By Rick Schultz
Due to current events and now winter, I’ve transitioned to indoors for cycling exercise.
Last year, I did a quick review on several of the new (at the time) video/virtual-based training systems – see Rouvy vs. Fulgaz vs. Tacx vs. CVRcade: Apps Compared. Now, a year later, all of these systems have become more mature, more feature-packed and generally better in every aspect.
I’ve stuck with two applications for my virtual training, Elite’s MyETraining (for training and trainer maintenance) and Rouvy (for all racing and training). This is not to say anything against the other systems — these are just the two applications that best fit my needs.
In Rouvy, they have what is called a “career path,” a progression from Starter, Rookie through Talented, Elite, Professional, World Class, etc. designed to give the rider more and more cycling challenges, races, rides as the cyclists gets into better and better shape.
One of the requirements is that you do a certain number of races at each career path level. For those that might want to try virtual-training or for those that are already doing virtual training, the thoughts below will help you achieve the greatest user experience. As a USAC coach, I see these same mistakes at real races.
Below is a recent virtual race I completed that I would like to use an example. A 28 mile, 4,042 ft of climbing course. Course route and profile listed in the graphics below. Story follows.
Recently, moving from one level to a higher level in Rouvy, we had to complete a hilly race (4,042 ft). At the start, there were 65 people entered. As we started, there went the rabbits. The first half of the course is rollies, and the second half very hilly. I rode at my threshold and ended up just behind 2 other cyclists. Rouvy has a w/kg colored bar that also reads out your w/kg. Green below threshold, yellow at threshold and orange & red above threshold and black is way above threshold.
I tried to keep myself in the yellow zone, but could see these two were really racing and were in the orange to red zones. I was keeping my w/kg in the 3.2-3.4 range and they were 3.8-4.0 and pulling away slowly. Since this was still very early in the race, I let them have a little lead while I was watching my numbers. Still others up the road were burying themselves to get as far ahead as possible. I told myself, either they are that strong that I won’t be able to keep up with them or they will blow themselves up before the real climb starts.
The first 11 miles goes along a small back road that is all rollies. Then a right turn and the first climb (1 mile at 8%-10% grade) out of the neighborhood starts. Next is 3 miles at 2.5% gives a little breather then 7.5 miles at 7.5%-8.5% grade followed by a small 3 mile -2.5% grade downhill, little rest since you want to keep your speed high. The remaining 2 miles is 10.5%-13%, ouch.
Back to the race. About mile 6, both were racing hard an in front of me. Their power numbers were all over the place, I just held a steady 3.2-3.4 w/kg. They had pulled ahead about 0.8 miles, I continued to hold steady. At mile 7, the hill took its toll on one of them. He was now putting out 2.4w/kg I caught him and passed him by mile 9 – he completely blew now putting out 1.9w/kg. The other was still ahead and racing hard.
I was slowly catching him, and each time I would close the gap slightly he way-overpowered it 4.2-4.5w/kg to stay ahead. At that point, I knew it was only a matter of time. Racing him for the next 4 miles, I inched closer and closer, closing the gap. When he saw me coming, he pushed even harder, 4.5-5.2 w/kg. Then, at mile 14, I caught him and passed him. He now blew up riding at 2.4w/kg while I was at a constant 3.3w/kg.
At mile 15, the fun begins, a 7.5 mile climb at 7.5%-8.5% grade. Since I didn’t go all out at the start, I still felt refreshed. I bumped up the power to 3.8w/kg for the 7.5 miles knowing I could rest a little on the descent. On that climb, I passed many cyclists. Again, most of them went way too hard way too early and were completely ‘dead’ at this point of the race.
Rouvy is set up so you can see cyclists around you, 4 in front and 5 behind you. Those two that were racing me at the start had completely disappeared. Next, pushing a little on the downhill, I kept up my speed while I am resting at 2.5-3.0 w/kg. The last climb is steep over 10.5% average, so I sat in the saddle until the hill hit 11% then stood up on the pedals. Passed 4 more cyclists on this section and hit the final .25 mile -5% downhill at a full 5 w/kg. Finished 18th (*see below).
Do’s & Don’ts:
Following are the DO’s and DONT’s of what I have experienced in virtual races. Note: most of these apply to actual crit and road races as well.
DO: Put a list/check-list together of things needed for the race
DO: Select a race that matches your abilities. Example, if you are a heavier rider, pick a flatter/TT-type course.
DO: Register as soon as you can as you can since some races have a “maximum allowed”.
DO: Study the course
DO: Have a light meal at least 2 hours before.
DO: Get your ‘pain-cave’ ready, plenty of towels, working fan(s), water bottle(s), power bars, etc.
DO: Layout kit, socks, shoes.
DO: Powerup computer, sound system, and anything else making sure everything works.
DO: Open up application and get ready to ‘START’ the race.
DO: Follow prewritten checklist.
HOUR BEFORE START: Depending on which platform, you can join the race from 30 minutes to 1 hour before the start.
DO: Join the race AS SOON AS IT OPENS. This is because the virtual racing platforms put everyone in a queue and some queues can be 1,000-2,000 people long.
DON’T: Join late. Being late, you could be starting in a position close to the end, for example 1,800/2,000. This means that you will have to work your way through all those cyclists to catch up to the lead group.
30 MINUTES BEFORE:
DO: Put your kit on as well as socks and shoes.
DO: Get towel placed on handlebars and have towels and water bottle ready and within easy reach.
15 MINUTES BEFORE:
DO: Use the restroom one last time
DO: Turn on fan(s) and start warming up, but no more than 30% FTP.
DO: Spin up to your FTP, get a jump start on everyone.
DO: Get into your rhythm, not someone else’s.
DO: Know when you can go hard and when to back off.
DON’T: Go ALL OUT in the beginning.
DO: Maintain what you can do
DON’T: Chase the rabbits
DO: HAVE FUN
Moral of The Story
One final example. In my opinion, a power meter and knowing your power is like legalized cheating during the biking portion of a triathlon. Why? A triathlete who “knows their numbers” sets their physical power output at the maximum they know they can do. If they go over that, it will eventually catch up with them and they will be producing less power later as a consequence. So, they know that if they hold that power, that is as fast as they can go.
The same applies to virtual racing. “If you go out like a shot, you will go out with a bang” (blowing up somewhere along the route).
It’s really all about managing your power and racing your race.
*MY PET PEEVE – CHEATERS: 18thplace? Yes, the dark side of these virtual applications is the cheaters. You know, those cyclists who do a 1.75 hour course in 30 minutes. Those that have a non-interactive smart trainer that communicates but has no resistance settings, so they are always at 0% grade. Or those that set their combined bike and body weight to 10kg. Those that ride at 12w/kg for 1.5 hours. Then, there are those that use mopeds, Ebikes and even Makita drills to drive the rear wheel trainers.
I recently saw someone riding at 57w/kg, that’s over 6hp – about the same power output as a moped, and based on the numbers I saw, I question the validity of the first 13 places.
Don’t let these cheaters get you down. I just wanted to mention this, so it does not come as a surprise. Last thing we want to happen is you think “I’m too slow” and give up training.
Virtual training and virtual riding has gotten me into great shape. I have lost 30 pounds over the past 2 months (196 lbs. to 166 lbs.) and in the best shape I have been in a long while. You can too!
And don’t forget to Have Fun!
Coach Rick Schultz is an avid cyclist who trains, races and coaches in Southern California. Rick is an engineer by trade, and in addition to being a coach, he's a bike fitter and prolific product reviewer. He's the author of Stretching & Core Strengthening for the Cyclist and Bike Fit 101: Your Toolset for a Great Bike Fit in the RBR eBookstore. Check his product reviews website, www.biketestreviews.com, and his coaching site, www.bikefitnesscoaching.com. Click to read Rick's full bio.