Reader Rides the Canyon//SRAM Racing & Zwift Academy Project: Getting Started - Total Women's Cycling

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Reader Rides the Canyon//SRAM Racing & Zwift Academy Project: Getting Started

We're sending a reader through the Canyon//SRAM Academy process...

Early this year professional women’s cycling team, Canyon//SRAM, teamed up with social fitness media platform Zwift to launch an ‘academy’ which will form the recruitment process for the team’s newest rider. The academy programme will begin in April with weekly group rides for women on Zwift – there’s more details at the bottom of the page. We’ve enrolled London rider, Cat Gaskell, who will be taking part to see how far she gets in the selection process. 

Cat will be posting updates throughout the experience, so we sent her off to Gent to meet the team and gather some advice before the programme kicks off… 

Words, Cat Gaskell. Images: Léon Van Bon.

Two days ahead of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, TWC and Zwift sent me out to visit Canyon//SRAM in Gent as they prepared to race the Belgium classic. I had the chance to ride the local roads with the team, before getting my Zwift on with them for some indoor training.

The ‘Canyon//SRAM Racing & Zwift Academy Project’ begins in April, and will run for most of the year. The aim of the academy is to draw out some raw and untapped talent by whittling down the riders over the course of the programme through a series of tasks – any woman using Zwift can take part, those that don’t win a team place will get some great training sessions and ideas from taking part.

Cat meeting and greeting the riders in Gent early in the season

Zwift is essentially a turbo trainer computer game which allows you to train indoors in a virtual environment with other riders. You can choose whether to just ride or use the workout mode for more focussed training – but either way if you put power down you’ll see yourself riding away from other riders, whilst if you start to flag they might well ride away from you. You will need a basic turbo trainer, speed sensor and ANT+ dongle in order to take part. Smart turbos, with built in power and resistance, provide the ultimate experience.

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A smart turbo like a Kickr unit will give you the best experience, but any turbo will do. Image: Léon Van Bon

I currently do most of my training outdoors and on the track, and my indoor training has always involved using rollers so getting to grips with the resistance of a turbo trainer is going to be new in itself. I’ll just be seeing how far I can get in the programme, and I hope that it will make me stronger in the process, as well as providing me with some new training ideas.

My day with the team involved a training ride, and the opportunity to chat to some of the girls about racing, training and the Zwift programme. The pace was pretty steady, and it was great to glide along as part of the black, pink and green train.

Riding wheel to wheel is something I’m comfortable with thanks to hours on the track at Herne Hill Velodrome – but there’s always more to learn and the riders gave me plenty of tips about how to stay out of trouble in a race environment, and progress by moving up the peloton.

Image: Léon Van Bon

The team took part in an organised Zwift ride where they rode with other riders on the virtual system and I had my first go on a Zwift ride which, it turns out, is harder than it looks! Even in the short time I spent on the bike, it was obvious that riding with others was far more motivating than staring at a wall or watching TV. It was also great to have people to chase down and when a rider overtook me it pushed me to work harder. As a fairly competitive person, I’m excited to take part in the programme and see how far I can push myself.

The team racing each other on Zwift. Image: Léon Van Bon

Chatting to team member Tiffany Cromwell, she gave me a few tips around my training and told me a little about hers. Cromwell went on to take third place at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and trains 22 hours a week on average, with that dropping off a bit during race season. Of course – most of us who aren’t full time riders have fewer hours available. When I asked her what those short on time should focus on, she said: “Indoor training is great if you’ve got less time as you need to focus on quality over quantity – and Zwift is great for short efforts. If you’ve got limited time, intensity is paramount, as is keeping your training consistent”.

Cromwell also explained the importance of recovery, which is something I’m not very good at sticking to. She said: “Without proper recovery days you will struggle to gain that ‘edge’ or progress with your training.  If you find it hard to keep recovery rides easy then it’s best not to ride at all and have a full day off”.

Initially, the Zwift academy will select riders based on their strength and power of a rider, but learning to ride with confidence in a bunch is key as these skills will be required in the later stages. She said: “We’ll call the riders who make it to the final stages in so we can see how they ride in a bunch – race craft is important, and mostly learned through experience. Club rides and chaingang sessions often organised by local clubs are a good place for beginners to pick up these skills.”

I also quizzed Tiffany about a couple of things I have struggled with since I started racing; self-doubt and how to push through the pain barrier. Thankfully, she reassured me that these are fairly common issues and she suggested a few things to help, saying: “Having a mantra to help you get through the tougher moments really helps – something personal to you, with a positive vibe! You can also try using visualisation techniques – imagine yourself winning – that can magically give you extra watts in the legs! If you struggle during longer efforts, working out how to take your mind off things and using distraction techniques can help too – counting pedal strokes, thinking about  your breathing, can all help.”

Tiff Cromwell had plenty of advice for Cat. Image: Léon Van Bon

Tiffany Cromwell’s Top Tips:

  • If you’re time poor, concentrate on intensity – indoor turbo sessions are great for this
  • Make sure you get adequate recovery – if you’ve not got the discipline for low intensity recovery rides between hard sessions, just take a day off
  • Don’t forget to work on your bunch riding skills – technique can be just as important as physical power
  • If you struggle with self-belief, adopt a mantra or use positive images to get you through those moments
  • If you’re finding long efforts hard, find distraction techniques, such as counting pedal strokes or working on your breathing

I’ll be trying out these in my upcoming races – wish me luck!

It looks like some of these tips worked, because Cat took third place at the first London Women’s Racing League event of the year at Hog Hill on Saturday. The Academy programme begins in April with weekly women’s rides, following that a group of riders will be selected to take their application further, before the top ten are whittled down:

We’ll be updating you with more info as it becomes available – in the mean time, you can sign up to Zwift so you’re ready to go, here.

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