Diary of a Zwift Academy rider – part four | A strong finish, but is it enough?

In his final diary entry, Charlie goes to the races and Alpecin-Fenix’s performance director reveals what it takes to be a winner

Diary of a Zwift Academy rider

“In terms of numbers, 600 watts for a 75kg person is a world class three-minute power output… and a bit of a magical barrier at the moment.”

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Alpecin-Fenix’s performance director Kristof De Kegel is explaining what it takes to be at the sharp end of the Zwift Academy selection process.

The annual eight-week training programme also doubles up as a scouting tool for professional cycling teams, and there are two contracts on the line with UCI ProContinental men’s team Alpecin-Fenix and Women’s WorldTour team Canyon//SRAM.

Only the data of the top 30 male riders from the Zwift Academy is passed on to De Kegel, which is when he starts whittling it down to find the overall winner.

“It’s not that we are looking for a second [Mathieu] van der Poel,” says De Kegel, although he acknowledges finding a rider in the mould of the multi-discipline prodigy in Watopia and taking them to the real-world would, of course, be a dream scenario.

The key, he says, is identifying a rider’s strengths, understanding how easily their weaknesses might be addressed and, crucially, the balance between the two.

“It’s identifying what you’re capable of – how good you score at the aerobic part, how good you score at the VO2 max part – and we try to compare those,” says De Kegel.

“Sometimes it’s more about the balance of those parts that we think ‘maybe this guy is interesting’. Maybe there’s another guy with higher numbers [in some areas], but we take you because of the balance.”

Zwift Academy race
The final third of the Zwift Academy saw me compete in two races.
Zwift

After completing the 12 Zwift workouts, segment rides and races of this year’s Academy, my power curve and final numbers for the campaign are in. But was it enough to make it into De Kegel’s contention?

In short, no. Although I’m 7kg lighter than the rider in De Kegel’s ‘magical barrier’ example, if using watts per kilo that would still have required me to pump out 544 watts for three minutes straight – a power output I could only sustain for around 60 seconds at my best attempt.

But while I didn’t bag myself a professional contract (and was sitting outside the top 10,000 at last check), the Zwift Academy was one of the more interesting training plans I’ve done over the years – and the improvements in my stats show it worked too.

Zwift Academy race
I hung on for as long as I could but was eventually dropped.
Zwift

The final four sessions saw me compete in two Zwift races and two segment rides, putting into practice the gains I’d developed during the plan’s earlier workouts.

I’d also be doing so with a new addition to my pain cave – a fan. While someone in the comments of my second diary entry claimed it could add 15 to 20 per cent to my indoor FTP, I was just glad if it kept some of the sweat at bay.

As anyone who has ever raced on Zwift will know, the competitive side of virtual cycling is unlike any other bike-based discipline. After an all-out sprint from the off, I did my best to keep up with the pack, burning through matches like there was no tomorrow.

In both races, I was promptly dropped after about 15 minutes and left to slog it out with the other hopefuls who, like me, had bitten off more than they could chew.

The segment rides were more my cup of tea though. Similar to targeting Strava segments on the road, my power output was tested at pre-determined sprints and KOMs on the virtual platform, enabling me to spin away happily at a lower effort (and attempt to recover) in between.

Zwift Academy segment ride
The segment rides played more to my strengths, targeting specific sprints and KOMs with recovery in between.
Zwift

The result was my best efforts from the entire training plan, including a peak 3-second output of 957 watts and Functional Threshold Power of 271 (up from 248 watts at the start of the plan).

Although the pro contract might have eluded me this year, in my heart of hearts, I knew I’d have to be content with writing about bikes, rather than riding them, for a living.

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Still, it’s been a great experience, revealing the strengths in my performance and the areas I can focus on over the long winter months. After all, there’s always next year…

Charlie’s Zwift Academy diary

To read Charlie’s other diary entries about his experience of racing this year’s Zwift Academy, check out the links below: