The races, a combination of flat, hilly and mountain profiles, will take place on the ROUVY platform and will be broadcast and streamed live around the world. The series is a collaboration between Velon and the organisers of the Tour de Suisse together with the ROUVY Indoor Cycling Reality platform. The races will take place with real video footage of roads used in the Tour de Suisse as the backdrop. The riders, three per team, will be represented by avatars dressed in their team uniforms and riding their familiar team bikes. Each team’s line-up can change from race to race to reflect the different routes. Please find below the three interviews conducted by Velon with Sport Directors who are managing their teams’ participation in The Digital Swiss 5.
Tom Southam, DS, EF Pro Cycling
From a sports director’s point of view, how are The Digital Swiss 5 races different compared to normal outdoor races?
For a traditional race, you look at the parcours, you look at the teams and at who’s going to do what and where but this kind of racing is much more specific to the efforts the riders are going to be doing. I recently went on the ROUVY app to try to get a feel for it because, basically, I have to rethink the advice that I can give the riders. Everything I normally do, doesn’t really matter now.
What does that mean in terms of team tactics?
That’s going to be interesting to see because I know how things normally are on other kinds of platforms, where it starts off really fast and you can draft and such. On ROUVY there is no draft so it’s quite pure in terms of the effort you can do is the effort you can do with no draft factor. For example, I can’t see how one rider from a team can help another one during a race. I think it’s going to be more of an individual effort and that tactics will come from the visual motivation you get, like: “Okay, I’m close to this rider, and I can get past him if I just push a bit harder”. Or from knowing that the climb is x km long and that “I can hold this effort until this point and that might be good enough because people around me has gone too fast too early”. I think you really have to control and be conscious of your physical abilities and limits. You can’t lie in these races and you can’t hide. You can only do what you can do.
Will you be in contact with the riders?
I’m still designing how this will work from my perspective as I’ve never done anything like this. I’d like to be in touch before and after for encouragement’s sake. We have selected a good amount of riders who can’t get outside; we are trying to give them some sort of focus and motivation in a difficult time. Therefore, the more contact we can have, the more the riders can speak to each other and I can speak to the riders, the better. Just so you still feel like you’re part of the team. That’s going to be important for these guys to get through this difficult period. When cycling restarts again, you want to have this as a positive thing you did in the meantime.
How have the riders prepared for these races?
The guys on home trainers are doing quite a bit of indoor racing anyway so they have a good sense of it by now. It’s a constant effort as you don’t stop pedaling. Some guys are more used to that than others as you have to recover while you’re still riding. Also, this is not like a media thing. It’s a real race. Usually, the riders are happy just to ride along on the other platforms with the fans but this is different. They are all competitive and you can see the nerves a bit more now because deep down they all want to compete. It’s also different when it’s me, the DS, contacting the riders. Then they know it’s a real race. The guys may even be over-prepared as this is such an honest way to race and nobody wants to come in under-prepared.
Why should the fans tune in to watch The Digital Swiss 5?
I think everybody’s hungry for racing now. It’s a different kind of racing but the guys are working flat out to be ready to race and it’s amazingly a pretty accurate representation of the sport. I mean, five years ago, we couldn’t have done this in the same situation. I think that everybody just needs to embrace that things have changed and this is the way we can see competition right now. It’s helping everybody. It’s helping the riders, the teams and I can only see this as something positive for the sport. Hopefully the fans will see the same. We are not trying to say that this is Tour de Suisse and it’s not like people will never go outside to ride their bikes again but this is what we have now and I think it’s well worth getting behind.
Grischa Niermann, DS, Team Jumbo-Visma
How do you select the riders for this kind of racing?
We all know that these races are very important for our sponsors during these days, so everybody is really motivated to ride. We have a quite a few riders in altitude in Andorra, who will be racing, and they are just sitting on the rollers every day as they can’t go outside. They need some distraction. From a pure sporting point, I wouldn’t have selected them because they are sitting in 1800 meters altitude and therefore won’t have as good chances of winning as somebody sitting at sea level. But on the other hand, it’s very good to get them engaged and have them racing again. Of course, it’s important to win but it’s also important to get the team together – even if it’s online – to have a common goal to look forward to in these challenging times.
Are the riders doing any specific training?
Well, the guys in Andorra for example, who have to stay inside, are already very much into one-hour racing from all the time they spend on the rollers and the other riders also know this kind of effort well. Riding one hour at your threshold level is very good training and something you will do for an uphill finish or something like that. However, it’s important to remember that indoor racing is very different compared to normal outdoor racing. It’s a completely different effort. It’s more like a criterium style. It’s going to come down to pure power as it’s all about watts per kilo and how you pace your efforts.
How much contact will you have with the riders as DS?
Leading up to the races, we will be in contact a lot with all the riders we have lining up and then, after the first one, we will see what is actually possible to do in terms of team tactics. During the races, if somebody is standing next to the riders, of course I can call that person or send a text message but I think the races will be so intense that there be won’t much time for that.
What can the fans expect from The Digital Swiss 5?
This is real racing and it’s going to be intense. I think it will be quite fun for the fans to watch these races as you see the faces of the guys riding and suffering on the rollers. A lot of fans out there may have been on the rollers themselves during this lockdown period, taking part in races on different platforms, so for them, it will be nice to see how the pros compete in this climate. It’s also a short race, so you don’t have to watch for five hours. These Digital Swiss 5 races are going to require quite an effort from the guys.
Grégory Rast, DS, Trek-Segafredo
How does the team prepare for these races?
It’s a bit different for each rider at the moment. Some riders are still allowed to ride outside while some aren’t. For those riding outside, it’s not too much of a difference, only that they don’t have any races at the moment. But for the others guys, it’s mentally more challenging having to stay inside. It’s a bit of a nightmare for those guys really, so we try to keep them motivated on the rollers. At least, they will be used to their indoor trainers when taking on The Digital Swiss 5 races.
Mentally, how do you set up the riders to race indoors?
Honestly, it all has to do with the riders’ own motivation. As a team, we will, of course, take this seriously and we also have some very strong riders taking part in these races. For somebody like Bauke [Mollema] though, it doesn’t really matter if it’s a real road race or this kind of indoor racing, he will just go really hard the whole time. We will do our best to keep motivating our guys to train but for something like this, in these times, I think it’s all about motivation. For the riders still allowed to ride outside in the sun, it may be a bit difficult having to stay inside and race now - and a rider like Mads [Pedersen] might find it hard to be on the rollers at home looking at the beautiful weather outside.
Is it possible to have any tactics for these races?
Without drafting, it will be more like a time trial, I think. However, I watched the Virtual Tour of Flanders and even with drafting, they still went flat out for an hour. When you see the numbers afterwards, you realize how hard that race actually was. It’s not like a typical road race where the beginning is hard, then it’s easy and then it’s hard again at the end. Since this is just one hour, it will be full on the whole time. I don’t think the riders will be able to say much.
Why should the fans tune in to watch The Digital Swiss 5?
I think it will be very interesting to watch the riders go hard for a full hour. It’s not like they can take it easy until the last climb for example. In these races, they will go flat out the whole time. It’s pure power, it’s entertaining and it’s definitely better than no racing at all. Of course, everybody wants outdoor racing to come back soon but for the moment, this is what we can do and I hope the fans will enjoy it.
Velon offers unrivalled access to the best professional cycling teams in the world. Velon is owned by: BORA-hansgrohe; CCC Team; Deceuninck - Quick-Step Team; EF Pro Cycling; Lotto Soudal; Mitchelton-SCOTT; Team INEOS; Team Jumbo-Visma; Team Sunweb; Trek-Segafredo; UAE Team Emirates. Velon - from the teams to the fans.
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