Top tips for completing the Virtual Alpine Challenge
The gauntlet has been laid down for you to amass the 2020 Alpine Challenge’s total ascent (10483m) during the week of Monday 22nd June – Sunday 28th June. Whether on the roads, the trails, on Zwift or a combination, even if you’re an accomplished mountain goat, it’s going to be a big week of riding so here are some top tips to get you there.
PLAN YOUR WEEK
You don’t want to get to Sunday and find you’ve still got 4000m to ride! Plan your week so that you know you’ll get your metres logged. Factor in any events you’re intending to join and try to have a rest day.
A good plan, if you’re wanting to join and give your best in the Queen Stage on Saturday, would be to pack as much as you can into Monday – Thursday, have Friday as a rest day, ride The Queen Stage on Saturday and then just top off whatever you need on the Sunday.
Even if you’re not planning on riding the Queen Stage, getting a good chunk of the challenge done in the first four days, having a rest day and then having the weekend to finish it off is still a solid plan.
Split days, where you ride in the morning and the evening, can be a good way of breaking things up both physically and psychologically. Assuming a rest day, you’re looking at 1747m per day which, in one ride, is fairly chunky. Split into two, 873m seems far more do-able. Maybe try banking some morning metres on Zwift and then getting out in the afternoon/evening.
If you’re heading out, spend a bit of time thinking about your route and, although you’re wanting to maximise your metres of ascent per kilometre ridden, the steepest/hardest hills aren’t necessarily the best bet. It’s hard to pace really steep hills as you need a certain level of watts just to keep moving but, on gentler gradients, you can spin and control your effort easier. If your choice of hills is limited, hill reps are a good option for accumulating metres quickly.
TIME VS EFFORT
There’s a trade off to weigh-up as, if you ride climbs hard, you’ll obviously get your rides and metres done quicker. However climbing hard at or above threshold is physiologically extremely costly and, with multiple days to do, you’ll soon burn out. Conversely, if you approach the climbs super conservatively, you’re going to be on the bike for an awful long time and this can be equally taxing. A middle ground of climbing in high Zone 2 – mid Zone 3 (72 – 85% FTP) should strike a decent balance between effort and time in the saddle.
STAND AND SIT
Switch between sitting and standing regularly to switch muscle emphasis, reduce strain/load on your lower back and take some pressure off your backside. This is particularly important if you’re doing a long indoor session.
RIDE, RECOVER AND REPEAT
Just like doing a multi-day event, how you pace, hydrate and fuel during one ride will effect subsequent ones. So, make sure that you’re always mindful about getting these basics right.
Post-ride, make sure you eat well, maybe using a recovery drink. For most riders this will be a bigger week than normal so it’s important to up your calorie intake to fuel the additional effort.
This much climbing, especially when combined with sitting at a desk, is going to be tough on your hip flexors and this could result in lower back pain and/or a feeling of a loss of power on the bike. Try to stretch and foam roll in the evenings, focussing on your quads and hip flexors, and join Adele’s Pilates Class on the HotChillee CC Global Cycling Community on Thursday morning or follow the recordings.
USE AND ABUSE THE ALPE DU ZWIFT
If you’re a Zwift user, one of the quickest and most convenient ways to pile on the metres is to hit the Alpe du Zwift. By selecting the Road to the Sky route, you’ll pack 1045m into just 17.3km.
You need to be Level 12 to access the Alpe but, even if you’re not quite there yet, you can still ride it by getting a mate who’s at their level or higher to arrange a Meet-up with you on it.
Also look for official Events which tackle the Alpe and/or join some of our VirtChillee Rides which, for the Alpine Challenge Week, will have a mountainous emphasis.
ZWIFT TRAINER DIFFICULTY SETTING
If you’re using a smart trainer, the Trainer Difficulty Setting controls how “realistic” the climbs on Zwift feel. The default setting is 50% but, if you’re wanting to pace your climbing efforts a bit, you might want to dial it back.
This won’t exactly make the climbs any “easier” as your avatar’s progress is still governed by your w/kg output but it can help you to be able to spin rather than grind. Changing Trainer Difficulty does not change the power needed to get up the hill. You still have to put out the same watts to move the same distance as before, you’ll just be doing it in what feels like a lower gear.
ZWIFT FRAME AND WHEEL CHOICE
There are a couple of must-buy purchases from the Drop Shop that make the climbing metres on Zwift pile on a bit faster.
As in real life, wheels make the biggest difference and the good news is, from Level 4 upwards, you can purchase the Enve SES 3.4 wheels which are the second fastest climbing wheels on Zwift.
The fastest climbing wheels are the Lightweight Meilensteins which you can get if you’re lucky on the spinning lottery each time you hit the top of the Alpe. If you get them, use them!
Frame wise, your best bet is to hold on until Level 11 when you can purchase the Specialized Tarmac Pro which is the fastest climbing bike on Zwift.
If you haven’t got a Zwift subscription or even if you have and want some virtual climbing variety, try RGT Cycling. It’s a free platform and like Zwift, as long as it’s synched to your Strava account, your metres will count.
All the routes are available to free subscribers with no level locks. Two that might tickle your climbing fancy are:
Mont Ventoux 25.5km/1596m
Passo dello Stelvio 14.1km/1114m
The routes are super realistic and the riding physics really good. User numbers are far lower than Zwift so you might want to arrange to meet-up with some buddies.
FIND A FRIEND
You can guarantee that there will be plenty of online support and banter but, for a challenge like this, you can’t beat having a real life buddy or buddies to ride with, whether for real or virtually, check-in with, support and compete with. Keep us updated on your progress, the rides you’re doing and we’ll see you on the summit on Sunday 28th.