My love for ZWIFT

Over the past few weeks I’ve seen a lot of people in social media really hating on ZWIFT.

In my view, ZWIFT is probably the best thing to happen to bike racing since racing a bike. In a world where literally anything is possible in the technical age, why would you not get excited by the fact you could be a professional cyclist?

I see a lot of people saying ‘get out and ride your bike’ and ‘why would you sit staring at a screen pedalling when you can get out doors?’ Or ‘back when I was younger’ I’ve even seen a few old pros saying ‘when I started out racing…’ well, we’re not back when you were younger or even when you started out racing, we’re in the modern world with news, videos, the other side of the world and even unwanted opinions are at your fingertips.

The concept of eRacing and sports simulators are nothing new, tennis for two was created back in 1958 and was an incredibly simple game played on an oscilloscope. The first football game was in 1967 with Crown Soccer Special, followed by Grand Prix in 1969. The first cycling computer game was Cycling Manager released in 2001, today it’s called Pro Cycling Manager where you can pretend to be a manager of a cycling team, would you believe.

My point is, sports simulators have been about for a very long time. The biggest today would be FIFA or even Gran Tourismo, both of which you can still do in real life, if you were that way inclined. You can still go up the park or in the back garden and kick a ball around, I take my two year old to football classes each week. If you have a car you can go to a race track and drive it around for sport or leisure. Are you going to? Or is it simpler and easier to do it on a games console? Probably cheaper too if you bin your car in the gravel trap!

I saw a lot of people giving the World’s first professional eRacing team a lot of gyp, for what I could only understand was because they were not racing their bikes out on the road. I don’t get it? Why is that an issue? There’s so many eSports in which the winners are handed millions of pounds for just sitting and playing a simulator and you’re getting angry at someone for pushing their body to the limits on a bike and they’re not doing it properly because it’s not on the road? If these trailblazers inspire people to get on a bike and ride, indoors, outdoors, in a spin class, at the gym or just about anywhere they can, how is that a bad thing?

I wouldn’t want to go bike racing in real life because I would be nervous of not being accepted. Cycling can be so insular, so cliquey, so snobby that if you’re not dripping in Rapha or Cafe Du Cyclist on a bike you’ve had to remortgage your home in order to buy on finance then you might as well as not turn up. Then add to that the pressure of being dropped… No one wants to be dropped.

What ZWIFT offers me and many others is a chance to ride a bike an escape in a time and environment which suits me, does that mean I’m not a proper cyclist? Or am I just a person who likes to ride a bike as a form of fitness? I’m a dad of two who has a family life, I can’t commit each week to going out and doing century rides or even two hour rides in the saddle on the roads because sometimes, family life just doesn’t allow for that. What I can do though is get myself on the bike for however long in the garage and keep my fitness levels up, it offers escape without the need for leaving the house. I can put my kids in bed, have their monitors with me and still exercise knowing they are safe. It wouldn’t be the most practical to get out and ride for two hours after the kids are down. What I get from 45 minutes on ZWIFT, for me, feels like doing two hours on the road. Fair enough, I’ve probably not done the same distance, but I’ve not stopped pedalling, not stopped pushing and I’ve also not stopped for coffee and cake at any point.

Bradley Wiggins documented it in his book about his shed, heated the temperature of France in the Summer time pushing out 400 watts for 45 minutes was what Tim Kerrison believed Sir Brad needed to win the Tour, after months of training in his shed Wiggo achieved that goal and went on to be an Olympic Gold Medalist, again, this time on the road in the Time Trial. Fair enough, he did it on rollers but many professional cyclists can be seen on ZWIFT, Mark Cavendish is a user, Contador, Adam Yates, Alex Dowsett, Hannah Barnes, Danielle King and Leah Thorvilson who actually came through the ZWIFT academy, of course. All professional cyclists who use the platform. Tell them to go out and get on the road…

As I’ve mentioned the ZWIFT Academy, I might as well go on to explain for those who don’t know. Essentially, a competition in which the winner is handed a contract with a professional team. Which cyclist out there wouldn’t want to experience a professional team, even if it were just for one season? If I was told I was good enough just by riding my bike from my garage, what an experience that would be.

I’ve never known a computer based platform which offers someone so much freedom. Yes, you are confined to predetermined routes and can only go as fast as your legs will take you but what ZWIFT has done over its years is fantastic. I don’t know any other sport in the world which will allow you to get so close to being a professional. You can ride World Championship routes, with the pros or even, now, ride the prologue stage of the Giro d’Italia. The very stage which the professionals will be riding. You don’t even have to go to Italy for it, how amazing is that? How much of a fantastic opportunity is it?

If that doesn’t excite you and make you want to get on your bike and try ZWIFT out for yourself, then maybe cycling just isn’t for you.

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In interview with former British Road Race Champion, Hannah Barnes

Monday the 12th of July marked the return of the Zwift Academy, lauching from Rapha’s flagship store on Brewer Street, London. On display was not only some of the finest clothing Rapha had to offer but also some of the best riders in the female pro peloton, former British Road Race Champion Hannah Barnes and 2016 ZWIFT Academy Winner Leah Thorvilson – try getting that right after a few complimentary drinks.

The ZWIFT academy was spoke about at length and you can read about that by clicking here. For all of you who didn’t click on, here’s what Hanna

h and I spoke about.

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  • Improving women’s cycling

Me: It’s no secret that the men’s tours have waaayyyyy more coverage than any women’s race. Be it a road race or a time trial the men get the lions share when it comes to TV coverage.

I asked Hannah what can be done to increase the popularity of women’s racing, should women’s racing try and break off and have its own deprecate races or try and tag on to the men’s races to try and boost coverage and make it cheaper for broadcasters.

Leah and Hannah
Hannah with Leah Thorvilson
Hannah: “It’s hard because there’s fans already out there watching men’s races and it’s really hard to compete. It was at Liege we were racing and at the finish line they were showing the finish to last years men’s race. I’m thinking ‘Ah, that would have been such a good opportunity to see our race broadcasted.’ So I think it’s better if we’re completely out there on our own. The women’s tour which has just finished – a five day race just for us. To see all the fans and crowds and t

he TV all there to see us race. I think that’s really encouraging for our sport.”

And I’m inclined to agree, if you’re going to make a stamp for your sport and try and showcase it the best. I understand the temptation to go before a men’s race where the cameras will already be and to break away from that is a complete risk because if it fails, there’s lots on the line. In order to grow as a sport there needs to be more women’s races and tours of their own. Not be at races where they’re showing something else at the finish line…

  • The British Road Race Jersey

Me: Did you feel added pressure putting on the British Road Race Champion Jersey?

Hannah: “I wouldn’t say added pressure, but it certainly motivates me. When I’m out training I’ll see a reflection in a window or I’ll look down and see my white sleeves. I’ll honour it and I’m proud to wear it, I feel pressure when I’m racing anyway so it’s actually quite a treat to wear it.”

  • The future for Hannah Barnes

Me: Where do you see yourself in two years time?

Hannah: “Oh I dunno, finishing the women’s tour race on the podium is something I’m quite proud of. I’ve got a great team supporting me, t

hey have a lot of confidence in me which is really encouraging because I’ve always lacked in confidence in my abilities. To have them supporting them supporting me and really wanting me to push and improve is great. I’m in a really good environment to do just that.”

A true political question dodge here by Hannah, she’s barely going to give away her long term goals though is she! She’s 24, current Road Race champion and fresh off the podium from the women’s tour. She’s doing alright, I’d say.

  • The future of Women’s Cycling

Me: Where would you like to see women’s cycling in the next few years?

Hannah: “Coverage, coverage, coverage. A lot of people say wages and money, for me, I don’t do it for the money I do it for the coverage. For me my mum and dad and family can’t watch me race like they used to be able to when I was a junior. I’m racing all around the world. Racing at the Women’s tour was great because they were there to watch me and I would just be able to love it if they were able to watch the race if they’re not able to be there in real life.”

I have to say I completely agree, more coverage is only a better thing for the sport, racing is racing and great races are great races. Why doesn’t women’s races get the same coverage as the mens? Which lead me to this question.

Me: Are the organisers doing enough?

Hannah: “Yeah, I guess so, I mean they’re putting on La Course, I think they’re trying new things. You only have to look at the Hammer Series which is what I think is one of the best few days of racing I’ve ever seen.

 

  • Advice for beginners

Me: I had to ask Hannah what her advice would be for old and young in getting in to cycling. As a sport and also a pastime.

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Hannah sharing a joke about the first time Leah got on a time trial bike and asked where the brakes were.
Hannah: “Ride in a group, if you’re riding on your own and struggling, it can be really hard to keep yourself going. It’s hard because it’s a really expensive sport, I think that if you have really nice kit it helps you feel good and if you have a nice bike and it rides good. There’s all those combination that helps you feel better. If you have a bike which doesn’t feel nice and it’s set up wrong for you then it’s going to give you all sorts of aches and pains and you’re not going to want to go and get out on it.

For me, bike fits are really important. There’s a lot of people you can see who have just bought a bike and got on it, not thought about saddle height or handle bars or anything. That can give you all sorts of back ache, if something is painful to do then you’re not going to do it.”

  • Mixed cycling events at the olympics

Me: I don’t know whether you’ve heard but at Tokyo 2020 there will be mixed events, with men and women competing along side each other in athletics, swimming, table tennis and triathlon. I put it to Hannah about a mixed track team maybe.

Hannah: “I don’t know if it would be such a great thing, living with a professional male cyclist (Team Sky star of the future, Tao Geoghegan Hart) we train together sometimes but our abilities are massive. There’s not many sports where there is such a big gap, as in cycling. I don’t know how it would work to have a mixed event.Hannah-Barnes-Canyon-SRAM-2016-salute-sprint-pic-Allan-McKenzie-SWpix.com_

I’ve always wanted to do a mixed madison, that could be fun… There’s no way there could be a road race. I mean I could beat Tao in a sprint… but not after 200km of racing.”

There you go, you heard it here first, Hannah Barnes can out sprint Team Sky rider Tao Geoghegan Hart!

Chatting to Hannah was refreshing, it was great to hear the thoughts of a young aspiring rider, great to hear the insights on the female peloton and where she would like it to go and how she enjoys riding. On top of that though, she’s a nice person, in my professional career I’ve worked and spoken to a lot of celebs who get lost in money and lose that motivation. Ten minutes with Hannah I knew she wasn’t in professional cycling for the money or the fame, that was just a side effect. I could tell that she was in it for the passion of the sport and just doing something which she loved.  Keep up the good work Hannah!

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Zwift academy is a Go! ZWIFT! 

In 2016 ZWIFT led a very successful campaign to find the an emerging star and throwing them in to the pro peloton with a contract with the women’s world tour team, Canyon//SRAM. Guess what? They’re back at it again in 2017 and you can sign up here

DB1X6241For many this is a dream of a life time, the possibility of racing all over the world starting from your very own living room, or spare room, or garage, or just about wherever you could fit a tablet, phone or a laptop and hook it up to your turbo trainer and ZWIFT.

If you’ve not heard of ZWIFT before or familiar with how you can ZWIFT check out my blog here where you can read all about it and also read about the Wahoo KICKR too.

So what’s this all about and how do you win a pro contract? Well, basically, if you’re a woman and think you want to try your hand at being an elite level cyclist on one of the best cycling teams in the women’s pro peloton, you need to sign up to the ZWIFT

academy and get pushing the pedals.

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Winner of the 2016 ZWIFT academy, Leah Thorvilson

At the launch of the event on Monday the 12th of July, Leah Thorvilson, winner of the 2016 GoZwift academy, spoke about how she won and what life was and what life had become. It may surprise you that Leah doesn’t come from a cycling background but a running one. After four surgeries in three years and recurring pains and more injuries, Leah turned to cycling, more specifically ZWIFTing.

What followed was months of reality checks and surprise as she found herself progressing through the rounds and all the way to he final training camp where she won her pro contract. If this shows you anything, if you’re thinking you would never win, a runner who when on her Time Trial bike for the first time didn’t know where the brakes were won and is now about to enter her first National Championships. Still think yo’ve got no chance?

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Proof, I was there.

In 2016 each of the three rounds of competition, a panel of judges narrowed riders down by carefully analyzing data gathered during online rides and workouts. CANYON//SRAM Sports Director Beth Duryea, Professional Pursuit World Champion Mike McCarthy, and TrainSharp Founder Jon Sharples were part of the selection committee who chose twelve semi-finalists before narrowing it down to the final three.

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Discussing plans for next year over a beer.

“Finding talent in cycling is a numbers game, in terms of casting the net wide and drawing performance data back in. That’s what excited us about the Zwift Academy concept. Indoor training provides the accessibility for participants, a safe environment to train and a controlled environment to analyse data, then Zwift adds the social element build a community of riders and spur them on. It doesn’t surprise us that Leah is our winner. We’re looking forward to seeing how she can develop into a bike racer,” commented Jon Sharples, TrainSharp Founder.

“When you see an idea really become something, it’s an amazing feeling,” noted Ronny Lauke, CANYON//SRAM Racing team manager. “We took a chance with the Zwift Academy and we’re very pleased with the potential we saw not only in Leah, but in the other finalists as well. Watching and seeing all these women dedicate themselves to the sport, it makes one wonder how many more are overlooked.”

The 2017 academy is already up and running and you can sign up by clicking here. Who knows you may even end up like 2016 winner Leah.

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My Cycle To Work Scheme – Canyon RoadLite

In my latest series of blogs on cycling to work in the city I take a look at the Canyon RoadLite.


The guys over at Canyon got in touch and thought that this bike is the perfect bike for getting yourself in to the office in maximum comfort and style, and why not? Canyon make some fantastic bikes and are the supplier of pro team, Movistar. They have seen Nario Quintana ride to a Giro d’Italia Grand Tour victory and to second place, behind overall winner Chris Froome, in the Tour de France, taking the White Jersey in 2013. On top of all this, at the Rio Olympics 2016 they are supplying bikes for 20 different athletes from 10 different countries.

To say these bikes have a thoroughbred then could be seen as an understatement, so what’s next for the German brand? Well, commuting it seems – and the Germans seem to take getting to work seriously. Canyon claim their aim while developing the RoadLite was to take the performance from the Grand Tour winning road bikes and combine that with comfort and this machine is ready to take you to a king of the commute. While it’s not a flat out road bike, it’s still a good weekend explorer, a road racer it is not, this is a fitness bike.

So, what do you pull out the box when it’s delivered? Well, if you’ve ordered the same bike which Canyon sent me, the RoadLite AL 6.0, then you’ll notice the box wasn’t too heavy to carry from the delivery van to your home. For £719 you get a 9.20kg aluminium bike frame, two Mavic Crossone wheels, a Iridium saddle and a Canyon seat post with VCLS tech for extra comfort and stability. Canyon even through in a couple of in house made pedals too. This bike really does take aluminium to another level, I didn’t think that getting a bike this sturdy and this light was possible with just aluminium alone. However, if you spend an extra £250 Canyon will shed a further 700 grams by upgrading the gears and cranks from Shimano 105 to Shimano Ultegra, changing the wheels to DT Swiss R 24’s and giving you a carbon fibre seat post.

For me the paying the extra £250 isn’t really worth it. If I were to buy this bike it would be a commuter, for that reason I don’t see the need to upgrade from the 105 to the Ultegra and get a couple of other jazzy upgrades. The middle of the road model, which this one is, is just right.

But what is it like to ride? Well, I pumped the 28mm tyres up to 90psi and took it out for a 6 mile spin (similar to that of a commute) and you can find that on my Strava, if you want to look through it. I have to say, the bike is well balanced and extremely comfortable. Averaging around 12 mph the bike just cruises, there’s very little chance to get above 12 mph average cycling around central London to work, so this was a great little run out for this test. I didn’t even brake in to too much of a sweat, which was comforting to know if I were cycling to the office I wouldn’t be arriving in a shower of sweat.

I found the bike stable and able to absorb the bumps and divots in the road, even though the saddle isn’t overly padded, you don’t feel the need for it to be as you don’t feel sharp juddering bumps up in to your nether regions.

Let’s have a quick chat about the wheel base, it’s quite long. I got my measuring tape out and measured 110cm, compared to my road bike that’s 10cm more. which you would think would make the bike feel cumbersome and lethargic through the bends, not so, the bike still holds some cornering ability, it’s not as sharp as your road bike though.

Yes Alex Dowsett, if you are reading, I agree – these can get very hot!

That’s not so much as an issue through because you’ll be able to scrub off your speed without issue. It comes with disc brakes… ooohhhh. Now they’re bad aren’t they? No, they’re not. They’ve just been shunned by the pro peloton over safety concerns. The concerns being that it would encourage riders to descend mountains harder knowing they could slow down quicker. Also they heat up, if there was a crash and people have

You can see the stays for normal rim brakes if you replace them.

jammed their brakes on, you have a hot disc  coming towards your face… Not cool. The brakes on this bike, however – while they do still get hot – are fantastic. I know I keep going back to it but for a commute, you need sharp brakes, you never know when someone could step out on you, cut you up or just give you a reason to have to hit the brakes. I’ve never been so confident in hitting my brakes, you quickly drop your speed and not in a throw you over the handle bars kind of way. Worth a mention, there’s still the stays for rim brakes if you really feel the need to replace them.

You can also see the internal cables for the gears here.

You’ll notice the handle bars are a mini version of the bull bars you used to have on your mountain bike as a kid, so that when you were throwing your bike around it was softer on your supple hands. This is no different, while the brakes and gear are in the usual position you can position your hands slightly wider on the bars just for an added bit of comfort, a nice touch. I found the gears slightly awkward though, while they clicked in to place perfectly, I found them too central on the bars and with my hands sitting slightly wider it added a little movement of the wrist to click through the gears which just felt slightly off.

So, would I part with my cash for this bike?

Of course – I would happily ride it every day to and from the office. It would even be a nice little weekend warrior with the family, it’s so versatile. Stick a couple of paneers on there and you’ve even got yourself a shopping bike! What’s really notable is the little bits of detail on the bike. there are stickers near the cables to stop them from scratching the frame, the gear cables are even internal! On a bike for less than a grand! Unheard of. The colour scheme is superb and it’s very classy. A great bike for the price and getting you to the office!

Here you can see the plastic labels to stop the frame getting scuffs from the cables.

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