For young riders signing to new teams ahead of the 2020 season, the coronavirus pandemic has forced an agonising wait on many to prove their worth within the peloton.
For 19-year-old Brit April Tacey, her debut race for Drops was the first-ever virtual Tour de France stage, and she couldn’t have asked for a better introduction, taking the victory ahead of the likes of world time trial champion Chloe Dygert and Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak.
“Yes it is,” April said of whether it was strange to take the biggest win of her career so far without having to leave her family home. “Being indoors and stuff, it’s very strange. But I quite like the turbo, I’m quite a powerful rider so I just like giving it my all on the turbo, in the pain cave.”
The stage one circuit featured four ascents of a category three climb on the hilly reverse Watopia course, with a 2km descent into a flat finish. Tacey says racing this sort of course virtually helped her as it’s much easier to stay with the lighter riders on the climbs, giving her the chance to best them in the sprint finish.
“I’d say the key difference [between Zwift and real racing] is on the hills. If you’re a lighter rider you can get up the hills a lot faster on the road, whereas on the turbo you just have to keep your power high and you’re able to get over the hill a bit easier,” Tacey explained. “On the turbo it’s all about watts per kilo as well. You have to have good watts per kilo.”
Tacey took her victory thanks to a well-timed power-up and sprint, cleverly saving an aero boost until the finish to give her an edge over her rivals, and her brother on hand to click it into action at the vital time.
“So with half the race to go, I think it was the last but one QoM me and my teammate Joss [Lowden] went for the queen of the mountains together, so she got first and I got third. And then just after that at the finish line with a lap to go I got an aero boost and I thought I’d save it because there might be a chance of not getting one again. So with 300 meters to go my brother clicked the power-up for me. And I just gave it my all like literally full gas,” Tacey said.
The virtual Tour de France is based around a points-based team classification rather than individual honours, with squads chatting through a messaging app called Discord to arrange tactics throughout the race, as well as a sports director being on hand just like on the road.
“So we were using the discord app and Frankie [Hall] our DS was giving us feedback and info of what’s happening in the race. Also my brother was next to me, talking to me, telling me when to kick when the watts per kilo were going up,” Tacey said. “I’d push it a bit more to make sure that I stayed in in the top 20/top 10, and then Frankie was really helpful with the Queen of the Mountains points, who was going for that, and then also when to go at the finish as well.”
The virtual Tour de France continues with stage two, the Zwift race taking place during the weekend throughout July.