When COVID restrictions forced pro cyclists to take their training indoors this year, many set their bikes on trainers for the first time. WorldTour cyclists, used to training outdoors year-round, had to adapt to the different style of riding, and there was definitely a bit of a learning curve.
Some cyclists, such as Peter Sagan, went so far as to say they had no interest in virtual racing. “I am a real cyclist, but not a virtual one,” he said.
But not all WorldTour cyclists were learning the ropes of indoor riding for the first time. For Canadians Guillaume Boivin, Jame Piccoli and Alex Cataford, who ride for Israel Startup-Nation, indoor trainers are a familiar reminder of home.
“Everyone in the peloton was going crazy about how much trainer they had to ride,” Boivin reminisces with a chuckle, “but that’s just what it’s like being a Canadian cyclist.”
Piccoli, a Montrealer, concurs. “I’ve been riding trainers for more of my cycling career than I’d like to admit,” he says. “Being a Canadian you’re stuck inside most of the winter.”
The indoor life
When the pandemic hit and racing went virtual, Elite was quick to supply the Israel Startup Nation cyclists with trainers. Getting set up on the direct-drive trainers, such as the Elite Direto XR was a straightforward process for the team dispersed around the world. The trainers take the place of a rear wheel, so to get riding the athletes just needed to remove their wheel, attach their bikes to the trainer and plug it in.
In Canada, Boivin was lucky to have a natural cooling system for his indoor rides. “I usually set up near a window or a sliding door,” he says. “In the winter you get the fresh air coming in.” He did bring in a bit of extra cooling though— “I bought a massive fan on sale at Canadian Tire.”
Cataford also set up his Elite trainer in front of a large fan, but his at home support team got a little too curious with all the new equipment. “We had to lock the cats out of the room—they got very interested in the trainer,” he says.
Despite having indoor riding experience, the Canadians were impressed with the quality of the trainers. “They’re super quiet,” says Boivin. He notes that sound was once a major factor with trainers. “The noise was annoying if you were riding inside. Now that it’s quiet, it’s much nicer—it makes it quite a bit more enjoyable.”
Piccoli is also pleased with the improvement in the trainer experience. “Let’s put it this way, it used to be you’d put a movie on or a podcast, or really anything to distract you from the time you were spending there,” he says. “Now with smart trainers it’s really engaging, there are programs like Zwift and all kinds of stuff to keep you engaged.”
Piccoli says his Elite trainer also has a much better road feel than others he’s used and Cataford agrees. “The technology is impressive,” he says. “The trainer is quite good, it really mimics the feeling of riding on the road. On a crappy trainer it wouldn’t feel like you were riding a bike, but with this one it feels like you’re riding outside.”
Erg mode and Zwift racing
None of the Canadian Israel Startup-Nation cyclists use erg mode on the trainer. They prefer shifting as you would riding outside. ”Shifting on the Elite trainers feels like a regular bike,” says Piccoli, “besides the fact that you’re not moving, it feels like a totally normal road bike experience.”
His past experience with indoor riding helped Piccoli take the win on stage 3 of the Tour for All this spring. “It’s not the same as riding outside,” he says, reflecting on his indoor training season on his new trainer, “but it’s definitely much better than it was.”