The Chainlink

Of Sweat and Sisterhood: The CANYON//SRAM Racing Zwift Academy

One of The Chainlink's favorite cyclists (and lifetime ambassador), Jasmin Welter shares her recent experience with Zwift. This indoor training program is a great way to stay motivated training indoors, improving cycling fitness. With snow and Arctic temps, now is an excellent time to jump on indoor training in preparation for a cycling season of centuries, bike camping, and/or racing.  

By Jasmin Welter

What is your favorite thing about indoor training? If you asked me last summer, I would have stared at you rather blankly. It was August and the sun was shining bright - and yet, I was sitting in my living room, sweating profusely on my trainer. Why, you might wonder (and rightfully so)? Because the Zwift Academy was on!

In its third year, Zwift brought back its 16-day workout series that engaged 4000+ women in suffering through virtual intervals, group rides and races together. In an elaborate process, over 1.000 graduates fought for a coveted spot in the semi-finals, out of which 3 competitors were chosen for the finals. And at the end of the Academy, the winner graduates to a IRL pro contract with the CANYON//SRAM Racing team (the 2018 winner was just announced).

So, why do the Zwift Academy, especially if you don’t have aspirations for a life in professional cycling?

My three top reasons to participate were

    1) to challenge myself in a succession of professionally designed, structured workouts

    2) to be held accountable in my training

    3) and to become part of a digital community of female athletes  from 149 countries

Zwift is the culmination of gamified training. As per the mission statement Zwift "uses the fun of gaming and the power of communities to inspire and encourage everybody to turn their fitness goals into achievements.” And I, typically more of an indoor training critic, could not agree more. Gamification, in form of about 26,000 in-game items awarded during the academy, does add micro-goals and adds motivation to go that extra mile in training, in a competitive yet fun way.

While Zwift offers the above benefits year round, participating in the Zwift Academy instilled a unique sense of excitement in me. Knowing you are on a training schedule with actual deadlines (just like at  work!) motivated me to show up, I could not skip the workouts that I typically seek to avoid, and it was strangely exciting to see the digital progress bar fill up. Some workouts also provided interesting feedback about which intensities pros would typically train at during those efforts, which was a great perspective on the amount of dedication and commitment it takes to be a professional cyclist. An added perk, the group rides and races took place on the course of the 2018 UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck-Tirol (Austria). Seeing the races go down in real life on a course that I had just conquered digitally was a new, fun way to relate to pro cycling.

After graduating for the academy, I got the chance to talk to the previous two winners, Leah Thorvilson and Tanja Erath. Both of them raced alongside cycling stars like Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Alexis Ryan for CANYON//SRAM Racing during the season. Upon asking them about their favorite aspect of Zwift training, both agreed that it allows to develop a better understanding of power and heart rate zones as well as pedal efficiency since you constantly see your data on the screen. An added benefit is that you can concentrate 100% on the effort at hand without concern for terrain, weather, traffic or other elements that affect your training outdoors.

But I think what surprised me most about the academy was the community it created among cyclists. While Chicago is lucky enough to have a wonderful women’s cycling community, it is rather rare for female cyclists to have the opportunity for women-only rides and women-only communities. The non-intimidating atmosphere allowed for real talk on online forum, during social rides, and opened up new perspectives, training tips, gear recommendations, new recipes, you name it. As Leah Thorvilson, the winner of the first Zwift Academy who became a pro straight from a running background, puts it: “The sense of community in the women's academy is incredibly special and powerful. It's a support system. It's a sisterhood.”

I’m happy for the training progress I made from committing to the Zwift Academy, and I’ve learned quite a bit from graduating the program - about my strengths and weaknesses as a cyclist. Zwift Academy offered participants free premium access to Today’s Plan training tool, which allowed to track all kinds of data and spat out your individual cycling profile (see how my performance index changed throughout the academy in the pictures below!).

Throughout the Zwift Academy, I’ve pushed my  limits, and I’ve found myself a part of a kind and encouraging community. Now, I’d love to chat more about indoor training. Did you know you can still find all Zwift Academy workouts on Zwift? Have you done the Zwift Academy yourself (there is a version for both men and women)? How does your plan for the winter look like? Do you have questions for the winners of the pro contracts? What do you miss most in your indoor sessions?

Coming up: There is no off-season

As the temperatures are dropping, motivation is falling and the holiday dinners are tempting, indoor training is a great way to maintain and improve fitness. Read in the upcoming article about the essentials for structured indoor training throughout the winter.

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