Virtual Racing May Be The Off-Season Challenge You’re Looking For

Looking for a competitive outlet but don’t want to venture outside? Look no further.

Photo: provided by Zwift

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

As the days get shorter and temperatures plummet (in the northern hemisphere anyway), more and more of our training is happening indoors. While this might leave some of us feeling uninspired, the rise of virtual racing—and the events available this fall and winter—might just keep us the right side of sane going into 2021.

Zwift launched its latest Z Pro Tri Series last week, which also includes community races so that age-group athletes can take part and see how their times compare to the professionals. This three week-long series—the second race of which takes place today, Wednesday, Nov. 18, at noon MT/2 p.m. ET—sees 40 of the sport’s top athletes duking it out over three different formats: a points race, a scratch race, and an individual hill climb time trial. Last week, the women’s champion was Great Britain’s Emma Pallant, with a number of other very familiar names in the top 10, including Paula Findlay, Laura Philipp, Lisa Norden and Meredith Kessler (who had finished third at Ironman Florida just a few days prior).

“Zwift is a riveting platform that is allowing athletes to thrive with gusto and stamina,” Kessler said. “These racing opportunities provide many highlights of the week for me personally and, especially within a pandemic, Zwift racing also provides this new wave of potential earnings for pro triathletes and cyclists. I do believe that it is a little less about that aspect and more about having the opportunity to race in the comfort of your own home where fitness can be maintained and gained for when it’s time to race in real life as well.”

Last week’s men’s race was won by Antony Costes, with Lionel Sanders in second and James Cunnama in third. As with the women’s race, the top 10 was also a who’s who of short- and long-course racing, with Matt Hanson, Ben Kanute, and Tim Don all featuring in it. Many pros have said they’re using it as a way to sharpen up ahead of Challenge Daytona, which is scheduled to take place on Dec. 6 with a stacked field and a $1 million prize purse.

“The Z Pro Tri Series is definitely one of the most exciting tri-specific events going on in Zwift right now,” said Zwift spokeswoman Kristin Butcher. In a bid to make it as close to the real thing as possible, there’s also commentary from Matt Lieto and Sarah True.

Ironman also has its own virtual offerings with the VR World Tour, aiming to blend the international aspect of Ironman events with virtual racing. The four week-long series, now in its fourth and final week, has allowed athletes to take on races in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, and—this week—Oceania. There are training workouts across swim, bike, and run, as well as a weekend VR event that is tied to that region, with a designated Rouvy course that enables athletes to compete live with fellow participants around the world on race weekend. This week, from Nov. 16 to 22, features Ironman VR Oceania.

An Ironman spokesman said there’s plenty planned for triathletes beyond the VR World Tour, adding: “Athletes can wrap up the inaugural year of the Ironman Virtual Club by setting December training goals. From Nov. 30 through Jan. 1 Ironman VR will be having two challenges: a 150K and a 300K month-long challenge. The goal is to provide athletes with a fun, motivating and interactive way to stay fit over the holiday season in a flexible way.”

Starting Dec. 12 there will also be a countdown to 2021 with daily workouts that carry through the New Year and will offer prizes and surprise deals exclusively for finishers, Ironman told Ironman VR will continue into 2021 and more details will be available here as soon as plans are finalized.

The Zwift Racing League is another great outlet for those looking to enjoy some virtual racing this off-season. It takes place in partnership with WTRL (Winter Tactical Racing League) and sees 4,000 racers in more than 600 teams taking part in a team time trial every Thursday, which currently makes it the biggest eSport racing tournament in the world.

The Zwift Tri Academy is also booming, with more than 74,000 people enrolled so far. This is a program that anyone can enter and includes 10 workouts and two races, running until Dec. 23. You can take part for fun and fitness—or you can compete for one of six coveted spots on the Zwift Academy Tri Team for 2021, which is arguably the best supported amateur team in the world.

If you’re looking for something a little more laidback and social, you can also join the Holly Lawrence coffee ride on Zwift every Monday at 9.30 a.m. PT/12.30 p.m. ET. Or make your own!

Jan Frodeno Reflects on His Final Ironman World Championship

Immediately after finishing 24th place at his final Ironman World Championships, the Olympic medalist (and three-time IMWC winner) explains what his race in Nice meant to him.