CyclingTips eFondo: I just “rode” a Sportive on the turbo…

So a while back I wrote about eFondos and eSportives totally becoming a thing these days. Not one to knock things before trying, I jumped aboard my Tacx NEO and logged in to join the first ever CyclingTips eFondo on Zwift.

The night before I went through my usual cycling event prep. Clean and lube the bike, lay out my kit, prepare my ride fuel/bottles, make sure everything is in it’s place and most importantly study the route profile. Just like a “real” Sportive!

The route for this one was the Watopia Pretzel, which takes in all the “climbs” on the island (apart from the Volcano) over a distance of 73km. Having ridden part of the route before I knew that that first 15km were basically uphill, all the way from sea level into the Watopian Alps and to the top of the Radio Tower. The course then rolls around the island with a couple of lumps before heading back up the reverse side of the mountain for a second big climb.

The morning of the ride I had a hearty breakfast of my usual porridge topped with golden syrup before kitting up and logging onto Zwift for a short warm-up. The riders were set off in two waves for this event. I joined the second wave consisting of over 250 riders all resplendent in their eFondo jerseys. A whole peloton of pixelated people pedalling away on their trainers. Alone yet together.

There’s a short roll-out before the road heads (virtually) skywards and stays that way right the way to the Radio Tower. The pack thins out and I settle into a nice climbing rhythm with a small bunch of other riders. I know this climb is going to take around half an hour – with the hardest section right at the top – so it’s best not to push too hard and blow early. There’s a long way to go and more climbing later.

I’m sitting just above FTP wattage for most of the climb, alternating seated efforts with short bursts out of the saddle. With 20 minutes done we turn left, heading up to the infamous Radio Tower climb. The road ramps to 19% at places. It may be virtual, but when the Tacx NEO clamps down it sure feels like true suffering! It’s a tough grind in my lowest 36/28 gear, but I manage to snag a PR to the top.

Circling around the Radio Tower and heading back downhill, I reach for my first gel of the ride. Yep, I’m fuelling this just like a real ride. The descent is ace. Once you reach a certain speed in Zwift, if you stop pedalling your avatar will “supertuck” and fly down the hill like a pro. The NEO has downhill drive to add to the immersion. It’s good to rest the legs for a moment as there’s plenty more to come.

Half way through the course and our group has thinned to six riders. We circle the island at a lower intensity, knowing we’ve still got to head back up the mountain in the opposite direction. The second big climb is a real killer. Another 20 minutes with much of it at 10% or higher. As we slog up with heavy legs a few of the group fall away until we are but three. I just concentrate on my wattage and keep focused.

Finally over the crest and another fast descent follows. We’re into the final 10km of rolling roads now.

Having given my all I’m pretty gassed and  eventually I lose the draft of the two other remaining riders of our bunch. Nothing left! Looks like the last 5km are going to be solo. Through the last of the rollers and it’s a downhill sprint to the line. Well, as much of a sprint as I can muster. I’m happy with my effort as I’ve got nothing more in the legs. As I pass under the banner my time flashes up on the screen with the results table: I’d finished in 21st place with a time of 2 hours 17 minutes and 49 seconds! Really pleased with that.

Unlike a regular Fondo or Sportive, there’s nobody at the finish line to hang a medal around your neck or hand you a goody bag. You do unlock the CyclingTips eFondo Jersey though, which your Zwift avatar can proudly wear so that’s something! I must say I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, it was about as “fun” as riding a turbo for over two hours can be! This was mostly due to the seriously immersive nature of Zwift paired to the Tacx NEO.

Would I do it again? Yeah, probably. CyclingTips are running a series of five of these eFondos over the Australian winter. If the weather is rubbish and the legs feel up to the challenge I’d be tempted to give it another shot! #RideOn

Total distance: 73km
Elevation: 1365m

Time: 2 hours 17 minutes 49 seconds
Finish Position: 21st

Will taking time off from training make me slow?

A change is as good as a rest, but can a rest be good? Will taking some time off from training ruin your hard earned fitness?

Recently I had to take some time off the bike. Nine straight days of no cycling plus a further 5 days away from my road bike. In total I had a break of 14 days from training and my much loved road bikes. Two whole weeks of no training! I was a little concerned about losing all my hard earned fitness, but couldn’t really complain as it was a two week holiday in Vietnam! #firstworldproblems

Don’t mind me, I’ll just wait here and put my feet up for a while…

April and I tend to do a lot of walking on our breaks, seeing the sights and exploring by foot away from the tourist traps, plus we were mostly eating healthy and delicious Vietnamese food so it’s not like I was overindulging on sugary cocktails while lazing in a deck chair. For the final five days I had access to a hotel shopper bike – complete with cane basket – so did a few rides on that for fun.

So after two weeks away from training did I lose much fitness?

On my first road ride back I felt great! Refreshed and ready. Even though it was only a cafe ride I still managed some high Strava segment results and my legs felt strong. Back on Zwift I smashed my virtual Box Hill time by 30 seconds, adding 15 watts to my 8-minute power PB. My average power tracked similar to before the break too, so it’s safe to say the time off didn’t negatively impact my fitness much, if at all. :-)

Don’t worry, be happy. You’ll come back stronger than ever!

If you’re worried about taking a break from cycling and losing fitness, worry not my friends. Enjoy that holiday or time away from two wheels. Use it to recover, unwind, spend time with friends and family. Relax. After all, you’ve probably earned it!

Zwift’s Watopian Landscape

Hats off to the programmers and developers at Zwift. They really have created a fully immersive and impressive landscape in “Watopia” for us to lose ourselves in. It sure beats staring at a garage wall or numbers on a screen! Paired with a smart trainer that changes resistance to simulate gradients, it’s the ultimate in indoor cycling.

From cruising along the Ocean Road boulevard to climbing through Swiss style villages into the Watopian Alps to circling an active volcano, there really is an abundance of highly detailed landscapes to amaze the rider. Of course it’s hard to soak it all in when pushing hard, but it does take your mind off being on the trainer! #RideOn

Winding roads through the virtual Alps.

Descending like a pro as the sun rises over the virtual ocean!

The “Zwift Me” is totally cool and calm when climbing hard, just like real me…

Watopian whale selfie though the underwater tunnels!

Train by numbers: Feeding the Golden Cheetah

I love riding/training with power. It’s not for everyone, you need to love numbers and be a bit of a geek at heart. Other training metrics such as average speed, Strava segments and heart rate are variable and dependent on outside factors, But with wattage you either make it or you don’t. At the end of the day 200 watts is 200 watts.

trwpmNew to power? First click this Cycling Weekly article for the basics then take a look at some Golden Cheetah videos on YouTube. If you’re not put off by that, buy the book Training and Racing with a Powermeter and read it cover to cover. If you STILL want to delve into the world of power, go ahead and pull the trigger!

This year so far I’ve completed a majority of my training on rollers and Zwift, giving me a widespread data bank of power files from my PowerTap G3 hub. Having all my rides logged with power means I can easily track fitness improvements and monitor training load over time.

IMG_1638Ride with power, and train hard – but remember to enjoy the journey!

For me it’s about that continual improvement. I use Golden Cheetah to track my keep tabs on my long term (chronic) and short term (acute) training loads. It gives me a good indicator of how fresh or fatigued I am within a training cycle. Looking over my data shows positive power level trends as both my short and long term training loads increase. Golden Cheetah is not the most user friendly software available but on the plus side it’s free!

goldencheetah2017It takes time to get your head around the many GC graphs and data points.

Like I said, it’s certainly not for everyone! You can very easily get sucked into the black hole of endless data sets, which can drain the fun out of cycling. The trick is not to get bogged down and just keep an eye on the metrics that are important to your particular cycling goals. For me it’s a solid way of tracking real progress. Never forget to just ride for fun every once in a while too!

So however you may be cycling this weekend. Ride hard, ride safe and pedal on!

How does the real Box Hill compare to the Zwift version?

It’s a question that comes up quite a lot in the Zwift community! How does the real Box Hill compare to the Zwift version? Will riding London Loop on Zwift help me train for Ride London? I’m lucky enough to have ridden both climbs numerous times with the same power meter (a very reliable PowerTap G3 hub) thus have some  meaningful data to compare the two. This weekend I got number crunching.

First up a bit of real life riding:

Box Hill Roundabout to Cafe (2.8km @ 5%)
https://www.strava.com/segments/1450512

Watts: 237W
Time: 8 min 50 seconds (cadence 81rpm)

boxxxxxxxThis particular effort was in the middle of a stark British winter on a 115km club ride with Woking CC. I was rugged up in a lot of warm clothing and had already climbed Staple Lane followed by Ranmore Road (both Cat 4 climbs) in the Surrey Hills before hitting Box.

I was still pushing hard of course with a small group to get to the top for some steaming hot coffee and home made cake. As you can see from the photo it was a pretty bleak looking day for a ride! Cold, wet, foggy and grimy. Ahhh those romantic hardcore UK winter rides before we all got soft…

Now for the VIRTUAL version:

Zwift Box Hill Real KOM (2.9km @ 5%)
https://www.strava.com/segments/13812242

Watts: 230W
Time: 8 minutes 10 seconds (cadence 79rpm)

Ridden as part of a Zwift race where I was trying to stick with a small group of 4-5 other racers at the time, this ascent of the virtual hill was actually a PR for me. My setup is Elite rollers with my PowerTap measuring wattage. I was pushing hard, but pretty gassed after the SUPER HARD start that makes up a Zwift race. I didn’t use any power-ups during the climb.

zwift-london-5

Evaluation of real life vs Zwift life:

With pretty much the same cadence I averaged a 7 watt difference over the two efforts, which is well within an acceptable margin of error for measurement.  As you can see there is a 40 second difference in favour of the Zwift climb for me (the virtual segment is also around 100 metres shorter). This is roughly what I would have expected from the data I have collected and my percieved efforts over both of the segments. On a fair summer’s day (with less clothing, lighter bike, etc) I would knock a chunk off the real Roundabout to Cafe segment – and have done – thus getting closer to my virtual time.

woking-cycling-club

So what can you take away from the data? Training for Box Hill or similar climbs by using the Zwift virtual Box Hill climb would actually be pretty effective, especially if you have a smart turbo that changes the resistance settings for you. Time-wise you can expect to spend a bit of extra time laying down wattage when you get out to Surrey for the real thing. Also the Zwift climb finishes past the National Trust cafe! You’ll definitely want to pull in there for the best treacle tart in the world… :-)

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END NOTES: For reference I weigh in at 60kg so was climbing at just under 4w/kg. I’m no powerhouse. I chose these two segments rather than the Zwiftblog verified one as they were the two closest matched ones for distance I could find on Strava.

EXTRA TIP: Don’t ride over the squiggly white line painting when you do the real Box Hill climb. It’s actually pretty bumpy and will kill your speed…

Ten Percent

That’s right folks, 10% of 2017 has already passed you by…

What have you achieved?

img_2978I’ve been pretty busy. I’ve been pushing at work for more control over the web development and Photoshop side of the business. That has meant I’ve basically created a new job for myself, instead of the work being outsourced. This has taken me from three days per week up to five. Working part time since leaving Sigma Sport has been great, but it’s time to step it up again.

My cycling has been going strong with a mix of road and virtual. I’ve been getting in a bunch of regular evening Zwift sessions. Team WBR have weekly group training rides that include tough intervals, sprint training and races. It’s a great way to clock up some really intense time in the saddle. On the road I’m still seeing the positive results from all that hard work.

img_2798

I hope 2017 is falling into place for you all too. Those “up North” must be starting to feel the end of winter approaching now with thoughts turning to Spring and warmer, brighter outdoor miles! :-)