these will be required.

Preparation for a virtual race is not limited to physical or mental aspects either. There are some simple logistical things that you should ensure are in place before you start. 

  • Make sure that you have everything to hand before you start. Your phone or PC, with which you control the app needs to be easily accessible so that you can reach it without breaking a pedal-stroke. 
  • You want your bottles filled and chilled. 
  • Sweat towel at the ready, and ventilation in your training room sorted. Your fan should be positioned and at the correct level because you will not be able to make any adjustments whilst the race in progress.

Finally, just because you are indoors and alone, doesn’t mean you should skimp on the clothing. Yes, going shirtless seems like it would be cooler, but a sweat-soaked cycling jersey will actually have more of a cooling effect with your fan blowing over you. Even more important are the shorts. Wear your best ones and apply the chamois cream. Racing indoors is not like outside in that you do not shift position that much and very rarely get to lift yourself out of the saddle, if at all. This places a lot of pressure and friction on the delicate areas that are constant contact with the saddle.

One thing you won’t need is your helmet. There are no crashes in the virtual world.

Smash it!

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