I’ve always fancied myself as an ‘above average’ cyclist. There, I said it.
However, the confidence I have in my ability is totally unfounded. To date, my race wins (and starts) sits at a nice round zero. In fact, I know it’s sacrilege to admit it, but I’ve never even been a member of a club.
I do own a bike (or two) though, so I’m definitely a cyclist. And I enjoy riding my bikes – a lot. Over the years, I’ve gone bikepacking coast-to-coast across the south of England, tackled some of Europe’s epic alpine climbs, and have a couple of Ride London 100s under my belt – including a 4hr 45m finish last time out. So, while I don’t have a ProCyclingStats profile, I know I’m no plodder either.
But, at the age of 28 and with no prior racing pedigree, can I make it to the professional peloton?
Although the short answer is an abrupt ‘no’, the Zwift Academy offers up a very slim chance. Back for a fourth year, the virtual training platform’s training program puts subscribers through their paces over eight weeks, with a series of workouts, races and group rides.
While the majority of riders who sign up use it as an opportunity to follow a late-season training schedule before winter truly sets in, for one lucky (and seriously powerful) rider, there is a one-year professional contract with UCI ProContinental team Alpecin-Fenix on the line for men, and the same deal for the Canyon//SRAM Racing women’s WorldTour team.
It’s not just some marketing gimmick either. Previous winners of the men’s category include NTT Continental Cycling Team’s Drew Christensen and Martin Lavrič, who both impressed enough to have their contracts extended past the initial 12 months. And three past winners of the Zwift Academy are still with the Canyon//SRAM team, so it does serve as a genuine talent ID program.
Will I, Charlie Allenby, be part of this illustrious group in years to come? If my current power stats are anything to go by, then the closest I’m going to get to Mathieu van der Poel next season is watching him tearing it up on TV. But that won’t stop me trying my hand at this year’s Zwift Academy.
Like a lot of cyclists, I fired up the turbo trainer and turned to Zwift earlier this year when the pandemic struck and made riding outside a bit difficult, so I’m not completely new to the concept of virtual training.
My most recent FTP test on Zwift saw me hit 248 watts (3.64w/kg) and I think with a bit of fine-tuning (and not going off too hard at the start), that number can only go up.
To take on the challenge and ride myself into contention, I’ll be using my trusty Specialized Tarmac SL6, a Wahoo Tickr Fit heart rate armband and a Wahoo Kickr Core smart trainer, capable of measuring my power and varying resistance in Zwift, whether climbing Alpe du Zwift or enduring an internal training session.
And that’s about the extent of my pain cave setup. My laptop screen will have to do for the whole ‘immersive experience’ and nature is my fan – I’m hoping that positioning myself next to an open back door will provide all the cooling I need.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing a diary of my progress in the Zwift Academy.
As well as exploits of explosive race starts and getting dropped on the first climb, I’ll also be peppering my entries with any tips I can glean from the team at Dig Deep Coaching, who have come up with this year’s training plan, as well as last year’s men’s category winner, Drew Christensen.
For now though, I’ve just got time for a quick spin around Watopia to familiarise myself again before the competition kicks off for good. See you on the start line.