Cyclist Alex West has joined an international online racing team.
A former professional cyclist who suffered a serious crash is back riding against top international riders, but from the comfort of his home.
Palmerston North cyclist Alex West crashed while riding in Europe two years ago, so changed tack and is now part of a new online racing platform Zwift, which combines the physical act of cycling with gaming.
People can race online against others around the world and the race is shown on a screen. Riders use a road bike connected to a smart trainer, which mimics the feel of hills and terrains.
West, 23, has joined digital cycling team Canyon, which is made up of 12 international pro cyclists.
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Instead of racing outdoors, he now races in his garage while connected online.
West rode for the New Zealand under-23 team in 2017 and in 2018 he was racing in Italy for the Friuli team. But a serious crash put him off road cycling.
“This one was a high-speed crash around 70 kilometres per hour and I landed on my head and face, which scared me a lot.”
West still had ambitions in road racing, but after taking part in a Zwift competition, he was hooked on the online racing scene.
The German-based Canyon team started last year and has team members from Belgium, England, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Wales.
During a race, West is hooked into the online chat with the team manager, similar to the support car in real racing. He has a fan set up to keep him cool.
Most of the races are one-day events, but some are multi-day races.
Many of the top online riders are converts from the road like him.
The Covid-19 lockdown has also helped the cause.
“When I started racing at the start of 2019 I would be looking at a race of 30 riders and thought, ‘this is a decent event.’ Now a good event can have up to 500 riders.”
Pro races have prize money, but there aren’t professional contracts yet.
West, who works at the bike store MyRide in Palmerston North, races twice a week and does all this training in his garage, mainly in the evenings.
Many of the races are short 40-minute events, similar to racing on street circuits.
West said it was more intense than general road cycling and required a different fitness.
“After six hours on the road you feel lifeless. With online racing it’s higher intensity.
“You’re more sore, but not as tired.”
Zwift, which is based in California, is used by professionals and novices.