Go pro from your living room:
Zwift Academy begins June 1, 2016
Zwift has teamed up with CANYON//SRAM Racing to create Zwift Academy, a program that will offer three fast female Zwifters a spot at the CANYON//SRAM Racing training camp in Europe, where the newest member of the 2017 CANYON//SRAM racing team will be chosen. It officially starts June 1.
If you haven’t tried it yet, Zwift is a cycling experience that feels like you’re playing a video game, but your bike is the controller. It allows the user to ride her bike on a trainer simultaneously with other people on virtual courses, both real and fictional, like “Zwift Island” or the course of the Richmond 2015 UCI Road World Championships. For the data obsessed, there are real-time speed and power stats and virtual rides can be uploaded to Strava to see how you stack up against your friends.
A few years ago, I was riding a trainer regularly to keep up some fitness after I crashed in a cross race and separated my shoulder. I was amazed at how strong I felt when I finally got back out on the road, and it made me a trainer convert. Of course, I feel a little guilty riding a trainer while living in Southern California where we almost always have beautiful riding weather, but it’s great to get a quick workout when I don’t have a lot of time or I want to ride at night without worrying about lights or safety concerns. If I lived somewhere with harsher seasons, I'm sure trainer riding would figure heavily into my cycling life. When my friend Crystal Haggard began working with Zwift, I thought I’d give it a try. Normally on the trainer, even when watching TV, I felt so bored and antsy that I would jump off the bike the minute my timer hit thirty minutes. When I tried Zwift, I found that I could easily ride for forty five minutes or more. My competitive side was activated by the QOM’s and sprints along the course and by the fact that I was riding with (and against) actual people on trainers in their own living rooms everywhere. It made trainer workouts fly by so much faster. Crystal and I even made a date to get on Zwift at the same time and went on a “lunch ride” while she was at work in Long Beach and I was home in Los Angeles. We were real-life friends riding virtual bikes together.
Although I personally use Zwift to get in a quick ride when I’m feeling pressed for time and avoid being a total couch potato, it’s also useful for amateur athletes and elite racers, especially now that there’s Zwift Academy. Zwift has teamed up with CANYON//SRAM Racing and created a program that could turn one strong, fast female Zwifter into a professional cyclist. Crystal Haggard does Community Support for Zwift, and she recently joined the Canyon//SRAM women’s team at the Women’s Tour of California to ride with them both on Zwift and on the road in breathtaking South Lake Tahoe.
- Jen Abercrombie
The Women's Tour of California with Zwift and CANYON//SRAM by Crystal Haggard
This year's Tour of California started out like previous years for me. I attended the first two stages of the Men's race. It was exciting, filled with friends, fun and tons of spectators. Instead of continuing to follow the men's field as they headed north, I flew to South Lake Tahoe to spend a few days with the CANYON//SRAM pro women's cycling team on behalf of Zwift.
The alarm went off before the sun came up and I was rushing to the airport before I could finish my first cup of coffee. The next few days were jam-packed. The biggest event was a one-hour live broadcasted Zwift ride with the CANYON//SRAM team on YouTube. As soon as I got to the host hotel, we rushed to get the set dressed, all the computers updated and cameras set up before the team rolled in from a training ride. About 45 seconds before the team was slated to show up we were finally ready to go. As they came into the hotel, we immediately put their bikes on the trainers and logged their computers in to join hundreds of people from around the world on a virtual Zwift group ride. The Zwifters joining in on the ride were as diverse as the CANYON//SRAM team itself, coming from all around the world. We had been collecting questions from the Zwift women's community for the team and live broadcasted the event on Youtube for those who couldn't ride. The Canyon//SRAM women were so thoughtful with their responses and sounded exceptionally excited to talk about the upcoming Zwift Academy.
For those who don't know, Zwift Academy is a program where Zwift and CANYON//SRAM have teamed up to create a platform to turn one talented female Zwifter into a pro cyclist with a CANYON//SRAM team contract for the 2017 season. We kicked off in April by hosting 3 virtual women's rides a week in different time zones and different ride levels. The goal is to provide something for any women who wants to participate. The Zwift Academy contest officially kicks off June 1st and will offer women's group rides, a structured training program and eventually a spot for one lucky and talented lady on the pro team.
What I love most about this program is that it isn't just the winner who wins. Yes, it's incredible that one person could essentially secure a spot on a pro team from their living room, but personally I know I don't have what it takes to make it to the top. I do however have the opportunity to tap into an amazing community of female cyclists, take advantage of the training plan and group rides and also set my sights on a killer local cyclocross season because of it. It sounds cheesy, but anyone who participates wins.
Wednesday morning I was invited on a two hour training ride with the CANYON//SRAM team as they previewed part of the next days Tour of California route. I had ridden with most of the members of the team before on Zwift, gotten to know them through social media and became friendly with them at the previous afternoon's event, but being able to sit on their wheels and watch how smooth, confident and strong they are on the bike was a once in a lifetime experience and truly inspiring. We rode a beautiful loop around South Lake Tahoe and ended the ride at their Stage One course uphill finish to Heavenly Village. My sea level legs and lungs were screaming. I was determined not to get dropped while the team looked like they were in zone 2. There’s nothing like being around such strong and accomplished women to push and inspire myself to train harder and reach personal bests.
The next day was the start of the Women's Amgen Tour of California, a UCI Women's WorldTour event. Sure, I had a blast at the first two stages of the Mens’ Tour, but having a personal connection with the women's CANYON//SRAM team brought a whole new level of excitement to the race. Feeling inspired by the previous two days with the team, I joined some of my friends at SRAM for an epic 60 mile 6,000 foot elevation gain day. I won't bore you with the ride details, but I will tell you that this was the single windiest ride of my entire life, I literally got blown off my bike a couple times and had to wait for the 65mph gusts to pass before starting again. As we were riding, we were getting updates about the start of the Women's race which had been delayed because of this wind. Our goal was to make it back in time to see the finish. It was an intense, beautiful, and fun ride but it took a little longer than we anticipated because of the conditions. As we crested our last climb of the day (8 miles averaging 9% grade), we took a break to regroup and dropped back into Tahoe at top speed, racing the women's peloton to get to the finish before they did. Naturally, we couldn't beat them there but we did make it down the hill just in time to see the peloton whiz by and offer cheers of support about 4km before the finish line.
We met the team at the finish line with huge smiles on our faces, a sense of accomplishment felt by everyone riding, pro or not. It was the perfect way to cap the week. I'm already looking forward to next year’s event and watching the newest member of the CANYON//SRAM squad. Whoever she is, she’ll be someone I’ve personally spent hours riding with on Zwift Academy.