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

The rise of the eFondo and eSportive

Riding a Sportive on your turbo trainer. Apparently that’s totally a thing now. With the success of their first eFondo, where over 1000 people signed up to “ride” the event, Zwift have this time partnered with Cycling Tips to run a whole series of eFondos over the coming months.

Yep that’s right folks, a virtual Sportive! Dust off your replica World Champs kit and get ready to litter the floor of your pain cave with discarded gel wrappers, because you can now have the whole Sportive experience without leaving the house.

They’ll be on a Sunday morning (for those down here in Australia at least, where winter is on the way) and consist of one full lap of the Watopia Pretzel route. That’s a virtual 72km with 1330m of virtual climbing. For those with smart trainers it can be quite a challenge as the route is almost entirely “uphill” from the gun all the way to the top of the Radio Tower climb. I rode the first half of the last eFondo and to be fair it was actually pretty motivating. Being surrounded by so many other Zwifters means you always had somebody to chase!

Get ready for the Zwift Cycling Tips eFondo Series!

If you complete one of the events you unlock the Zwift eFondo kit (virtual). Now if only they could incorporate virtual feed stations along the route and a virtual finisher’s goody bag when you cross the line… #RideOn

A perfect Sunday cafe spin!

After almost a year in Tassie I finally managed to meet up with a local rider. Paul lives in the next town over and I’d initially found him through Strava, as we swapped KOMs back and forth a few times when I first moved to Tassie, then crossed paths out riding on our own. More recently we’ve both been riding Zwift and chatting on there, but we’d never been able to get out for a proper ride together. Today that changed.

We had agreed on a more sedate “cafe ride” this Sunday to start things off. We met up at the bakery (conveniently located half way between each of our places) for a later 10am start to let the sun burn away the morning chill. It was glorious outside, almost perfect as we rolled along the coast and country roads. The sun was shining brightly and a gentle cooling sea breeze swept across the island. It’s hard to beat Tassie on a day like today. We weren’t pushing super hard and spent much of the time side-by-side having a good chat like old friends.

After a solid 60km loop back to the bakery we stopped for a quick coffee in the sunshine, review the ride and chat some more breeze. Even though we were weren’t smashing it or pacelining, we still pushed hard enough to feel it a little in the legs and snag some good Strava trophies. A perfect Sunday cafe ride!

I don’t mind admitting that Paul is a much stronger rider than I am, in his words all he does is ride, eat and sleep! His FTP is a good 100W over mine so I know if he wants to he could drop me pretty easily. We’re hoping to make the “Z TAZ Sunday Ride” a semi regular thing, so it should amount to pretty good training when he does decide to put the hammer down!

Cycling Vietnam: Same same, but different!

Same same, but different. It’s a saying the Vietnamese use to describe the way they do things, how they live, what they’re selling, almost anything. It boils down to how their way of life is essentially the same as Westerners, but actually very, very different!

Same same, but different: The Vietnamese way VS the Western way.

Such is my experience of cycling in Vietnam. I had booked the wife and I into a new hotel on the beach in Hoi An that boasted free bikes for guest use. So in essence a main course of romantic getaway with a cheeky side of cycling. On arrival and seeing the fleet I knew this was going to be a challenge. I may have been riding a bike, but it was going to be very different to what I was used to!

A quick photo opportunity and break from the heat by the river.

No carbon, drop bars or fancy electric derailleurs here, just a solid 30kg of steel single speed utility bike. Same same, but different! But hey, all miles are good miles, right?

If you’ve ever been to Vietnam you’ll know that it’s hot. I mean already 30 degrees Celsius by 8am hot. Most mornings I’d be out the hotel door before 6am for a pre-breakfast ride in order to beat the heat. Our hotel “bike boy” who’s job it was to note down your room number and pump up the tyres was usually still fast asleep next to the bikes, so I’d quietly wheel one down the ramp and slip away onto the crazy Vietnamese streets for a blast. I’d get an hour’s ride along the beach road or looping through the Ancient City, racing school kids on eBikes and dodging scooter traffic before returning drenched in sweat and re-racking the bike to the surprised expression of all the staff. What a way to build an appetite for a hearty Vietnamese breakfast!

Along with these morning solo jaunts I also did quite a few hours of extra wheel time with the wife sat on the rear rack. I covered many more miles exploring the ancient town and local roads, wife perched happily behind me. Most people at the hotel took the free shuttle bus  but I preferred to pedal everywhere. 

Mid-ride coffee stop. Drip filtered onto condensed milk!

The hotel staff were amazed that we only ever took one bike between us. I am more confident negotiating the sometimes crazy and seemingly rule-devoid Vietnamese traffic. Hauling an extra 50kg up any slight incline may have been hard work (read: good training) but using  the one bike as opposed to April on her own bike is actually faster and also made a few women we passed on the way a little envious.

Even when pedalling into town with April on the back, if I saw another bicycle up the road I’d instinctively give chase. I guess I just can’t shake my roadie attitude! Once I was cheekily drafting a scooter loaded with an entire family. The mother got a little annoyed and waved me off, so I promptly dug deep and overtook them. I can’t help it!

At the local cycling cafe for more ride fuel (same same, but different!)

On one of my early morning rides I decided to throw in a cheeky Vietnamese 10 mile time trial. After a short warm-up I stomped on the pedals. Forearms resting on the bars, hands gripping basket for extra aero points I panted away in the 35+ degree morning heat. I chased down kids riding to school on their eBikes and the occasional scooter. A couple of locals on a moped pulled up alongside me and cheered, yelling “faster, faster!” in their best broken English. I obliged by putting the hammer down, legs spinning madly on the single speed. “35k!” He shouted, then “40k!” Bring it!

Judging what I thought was half way I pulled a u-turn and accelerated that Titanic hunk of iron back up to speed. Back past the hotel and a little extra for good measure. Checking the stats afterwards I’d managed the 10-mile section at a 17.5mph average speed. Fairly respectable on the rusty shopper!

By day three I was getting sick of the poorly maintained fleet. From what I could garner from various staff, the bikes were sourced second hand from China. Add to that the hotel bike maintenance boys’ skills were limited to barely pumping up a tyre and it was safe to say that many of the bikes had seen much better days – some were actually unsafe with bolts missing, brakes not working, child seats hanging off!

Made this one my own personal bike, the “best” of the bunch.

Rusted chains, bent metal, under-inflated tyres, missing bolts, you name it. So with some borrowed tools I fettled away for a couple of hours until I was happy. The job was made much more enjoyable as I was surrounded by beautiful young Vietnamese women (hotel staff) totally enamoured by my pro-level handyman skills! Those pretty young girls kept telling April how lucky she was! And yes, I am still milking that one!

Who is this crazy hotel guest holding a wrench rather than a cocktail?

A few adjustments to stop cranks rubbing on chain guards, 50psi in the tyres, scrape the dry rust off the chain and lube up with motor oil, whatever I could manage with limited resources. I worked my way through around eight of their bikes, after my magic touch they were like a different fleet! Team Sky would have been proud. Sure they were still tanks, but at least they were safe, silent and slightly more efficient tanks. Marginal gains shopper bike style!

By the end of the trip I’d racked up a decent amount of cycling time, seen the sights, spent quality time with the wife, taught the “bike boys” some proper maintenance skills and made great friends with the lovely hotel staff. It may not be everyone’s idea of the perfect relaxing or romantic holiday – or perfect cycling holiday – but I loved my time in Hoi An and will treasure the time I spent there.

Same same, but different!

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!