Cycling Weekly

HOW TO BEAT A PRO ON ZWIFT?

“What fresh hell is this?” I’m standing up, wrenching every last microjoule onto the Wattbike pedals, eyes glued to the iPad: 360 watts, 375, 400, briefly touching 415 as I’m forced to accept that, whatever I have left, it’s not enough. Watching fast-pedalling avatars line out ahead single-file like over-stretched elastic, I’m anchored at the sore end for the imminent snap. We’re merely six minutes into Ronde van Zwift – a virtual substitute (of sorts) for the Tour of Flanders – but my day is done.

In honour of the real Ronde, cancelled because of Covid-19, Zwift had invited the Alpecin-Fenix team, along with a selection of the world’s best Zwifting specialists, to do battle over 27.6km, three laps of its hilly Richmond course. Standout favourite for the win was naturally Mathieu van der Poel, he of apparently limitless talents. And what am I doing here? I was invited to join a euphemistically tagged ‘all-stars’ team of journalists and guests; AK A cannon fodder.

The rest of the race is for me a lonely TT to the finish. On a separate screen I watch the video feeds of the leading riders on their turbos in their respective homes, faces grim with determination, in and out of the saddle, sweat pouring. With eight kilometres to go, Alpecin-Fenix’s Louis Vervaeke launches an attack, but it’s swiftly countered by Canadian triathlete Lionel Sanders, riding as a guest on the Canyon Zwift CC team.

The whittled-down group of four remain together until just before the final ascent of Libby Hill, with 4km to go, when Sanders activates an aero power-up and explodes off the front. It’s a jaw-dropping moment; he holds nigh-on 8w/kg – that’s 580 watts – right to the top of the climb. Fully committed now, he grits it out, veins bulging as he holds 6.5w/kg for the next 3km, before somehow turning the screw even further, up to 600 watts, to fend off a stupendously powerful sprint by Swedish cross-country MTB racer Samuel

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