Virtual Racing with the Pros on Zwift

Stage One: Giro d’Italia Time Trial Race

The 102nd edition of the Giro d’Italia, a 20 stage three-week grand tour, opened up in Bologna, Italy with an 8.2km time trial. The course starts flat at the Fountain of Neptune and remains even until the final 2.1km climb up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. This climb is a killer with a 9.7% average gradient with some steeper 16% gradient sections. Primož Roglič, a Slovenian rider with team Jumbo-Visma, was 19 seconds better than the next rider making it to the top with a blistering recorded time of 12 minutes and 54 seconds.

Zwift, a virtual gaming platform for avid cyclists and runners, recreated Stage One of the Giro d’Italia to allow cyclists to compete virtually against the best in the world. This course became open to riders on Saturday coinciding with the start of the Giro d’Italia. Along with 393 other riders, I signed up for the 9:00 a.m. race to see the new course and how I measured up.

The route starts in the square containing the Fountain of Neptune constructed in 1563. The trident Neptune is holding was the inspiration for the Maserati brothers for their iconic automobile logo. I missed seeing the fountain in my first pass through on the course — too busy ramping up my watts at the start of the race.

The first turn is at the Porte San Felice. This gate was constructed in the 12th century and was the westernmost gate and wall of Bologna at the time. This iconic landmark is all that is left of the medieval city boundaries of Bologna. I was able to maintain my pace fairly easily through virtual Bologna while also reserving energy for the impending climb.

With a hairpin turn, the climb up to San Luca began. This was a challenge. I immediately had to find a cadence I could maintain to avoid crashing and burning. The 16% sections were slow going.

I was able to take notice of the Portico di San Luca. A 3.8km monumental roofed arcade comprised of 666 arches. The portico was constructed between 1674-1793 to protect the icon as it was paraded up the hill to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. This is one of the longest porticos constructed in the world, and now often used by walkers and runners.

To add insult to injury, I noticed people walking through the portico’s walkway faster than me on my bike.

At the top of the hill, and thankfully at the end of this time trial sits the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. The present church was constructed in 1723 on top of older churches that have occupied this place on the landscape since the 12th century.

My final result was a dead even 25 minutes. I was able to average 291 watts, 2.6w/kg. I finished 250/393 in my group. I was over twice as slow as the winner Primož Roglič.

The new Giro d’Italia course was a blast to ride in the context that the average cyclist can ride the same route on the same day as the professionals. Zwift keeps hitting it out of the park with these unique events that give riders a virtual chance to participate in events that they usually can only witness on TV.

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