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A cycling alternative - but not for everyone
2020-05-13

Perhaps the glimpses of the post-pandemic landscape of sports are beginning to emerge.

While no one is suggesting that head to head competition, in person, will not re-appear at some point down the road, the notion of some increased interest in a variety of on-line virtual options could well represent an offshoot of athletes adapting to a new reality.

Within local cycling circles, competition utilizing Zwift technology is apparently gaining some momentum. First launched in 2014, the U.S. based company created a software program that allows cyclists to interact, train and compete in a virtual world.

"When you connect, you can do challenge races, certain sections of the Tour de France - you join in and there is a mock race," explained Sudbury Cycling Club president Sheila Geraghty. "The challenge is that you have to have the proper equipment, which is expensive, in order to do this."

And in as much as the software does an excellent job at coming close to recreating the outdoor riding setting, it is certainly not identical. Full disclose here - Geraghty is not necessarily a fan of this indoor alternative.

"It is something of a bone of contention between traditional cyclists and indoor cyclists," she explained. "The people that do it, like it. Either you love it or you hate it - there's no in between."

"For me, riding outside is my mental peace. When I'm on a trainer, I feel like a gerbil. I can have the absolute worst day, but after riding outdoors for twenty minutes, all is well and at peace in my world."

That said, Geraghty also recognizes the current challenges. While folks can continue to walk and cycle along the one kilometer paved track at the Delki Dozzi Sports Complex, a venue that historically has served as the practice location for the SCC two nights a week, the club cannot entertain that scenario - at least not for at the moment.

"Part of that is that the OCA (Ontario Cycling Association) is not allowing us to affiliate, because they have shut down all group riding (due to the pandemic)," Geraghty explained. "Because we can't be affiliated, we can't get the insurance that would be required in order to approach the city to rent the track."

"We're not able to run our workouts, at all, because there is no real safe area."

While some cyclists take to the roadways of Sudbury, maintaining a degree of fitness simply by virtue of the mileage that can be amassed on their bikes, those who train with the SCC recognize that this offers only a partial solution to regular club training.

"It might be equated to doing a workout at the gym, versus getting a run around the block and doing a few pushups," said Geraghty. "You're still active, but the intensity of training just isn't there. Rob (partner and long-time cyclist Rob Rice) and I are doing that, pretty much every day, but we're not doing training - we're just riding our bikes."

"It's not the same workout that we regularly would do."

"(Coach) Battista (Murreda) has a very detailed training plan for us that builds up each week, a little bit harder each week, for three weeks, and then a rest week," explained Geraghty. "When we start again on the fifth week, the intensity picks up, so that at the end of the season, we're kind of at peak performance."

"On the roads, you just can't do that kind of a workout. It's not safe, and it's not measured."

For the 12 to 15 club members who are advocates and regular users of Zwift, traditional training can be much more closely emulated. "They can follow the training format that Battista has for us," said Geraghty. "This trainer that you are on measures your output and your heart rate, your weight and height, acceleration and your speed."

"You are doing a workout on a trainer, like you're racing, or like you're riding in a group."

To be clear, the Zwift package is far beyond what one might picture as a traditional stationary bicycle. "Most of us have that, where the back wheel is off, and the bike sits on a trainer," said Geraghty. "Some have the very basic trainer that just add resistance to the wheel."

And for as much as it's not necessarily her cup of tea, Geraghty is quick to note that Zwift also addresses one of the other current pitfalls, the lack of a setting where likeminded cyclists can remain in contact with one another, on a regular basis.

"It's the contacts and the connections and the community in cycling that is lost right now," said Geraghty. "We have none of that. We haven't seen each other, except for the few that can with the Zwift."

And that might well be the way of the world, for at least some of the cycling world, for a little time still yet.

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