Zwift FOMO: How To Train During Lockdown Without Zwift

As we strike off another day of pandemic induced lockdown, it is becoming more and more familiar to see the latest stars and ‘cycling normies’ alike logging on to the lockdown e-racing phenomenon Zwift. I know that the quote-on-quote real-life cycling video game has been rising in prevalence over the years, but it seems to me that Zwift is reaching mass audiences for the first time, not just the most fresh-faced or tech-savvy. 

It is an inevitability that the cycling community has finally reached a point where Zwift FOMO is becoming a real condition. It may appear to be the optimum way to train and socialise during this time but let’s face it – we as cycling fans are all attracted to the latest shiny thing. Zwift firmly occupies this role at the moment. Nevertheless, is Zwift really the thing of our time and what can you do to conquer lockdown free from Zwift jealousy because believe me, I am coping without.

Who wanted a virtual Tour de France in the first place?

As a cynical and fundamentally tight walleted cyclist, I am, of course, going to throw caution to the wind when it comes to any flashy new trend. Zwift fits the bill on that account. With the moderate price tag of $13 per month, it may be hard to falter, however, no-one tells you about the hidden costs of getting into e-racing. In order to hit the virtual streets of Yorkshire, you’ll be in need of a power meter and a smart trainer. For those of us who bought a trainer during the dark times before e-racing, this upgrade would firmly set us back a fair amount. So for those of us on a budget, all you’ll be needing to tackle a session on the turbo trainer is a laptop connected to the internet. I must advise that you prop up a fan or at least have a towel at the ready because you’ll be dripping after only a few ‘virtual kilometres’ on the cheap man’s Zwift. 

Just throw on an old stage

My guide to cheap training sessions lies in one thing only: classic stages. Nothing is more motivational than seeing the best in the world wheel away on your screen. You may be used to watching the Giro on your sofa with a Mediterranean snack in-hand, but these are unprecedented times. So, please, swap the antipasti for a ride.

In the age of the internet and dodgy stream archives, any stage from the last 8 years is easily accessible online. I recommend watching a full race over your sessions, tracking the trials and tribulations of the real-life affray. Instead of obtaining new Zwift medals and prizes, flatter yourself by imagining that you’ve finished a Grand Tour by following along with a vintage edition of La Vuelta (I personally opted for the 2015 edition).

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Befriend the commentators to help make training sessions feel like a café fondo

You may think that watching a stage for 1 or 2 hours is dull. You may be correct in that assumption to some extent, however, this is the very part of the stage where we get to hear the commentators chat about life, the race and a whole festivity of topics. If you’re in for a long session on the trainer, I suggest finding a stage featuring Eurosport’s Carlton Kirby who will grace you with the most outlandish stories spanning from his tenure at a Breton biscuit factory to his Michelin Star boar stew in France. In a time where lots of us are having to turn to the same old faces in our real lives, it feels refreshing to acquaint yourself with one of the sport’s commentators. By the end of lockdown, you will have probably formed an inseparable relationship to your favourite member of the Eurosport team and inevitably create a ‘stan account’ on Twitter. 

The power invested in you

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Take the opportunity to transport yourself back to a time when Thomas Voeckler was still racing

By this, I mean that you are in control of everything. There are thousands of vintage rides on TizCycling (my personal plug for old stages) to choose from. Most importantly, you can tailor your workout without needing to follow the set sessions or the social pressure forced upon you by Zwift’s Silicon Valley style approach. 

Additionally, you have the controls to the video. You have the power to sculpt the length and depth of the workout – heck, you can even fast forward and cut a part of your session out. Remind yourself that sometimes the most flexible things are the most simple.

Rather embarrassingly, there is no need to hold back comfort breaks with the old school Europort – trainer combo! You can simply hop off the trainer and waddle to the toilet without the fear of losing your progress on an effort or prescribed training session. Neither are you left red-faced over stopping on the side of the road during a group ride or race. Embrace nature’s call and take it easy!

Words of wisdom

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Be prepared to sprint along with Gaviria in the final kilometres of a vintage Giro finish

If you opt to sweep up the natural breeze outside, you may have to face the dilemma of porting headphones or playing Sean Kelly’s dulcet tones through a speaker. I opt for the latter – the stickiness of sweaty headphones is a no-go for me. If you choose to use a speaker, be prepared for your neighbours to be less than forgiving over Rob Hatch’s impassioned delivery of Fernando Gaviria’s sprint victory. However, bask in the glory of knowing that your neighbours may be wondering whether you yourself are competing in an online race. I’m sure the approach in which you take will be dependent on how socially anxious you are.

As you power along with the 2017 Quickstep leadout train, you’ll probably start to feel the sweat drip down. Underwhelmingly, this is the same when on Zwift, just so you don’t feel left out. Bring out a fan or open windows and doors to keep ventilation flowing. Stock up on bidons and remember that you have the liberty of going to fill them up during your cost effective session.

Humans are social beings

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Pumping out the watts in the living room is not exactly an ideal situation

Due to the current public health crisis, the cycling groups and local chain gangs have had to take a break. Despite my malaise towards Zwift, it does allow its users to take on virtual rides with friends. However, for those of us too cheap for the platform, we can always do some improvising. Video calling services such as Zoom and Skype offer perfectly apt platforms to gather all your cycling buddies together for more than just a virtual ride. All in all, you can’t take a café stop or embrace the local scenery on your computer-generated roll through ‘Wattopia’. It is just as effective to hold a Zoom meeting whilst putting out the watts on your bargain bucket trainer. What’s more, you don’t have to feel the pressure of ripping your calves to stay up with the semi-pro of your posse, it’s perfectly acceptable to spin at your own pace when you’re not on Zwift. You are in the comfort of your own home after all. 

The beauty of a video game is that it is fictional. Try not to get too flattered by the boosts you’ll receive every now and then during an e-race, they aren’t real. I’m not the only one failing to get on board though, the pros are finding it a real drag. They may be receiving big bucks to ride around the ‘Alpe de Zwift’, but behind the scenes, some have been lamenting their experience with the platform. Now that a Virtual Tour de France is on the cards, the trend looks to be far from the grave.

All in all, these are unprecedented times and Zwift may well be the way in which the lycra clad clan of cyclists are coping. Nevertheless, try not to get too flattered by the boosts you’ll receive every now and then during an e-race, they aren’t real. Instead, save the pennies and enjoy the nostalgia of the previous day’s excitement. Even if we can’t stand on the side of the road and cheer our heroes up a climb, transport yourself into that pre-Covid world where we can get lost in the delirium of professional cycling. Escapism doesn’t have to come in the form of a digital cycling igloo, fight back the pressure from magazines and your co-équipiers and reconnect with cycling in its purest form.

Regardless, despite my efforts to lament Zwift’s existence, now that a Virtual Tour de France is on the cards, the trend looks to be far from the grave.

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