The Spanish Lap
With the leaves starting to turn at home there was one last big event on my race calendar for 2023 and this one meant flying across the Atlantic to Spain. Often I wouldn’t be writing a blog post about a virtual race but this one was a special event; The Virtual Final of La Vuelta hosted by Rouvy.
Back in March, Rouvy held a Challenge on their platform to complete a set number of routes from which they selected the top 50 riders to battle it out in a virtual race by invite only. In this race the top 5 would win a spot to compete on the grand stage on location in Madrid at La Vuelta. With a lot of sweat and suffering I earned one of those final 5 spots so there I was on my first trip to Europe for a half hour of suffering on an indoor trainer but more importantly the experience of a lifetime.
The race itself would see myself go up against last years winner of the event along with some big names in the world of e-sports cycling but the trip itself was the real prize. Not only did Rouvy fly the five of us to Madrid to compete in the event we would also be treated to a ride on the final circuit of La Vuelta in Madrid and get to watch the pros do the same from the VIP zone at the finish.
The race was held on Saturday in a conference room in the Room Mate Oscar Hotel in central Madrid; a far more controlled environment than last years event which was outside in the 30+ degree Celsius heat. The five of us would be racing each other on Z bikes one of Rouvy’s partners. One by one we all weighed in then came the warm up. Luckily we had plenty of time as the feel of a Z bike is quite a bit different than what we were used to with a smart trainer but with all of us on the same equipment we all knew this would be a fair setup. The course chosen for the race by Rouvy was one with a couple of shorter climbs midway through the course but we all knew the start would be very important with it having about a minute climb right out of the gate.
Also in the race would be over 100 riders on the platform joining in from home around the world. Although they wouldn’t be competing for the final prize it did make the race a race.
The time counted down and we hit the first climb hard and fast. The atmosphere in the room was electric. Words don’t give it justice the 5 of us giving it our all while being cheered on by our companions on the trip and the entire Rouvy staff on site. After the first climb the pace didn’t let up much but I could tell my advantage would be on the downhill sections of the course as I gained significantly more speed and created a small gap. At times I was able to stretch the gap to over 100m but I knew I was nearing mg limit and didn’t want to blow up knowing my competitors being lighter would be much faster up the two climbs. The first climb was shorter and although I got distanced a little I was able to stay in the chase and again created a gap going down. Unfortunately the second hill was not as kind. Here, Zach and Pim, the two favourites for the race passed me and made a gap that I was not going to be able to close. At this point I could feel the burn of the lactate in my legs and was in what we like to refer to as no man’s land. I was behind the two leaders with little to no hope of catching back on but had a gap on the chasing group of 4 riders of which included one of my other competing racers, last year’s winner, Ward. I came in with the hope of getting in the top 3 and was in good position to take 3rd but with still 10 minutes to go I could tell I went a little too hot off the start with bigger aspirations than my legs could fulfill. I gathered what strength I had and just focused on keeping my gap. When I crossed the line I couldn’t be happier. Not only was I done but I had got on the “podium”. To be honest if it wasn’t for the all the cheering and screaming from all the people in the room and the atmosphere I don’t know if I would have been able to get there.
In the end Zach was able to solo off the front taking the win and along with the trophy he’d also get to experience the final stage of La Vuelta in one of the lead vehicles of the race and get to stand up on stage side by side with Sepp Kuss the winner of this year’s La Vuelta.
The next day we had the pleasure of riding the final circuit at a far more enjoyable pace than the race the day prior. It looked like it would be a wet ride but as fate would have it the clouds parted and the sun came out just as we were allowed on course. It was not a long ride at just over 12km but it was one I will never forget. Fans for the race were already finding their spots by the time we rode the circuit and cheered us all on as we rode by sporting our brand new Rouvy kits.
From there it was back to the hotel; shower change and then back to the finish line to see the main event. Such a cool experience to be in the centre of it all as the pros completed the final stage.
The real prize here was the whole experience. Rouvy went all out for this event and I can’t say enough to express how grateful I am to all of the Rouvy staff for making this an unforgettable experience that I was able to share with my wife Lisa, my fellow competitors, and the whole Rouvy team.