I had a great indoor ride today, climbing Alpe du Zwift. What is Alpe du Zwift, you say? Glad you asked!
Alpe du Zwift is Zwift’s virtual climb modeled after Alpe d’Huez, the most famous climb in the Tour de France. It has the same amount of climbing—about 3,400 feet of it—and same average grade of 8.5%. (For lots of great information on Zwift, check out Zwift Insider.)
I did the route called Quatch Quest, which is about 29 miles in total. The route also includes the second biggest climb—the Epic KOM—in Watopia, Zwift’s virtual world. So yeah, it was kind of a big climbing day.
The highlight, though, was Alpe du Zwift. I had no idea how to approach this, as Epic KOM was the biggest single climb I’ve done before. I have lots and lots of hills in my local area of Carroll County, Maryland, but no climbs that approach anything like this. They’re mostly just rolling hills around here.
I’m in the midst of building a base for going outside in the Spring—assuming that ever comes (it’s been a cold, white winter here). So I wanted to go slow and steady, riding at an “endurance” pace, which is an easy pace that I can hold basically all day. I haven’t done this route before, and didn’t want to crack early.
So not dying on the ride was one goal, but I also had several others. For one, I wanted to see how well the Saris MP1 rocker plate I reviewed earlier would help me feel not so beat up. The last time I did a really long Zwift ride without the rocker plate was, let’s say, painful in places I absolutely do not want pain. I was hoping to feel a big difference.
Finally, I wanted to keep practicing my riding technique that I’ve been developing over several months of doing Trainer Road workouts. Things like proper pedaling, correct breathing, and getting aero are important. I wanted apply all that and see if it’s helped.
Mission Accomplished, on all fronts. The ride overall took about three hours. I was tired at the end, but not exhausted. I made sure to eat and drink often, had both fans blowing on me, and felt good throughout.
I started on Alpe du Zwift about 90 minutes in. It is massive, and spectacular. The scenery is breathtaking, including snow walls, sunrises, and Northern Lights among other highlights.
I dug in and made sure I maintained my form, for the most part. I didn’t feel I completely broke form at any point, which was awesome. That, and the fact that I was fueling properly and wasn’t pushing myself too hard, meant that I never felt close to bonking on the mountain.
There are 21 switchbacks in total to the top. The climb is relentless, with almost no letup anywhere on it. I stayed in the easiest three gears most of the time, with the majority of that in my easiest. I climbed out of the saddle a good bit, too.
In terms of the MP1 rocker plate, wow. The difference between this ride and the long rides without the rocker is night and day. As mentioned before, I was certainly tired, but my body didn’t ache, didn’t feel stressed the way it does on my trainer when it’s locked in place on the floor and not moving. The Saris passed the test with high-flying colors.
I did Alpe du Zwift in just under 90 minutes, which was about half the ride. I won’t make the podium with those types of times, but that wasn’t my purpose here, doing it for the first time. I had a blast today, a good long ride on a cold February morning.
This ride taught me a lot: about my improving conditioning, developing form that will help me be a better endurance rider, and the astonishing improvements in just a few years from the days of hooking up to a wheel-on trainer and zoning out while spinning. Smart trainers, rocker platforms, and programs like Trainer Road and Zwift make getting better indoors actually fun.
It’s a new world of indoor training. We cyclists are lucky to be here at the beginning of.
Just FYI, my review of Zwift vs. another incredibly popular indoor cycling platform, Peloton, click here.