The year of magic Zwifting

E-racing platform Zwift has been a saviour of our locked-down year – and CW got in on the action in a big way. David Bradford looks back on an unprecedented year in the great indoors

(Daniel Gould)

When the first lockdown took hold in March, hundreds of thousands of riders across the globe took to Zwift – many of them for the first time. Through spring and much of the summer, racing in the virtual world became the best available replacement for real-world racing, for amateurs and pros alike. 

In July, CW decided to get directly involved by launching our own event, the Wednesday evening Club Ten TT. A second Zwifting venture came in November, with the Autumn Chase Series – and much more is planned for 2021. Watch this space! For now, let’s take a look back at an extraordinary year of CW-hosted indoor racing...    

15 July – The Club Ten is born! 

The first-ever Cycling Weekly Club Ten, held on the Tempus Fugit course, attracts almost 200 riders. Men’s winner Andy Turner (Swift Pro Carbon) clocks 20.03, while runner-up George Mills-Keeling (Ribble-Weldtite) joins the exclusive Club Ten 6w/kg club. The women’s race is won by Caroline Whittaker in 23.12. 

29 July – Lancaster bombs it 

On the London 8 course, finishing atop virtual Box Hill, Gavin Lancaster takes the win with a whopping 425w average power. 

5 August – Hutch reigns in the heat 

Returning to Box Hill, CW’s Michael Hutchinson takes his first Club Ten gold – no doubt taking pride of place among his many national championship titles. American Kathy Alvarez continues her winning streak in the women’s contest. 

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19 August – Laverack lights up Bologna 

Former U23 national champion and last year’s national hill-climb champion Ed Laverack was in a league of his own on the out-and-back Bologna course with its 276m of ascent. Live-streamed to his many followers, the Welshman maintained over 400w for much of the climb and averaged 6w/kg. 

2 September – Lightweights lead the way 

Pro rider Joey Walker (Vitus Pro Cycling) was on the podium, but only the third step – ahead of him were two fearsomely fast sub-60kg riders. Andy Nichols took the win, in 20.04, 22 seconds faster than Will Lowden in second. Kathy Alverez took yet another win in the women’s race. 

7 October – Turner turns it up 

National Cyclo-cross Champs silver medallist Ben Turner (Trinity) records the Club Ten’s highest-ever average power, with 462w – 6.3w/kg. Unfortunately, he’s not registered on ZwiftPower, so his result can’t officially enter the CW history book.  

Naomi de Pennington (Daniel Gould)

28 October – Elliott almost beats them all

Former national champion turned visually-impaired tandem racer, Rachael Elliott, very nearly takes the outright win on the London 8 course as she clocks 24.16 – demolishing several fast men including Michael Hutchinson. The race winner, just 10 seconds faster than Elliott, is Dutchman Wieger van der Wier. 

7 November – Autumn Chase is go 

CW kicks off a new six-race handicap series, the Autumn Chase. Race 1 takes place on the climb-tastic Innsbruck ‘UCI Worlds Short Lap’ and is won by Danish rider Troels Nakel as CW’s David Bradford just misses out on a podium.  

18 November – Hello Huub! 

The Club Ten gains a title sponsor, cycling and triathlon clothing brand Huub Design. 

2 December – Hutch overhauls Lambie 

It’s a record turnout as the Ten returns to the Tick Tock course, and Michael Hutchinson achieves a power PB of 391w to beat none other than former individual pursuit world record holder, the USA’s Ashton Lambie.  

9 December – Naomi makes it nine   

Naomi de Pennington takes her ninth win of the series and in the process notches up a power PB of 306w, and moves into seventh place overall in Zwift’s rankings. The men’s race is won by Charlie Beake (Holdsworth-Zappi) in 20.52, three seconds faster than second-placed Dan Bigham (Ribble-Huub).  

12 December – Driscoll is chase champ 

The concluding race of the CW Autumn Chase Series takes place on the Casse-Pattes course, and a solid performance from Kouros Driscoll sees him take the overall win with a total points tally of 39, nine points ahead of Jason Roberts in second, and Jon Hurst in third (23pts).  

Winner’s view - ‘Club Ten maintained my form’

(Daniel Gould)
(Image credit: chris catchpole)

University lecturer Jon Hughes, 48, from Godalming in Surrey, won the Club Ten on 7 October – on Tempus Fugit, he averaged 374 watts to clock 20.48.

“It’s the first year that I’ve used Zwift. I got a smart trainer, a Kickr Core, back in February, which was good timing. I’d been training for TTs using a non-smart trainer for years. 

I’ve been doing TTs outdoors for about a decade. I’m pretty decent locally and win a lot of club time trials, though I’ve not yet won an open. It’s an arms race! Zwift is a different beast because all the stuff you have to focus on outdoors isn’t relevant. It’s just about sustaining the effort – and that suits me, to be honest. 

When I did my [outdoor] 10-mile PB, 19.50, it was about 320 watts, whereas I’ve been doing over 370 watts for 20 minutes indoors. If I could do that in an aero position, I’d be right up there. It is a different discipline. 

I got back to outdoor racing when the first lockdown ended, and I rode a very low 20-minute in September.

The CW Club Ten suits me really well. The hillier courses especially suit me, as I’m 69-70kg, giving me good power to weight. You see the same competitors week after week and get to know them in the virtual world. I’m hoping for more course variety next year – I’ve seen enough of the desert!”  

Winner’s view - ‘Zwifting got me noticed by a UCI team’

Equine veterinary surgeon Naomi de Pennington, 43, from Banbury, is the dominant force among Club Ten women.  

“The first time I did the Club Ten, I’d been meant to race a proper club TT but it was rained off, so I jumped on the Wattbike. Soon afterwards the season was cut short [because of lockdown] so I kept returning each Wednesday evening. I like to have a competitive focus – I’m not very good at just doing workouts. 

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I’ve been racing for three years, just local club TTs, and before that, about 15 years ago, I did some triathlon. The long break was because my husband and I bought and renovated an old farm house and had our daughter. I have done a couple of outdoor road races, including the Tour of Cambridge, which I absolutely loved – and was elated to have survived! I also did the Gran Fondo age-group world championships in Poland. 

I’ve got stronger in TTs on Zwift, and it’s been making me more confident to push myself without fear of blowing up, and to sprint hard. I do loads of different races on Zwift, and made it into the top 10 in the Zwift rankings. This led to the Twenty20 UCI women’s team asking me to join their Zwift team. I’m hoping to do some team races with them in the new year, and I’ll try my hardest to maintain my ranking in the meantime.

It can be a challenge to get home from work for 6pm in time for the Club Ten, but if I’m on call, at least I can have the phone sitting next to me. Next year, I’d like to do some more open TTs, and my husband and I have a place to ride the Etape, if it happens.” 

Winner’s view - ‘Zwift has revolutionised cycling’

Vehicle telematics specialist Gavin Lancaster, 48, from Swindon, is a three-time Club Ten winner – and in the September 2nd race recorded a power PB of 436 watts. 

“As for everybody this year, Zwift has been a life-saver. I hadn’t touched the platform before March but now, I must admit, I’m slightly addicted to it. 

I took two weeks off at the end of October, and now I’m right back into it, racing twice a week on Zwift. There is a really cool masters scene, the ZHR masters league, with the same guys racing week in, week out. It’s hard racing but a really good workout. 

The question for me now is whether the performance crosses over to the road – I haven’t had a chance to find out yet. My gut feeling is that it’s really good for top-end efforts; it could definitely bear fruit. For endurance and building leg strength, I’m not so sure. 

I started racing as a triathlete in 1988. I was a teenager and already a fan of cycling from following Greg LeMond in the Tour. I represented GB a few times and was European triathlon champion in my age group in 2001-2002. I also raced the first ever official half-Ironman in 2006, and led off the bike! Once my lower back started to suffer in 2007, I turned to cycling. I’m now a cat-two road racer.

I used the CW Club Ten through the summer almost as an FTP test. I’m quite competitive and it’s amazing, you can just go that two or three per cent harder, knowing it’s a race. I got a power PB in September – it helped that I could just see Hutch in the distance!”

Dr Hutch’s view - ‘It’s a perverse mix of habit and pride’

CW columnist and multiple national TT champion Michael Hutchinson, 47, got a taste of Club Ten glory and now just can’t quit the habit.

“The main attraction of the Cycling Weekly Zwift time trial has been, in the most straightforward way, convenience. It’s on a Wednesday evening at 6pm. That’s about the point where I normally finish the column for the following week’s magazine.

So it’s just the moment when I want to get over the frustration of not being quite the literary genius I’d like to be. It’s mainly habit that gets me on my Wattbike. But then it’s pride that finishes the job – every week I promise myself that I’ll just ride around at a nice reasonable training pace. ‘No one cares,’ I tell myself. ‘No one even looks at any result other than their own.’

Five minutes later, I usually realise that I’ve started much harder than I meant to, and that if I don’t want to look like a fool I’m going to have to hang on to the same over-ambitious pace for the next 15 minutes.

From a fitness point of view, it’s nice to get a short, hard effort in with so little soul-searching. And if I ever thought about stopping them, I’d have to answer to the editor. He’s a huge fan of suffering, especially in others.

This feature originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, priced £3.25.