In his first road race after graduating Zwift Academy, Brad Gouveris noticed something he didn’t expect.
“I found myself to be extremely strong on the climbs, which initially was a weaker point in my riding,” he says. “My ability to climb increased dramatically.”
He thinks this might be because his Zwift riding got him used to holding constant high power. You don’t get as many breaks from coasting or easing off, and long climbs don’t give much opportunity for breaks, either.
It was more than just a feeling. The South African could see improvement in the power he was producing and the way it affected his racing.
“The increase in my 10-minute power was quite substantial,” Gouveris says. “It was a massive confidence booster for me.”
Zwift Academy is a community training program of structured workouts, group rides, and races. Thousands of people participate each year. The road cycling academy is divided into a men’s side and a women’s side, and one rider from each will be lucky enough to earn a pro contract.
Gouveris made the semi-finals round in 2018, and again in 2019. He thought that was his last chance at the contract. At age 22, he was too old to get a spot on the Under-23 Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka next year. But there is no age restriction for the 2020 Academy, because Zwift is partnering with Team Alepecin-Fenix.
He’s back in the game!
Becoming a professional rider is Gouveris’ dream, but not everyone who participates in Zwift Academy is going for that contract. Whether you’re an elite competitor or just someone who likes riding your bike, it can help you get fitter and stronger.
“It’s a great way to increase riding capacity,” says Gouveris. “You’ve got so much motivation, with so many other riders of so many nationalities, and you don’t want to be dropped. Doing races and doing intervals (in group workouts) is really a motivational booster.”
At first, he actually had trouble pushing the same power on the indoor trainer as he did outside. It took a little time before he adapted, and Gouveris says this is common for people who don’t ride indoors much. Just keep at it, and make sure you have fans to help stay cool.
Zwift Academy workouts and races are tough, but it isn’t all work and no play! In the more relaxed group rides, Gouveris loves getting the chance to chat and joke with other Academy participants.
“It’s so nice to join those group rides, because you know it’s always fun, and everyone’s always having a laugh,” he says.
There are also opportunities to have conversations with riders outside of the events, by joining the men’s or women’s Zwift Academy Facebook groups. You can ask questions, find support and motivation, or just talk to others who are going through the same things.
Gouveris still keeps in touch with good friends that he got to know better in the semifinal rounds.
“It’s awesome, meeting and chatting to guys all around the world who all share your passion,” he says.
Zwifting On Up
Gouveris got his first road bike at about five or six years old, and he started racing soon after.
“Bicycles have basically been my whole life,” Gouveris says.
He didn’t start riding on Zwift, though, until Zwift Academy came around in 2018. He had heard about it from a couple of South African riders who had made the semifinals the previous year. Some riders at a local indoor cycling studio encouraged him to join, saying it would be a good opportunity.
“Ever since then, it took off, and I’ve been doing Zwift,” Gouveris says. “It’s been incredible!”
Gouveris says there isn’t a big racing scene close to him in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He has relied on Zwift racing, including races he did as part of the Academy, to help him get used to the efforts required in major competitions.
On Zwift, Gouveris started racing with the “Zwift Academy Dream Team” of finalists. He now races with Team Turbo, representing them well in invitational Pro-Am races like the Tour for All and the Tour de Zwift alongside professional cyclists. Even in normal Zwift races, though, Gouveris says racing people from around the world helps keep him sharp.
“You can’t really have a racing edge where I live,” he says. “When I do race nationals, I don’t feel like it’s out of my depth. I feel completely comfortable at the pace we’re racing.”
And it’s paying off. Gouveris is the South African National Criterium Champion for 2020, and he finished 6th in the national championship road race!
No matter the level of a rider considering Zwift Academy, Gouveris says his advice would be: “100% go for it!” Do the workouts, group rides, and races, and use them to motivate you to train and push your limits.
“Whether you manage to get the contract or not,” he says, “from my experience, you’re only going to become a stronger rider.”
The 2020 Zwift Academy Road program ended November 25th, but you can still get the benefits of ZA Road Training at any time! Just select "Zwift Academy 2020" in the workouts list, and choose one of the eight workouts: