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Cycling Indoor cycling RGT Smart Trainers Turbo training Turbo Training Veloton Virtual cycling Zwift

Virtual cycling – drafting. You can, but should you?

It’s often a question in life; you can, but should you? Following our latest post regarding drafting on Zwift, much debate has occurred on social media. In this post, we aim to add more context upon this, especially for the inexperienced virtual cyclist – and inexperienced cyclists generally.

Let’s go back before the days of virtual cycling. Cyclists were oddities, not many did it, especially in the new-found lycra material and when we went out and saw another road cyclist, it was an anomaly – almost. We sought out other cyclists to ride with and joined a club. There, the stalwarts and club coach taught group riding etiquette and it was the closet that I have come to the replication of being on a parade ground again. Riding the wheel was learned, as was the feeling when being in the draft. Then there were the variations of through-and-off and dealing with side winds.

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Riding in a group of well-drilled cyclists is a wonderment and the craic is good for the soul. Done well, it means that everyone shares the load and greater distances, at less effort can be achieved. The scientists explain to us that the low-pressure zone behind another cyclist moves you forward and even having someone on your wheel can help propel you forwards! It’s almost magical!

Enter virtual cycling and most prominently Zwift. Imagine trying to replicate computer programming that replicates an accurate real-life experience draft on a computer screen and to have the draft accurate no matter what size the bunch?! We are talking about serious boffins, with serious capabilities and seriously tonnes of data. However, Zwift have done a really decent job in trying to replicate a group riding draft. Other platforms have their own versions of the group draft. RGT’s is different and Veloton argue that once launched, theirs will be the closest to real-world draft. Putting this aside, as the arguments around them are like boiling the sea, going down rabbit holes, or whatever analogy you want to use.

An example of a race on Zwift and the w/kg on the right demonstrate where watts are being saved in the virtual draft

For what reasons do you cycle? What is the end goal? Where will training virtually take you? When you load up your favourite virtual training platform, what is your goal for that session?

In his book, Sir Bradley Wiggins explains how the discovery of the Total Stress Score (TSS or similar) using Training Peaks, altered his training.

You find out more about TSS here https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/what-is-tss/

As you will know, most cycling training apps record the TSS (used as a generic term and remember it’s a Training Peaks copyrighted term) of a session and you are given total TSS for the week. Your coach may provide you with a TSS goal for each day/week/month/period? Now just typing this seems common sense, however, you have to remember that at the time it wasn’t. Sir Wiggo and his coaching team had discovered that riding for 6 hours solo provided a greater TSS than riding for 6 hours in a group. As we know, this is because of the draft effect and sports psychologists may also suggest that 6 hours solo also requires mental resilience to a great level than needed in a group ride. For them, this was important for gaining an edge in their build to win the Tour de France.

Back to virtual cycling. Let’s take a group ride on Zwift. An 80 km ride, on the Tempus Fugit course in a group where the pace is 2.5 w/kg. There is every chance that your Strava will look very impressive. 2 hours to complete and an average speed of 40 kmph. Your friends will be impressed. Done solo, the same 80 kmph at the same average pace will mean a high w/kg than 2.5 and also it will record a higher TSS. Your friends on Strava won’t see your TSS and instead see that you are slower – the first world problems of social media! Also, any two riders in the group ride (at the same height, weight and virtual bike) can record different TSS! How come, one using the draft could ‘surf’ the draft and average, say, 2.5 w/kg. The other could be fighting the stay at the front and average 2.5 w/kg or higher.

Depending on your goal for that session, it’s down to you and your coach to decide how to use the draft, or whether you would benefit from riding solo instead? Now, this is for group rides. If you are racing virtually have a think about this. You can try and push the group by riding on the front. Remember that you have an energy bank account. This bank account has no overdraft. The more you push, the more you are drawing on that account. Instead, let everyone else push – surf the draft. When you need to burn a few matches, you have more to draw upon. For example, closing breakaways, on inclines – where is always kicks off. Breaking away in some virtual platforms is really hard and it’s the climbs where you are likely to split the bunch. It’s no good sitting on the front for the entire race only to end up last as everyone sprints past you at the end and putting on Stava ‘at least they knew that they’d raced!’

No, Zwift won’t be the same as riding outdoors and arguably any other virtual platform. I think that we are asking too much of them. My argument is that you should consider your training plan, ultimate goals and what you want to get out of that session and then use any draft available appropriately and in the context of that session. Let’s face it, you can be the biggest kick-ass racer on Zwift (read that as any virtual cycling platform), but if you can’t ride a wheel outside, you aren’t going to complete for points with a racing license in your back pocket.

This is RGY Cycling and a video by popular ride, Mike Lister. You can see the draft effect here on RGT. RGT differ (top left) as you can see the minimum watts needed to stay in the draft and the maximum needed

My plea is; there is enough going on in the world to worry ourselves about drafting effect and how one platform compares to the next. Let’s take a breath and revel in the wonder of being able to train indoors, socially with others from around the world and we only need to wear cycling shoes and bib-shorts! If you complain about the lack of effect of wind, eat more fibre and get a bigger fan! Ride on!

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