How do you beat a pro on Zwift? An investigation

David Bradford tracks down the giant-slayers of the virtual world and begs for their secrets

Canadian Ironman Lionel Sanders beat Van der Poel at a virtual Tour of Flanders (Talbot Cox)

(Image credit: Talbot Cox)

"What fresh hell is this?" I’m standing up, wrenching every last microjoule onto the Wattbike pedals, eyes glued to the iPad: 360 watts, 375, 400, briefly touching 415 as I’m forced to accept that, whatever I have left, it’s not enough. Watching fast-pedalling avatars line out ahead single-file like over-stretched elastic, I’m anchored at the sore end for the imminent snap. We’re merely six minutes into Ronde van Zwift – a virtual substitute (of sorts) for the Tour of Flanders – but my day is done.

In honour of the real Ronde, cancelled because of Covid-19, Zwift had invited the Alpecin-Fenix team, along with a selection of the world’s best Zwifting specialists, to do battle over 27.6km, three laps of its hilly Richmond course. Standout favourite for the win was naturally Mathieu van der Poel, he of apparently limitless talents. And what am I doing here? I was invited to join a euphemistically tagged ‘all-stars’ team of journalists and guests; AKA cannon fodder.

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David Bradford
Features editor

David Bradford is features editor of Cycling Weekly (print edition). He has been writing and editing professionally for more than 15 years, and has published work in national newspapers and magazines including the Independent, the Guardian, the Times, the Irish Times, and Runner’s World. Alongside his love of cycling, David is a long-distance runner with a marathon PB of two hours 28 minutes. Having been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) in 2006, he also writes about sight loss and hosts the podcast Ways of Not Seeing.