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How three rid­ers used the vir­tual re­al­ity game Zwift to climb a very real peak: Tener­ife’s Mount Teide.

Video games are fun places to dis­ap­pear into, but they’re not go­ing to pre­pare you for real life, right? Gran Turismo means lit­tle in a full-throt­tle rac­ing car and Grand Theft Auto won’t aid your rise up through an ac­tual crim­i­nal un­der­world. Okay, it might. With Zwift, how­ever, the vir­tual world will help you con­quer real moun­tains. Just ask our trio.

In Oc­to­ber they jet­ted out to Tener­ife to take on Mount Teide, the vol­cano that dom­i­nates the is­land and, at 3718m, is Spain’s high­est peak. While the road tops out at 2325m, its con­tin­u­ous climb from sea level makes it a favourite desti­na­tion for Euro­pean road­ies.

For the past six months, our trio have been dou­bling up road rid­ing with in­ten­sive in­door ses­sions on Zwift, delv­ing deep into the game’s var­i­ous worlds in a bid to get ‘Teide fit’. What be­gan in the sum­mer with a 4km test on Zwift’s Vol­cano Climb in the Watopia world ended with a far big­ger – and very real – test on this ac­tive vol­cano. Each rider would ride their own pre­ferred ver­sion of the climb, de­pen­dent on what they thought they were ca­pa­ble of.

They all had dif­fer­ent rea­sons for tak­ing part. For Adrian, it was a chance to re­fine his al­ready con­sid­er­able Zwift us­age by tap­ping into its train­ing plans more in­tel­li­gently. For John, it was an op­por­tu­nity to keep his hand in while wait­ing for shoul­der surgery that would cor­rect a prob­lem that was lim­it­ing his time on the road. For Han­nah, it was her first in­door train­ing ex­pe­ri­ence out­side of spin class, and Mount Teide rep­re­sented the big­gest jump in dif­fi­culty for any of our trio – a qua­dru­pling, in el­e­va­tion gain, of her big­gest sin­gle climb.

Hav­ing not long since re­turned from the dou­ble-cen­tury hell of the Ötz­taler Rad­marathon in the Aus­trian Alps, there was never any dan­ger in Adrian not mak­ing it to the top of Teide. The man blitzed it. He might well be in the best shape of his life and cred­its this, in large part, to Zwift.

“I’m not sure where I’d be without it,” he says. “I can’t com­mit many hours each week to the bike, and cer­tainly not many hours at once, so be­ing able to crunch my train­ing into hour-long chunks with hard Zwift ses­sions has given me a short-cut to good form. I still make time for a longer week­end ride each week, but the ma­jor­ity of my train­ing is on Zwift.”

It’s a big ma­jor­ity, too. Of the 8537km he’s rid­den in 2018, 63% was in his garage. “It’s paid off. I’m set­ting per­sonal records on my lo­cal hills, without specif­i­cally try­ing. I think those who dis­miss Zwift and train­ing in­doors as not ‘real’ cy­cling are miss­ing out.”

For Han­nah, the re­lent­less­ness of an hour’s Zwift­ing proved the per­fect prepa­ra­tion for a long climb like Teide. “It’s such a pure work­out. Liv­ing in a city, an hour’s ride dur­ing the week would be spent at traf­fic lights and junc­tions. It’s half an hour to reach the best climbs. Zwift cuts that out – it’s hard spin­ning, from be­gin­ning to end.

“It’s an exercise hit I can do when it suits me. I work shifts, so Zwift fits around a busy lifestyle that I need to con­stantly jug­gle. Even if it’s just half an hour, while my part­ner is mak­ing din­ner, for ex­am­ple – it’s half an hour of qual­ity train­ing that I oth­er­wise wouldn’t have had.”

One of the is­sues with train­ing on the road, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing

“It’s paid o!. I’m set­ting per­sonal records on my lo­cal hills, without speci"cally try­ing”

the work­ing week, is that you can be lim­ited, ei­ther be­cause of time, con­fi­dence or, more com­monly, ge­og­ra­phy, to a small num­ber of routes, which can get repet­i­tive over time. It’s Zwift’s va­ri­ety, with mul­ti­ple worlds, cour­ses and train­ing plans, that Han­nah finds so ap­peal­ing.

“Head­ing out­doors, there are few in­ter­est­ing rides on my doorstep that I can do quickly,” she says. “Zwift gives me a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge ev­ery time I train.”

John also found his Zwift ex­pe­ri­ence in­valu­able: “I’ve been car­ry­ing a shoul­der in­jury for over a year and it’s been a big lim­iter on how much time I can spend on the road, as long rides ag­gra­vate it. In­door train­ing is eas­ier – I can set my bike up to limit the weight I put through my shoul­der when it’s sore.

“I’m un­usual in hav­ing a high bore­dom thresh­old when it comes to in­door train­ing. You could stick me on a static trainer with a list of in­ter­vals to hit, and as long as I had a bit of mu­sic I’d hit them. Now I’m on Zwift, with all the fun game­play it of­fers, I’m like a kid in a sweet shop.”

De­spite his re­duced road rid­ing this year, his Zwift ex­pe­ri­ence en­sured he made short work of Teide.

“I cer­tainly didn’t feel like I hadn’t been out on the road that much. It was a warm day, right the way up the climb, but I felt in de­cent nick the whole day, tap­ping out that rhythm I’ve got­ten used to on Watopia’s mon­ster climbs. It was a grind at times, be­cause while Teide’s scenery at the sum­mit is worth the ef­fort, for much of the rest of it, it’s far from the best-look­ing climb I’ve done.”

Teide re­vealed cer­tain things that Zwift can’t pre­pare you for: the scorch­ing sun, high al­ti­tude and mix­ing it with traf­fic, for in­stance. Zwift al­ways main­tains that it ex­ists to com­ple­ment road rid­ing, rather than re­place it, so any good train­ing plan needs a healthy mix of both to get you in the best shape pos­si­ble.

With the chal­lenge over, what ad­vice could our trio of­fer to Zwift new­com­ers?

“Never start any ride without the Holy Trin­ity of a fan, a towel and a water bot­tle,” reck­ons Adrian. “And if some­one asked me if I thought Zwift was for them, I’d say yes, no mat­ter what ex­pe­ri­ence they have. It’s a very in­clu­sive game. Every­body will find some­thing that works for them,

“Zwift is an in­clu­sive game. Every­body will nd some­thing that works for them”

whether it’s races for com­pet­i­tive sorts or train­ing plans for those want­ing self-im­prove­ment.”

“I’d just say ‘go for it’,” says Han­nah. “My legs are so much stronger for the ex­pe­ri­ence – strength I know I wouldn’t have had if I’d just rid­den out­doors one or two times a week, or a weekly spin class.”

John’s ad­vice would be to not to think of Zwift as a sea­sonal/win­ter thing but some­thing that can ben­e­fit your cy­cling all year round: “An ex­cuse I of­ten hear about not ex­er­cis­ing is ‘I don’t have the time’. But hav­ing a Zwift set-up at home, steal­ing an hour here and there, and blast­ing through a work­out, that ex­cuse doesn’t stand up.

“One thing I’d say, though – have your Zwift set-up in a shed or garage, or some­where sep­a­rate to your liv­ing quar­ters. My Wat­tbike is in my liv­ing room 5ft from the sofa, which doesn’t al­ways serve as the great­est car­rot in the pur­suit of ‘one last in­ter­val!’”

Above Same but dif­fer­ent for our Zwifters on Mt Teide

Above right Zwift’s own vol­cano is a far more ac­tive beast

Be­low Climb­ing vol­ca­noes is all in a day's work in Watopia Above and left There’s much over­lap be­tween real and vir­tual vol­ca­noes... Right ...But when above clouds, there are dif­fer­ences

Above Adrian’s train­ing has been more fo­cused with Zwift

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