Road Cycling

How Zwift Empowered a Former Competitive Cyclist to Get Back to Racing – Bicycling

Indoor cycling is not what is used to be. Gone are the days of stationary riding monotony, biding your time staring at the floor, the wall, or worse—the clock. We’ve entered the era of smart trainers, online training platforms, virtual riding, and virtual racing.

Now, it’s even engaging—and dare we say, authentic—enough to bring a former competitive cyclist back to the sport.

Stephanie Ossenbrink, of Kamloops, British Columbia, began competing as a teenager, and went on to represent Canada at the junior world championships. She met her husband, Björn Ossenbrink—who was also a competitive cyclist—as part of the same cycling program at Midwestern State University in Texas.

After they started their family five years ago, Ossenbrink, now 41, set aside her road bike. Two years after that, they had their second child.

The demands of motherhood and work prevented her from pursuing cycling like she had in the past. Then, in November of 2017, her husband suggested she try out this “online bike game” called Zwift. And she was hooked.

The Ossenbrinks ended up transforming their basement into a virtual riding oasis. You’ll find their smart trainers and bikes set up side by side, facing a 250-inch screen for displaying their Zwift rides. They’ll share the same screen if they’re racing each other, but they can also split it down the middle if they decide to do separate workouts.

Zwift-themed “date nights” have become a regular occurrence. After putting the kids to bed at 8 p.m., they’ll head downstairs to race each other.

While you admittedly don’t use your bike handling skills (yet), for Ossenbrink, the key benefit of virtual riding is that you can do it any time of the day: “What better way than to ride any time of day and be safe at it?” she told Bicycling.

Bjorn Ossenbrink

But she’s also grown to love virtual riding for its community. Ossenbrink is on a Zwift team; the other women are so supportive, she says, and some of them even get together in real life. Meanwhile, ; along with coaching his wife, he coaches a virtual racing team featuring riders from all over the world. The nature of the platform allows them both to connect with other riders, regardless of distance.

Shortly after she became hooked on virtual riding, Zwift held its first national championships. Ossenbrink decided to compete, but didn’t do as well as she’d hoped.

“I was not as fit and very overweight. I came in 24th place and got left in the dust,” Ossenbrink said. “That made me mad and made me want to train even more.”

And that’s exactly what she did. Less than a year after incorporating Zwift into her life and exercising regularly again, Ossenbrink found herself 55 pounds lighter—weight that she had gained from her second pregnancy. “I feel like me again,” she said. “Zwift allowed me to get back into decent shape and start racing.”

When the were held this year on February 24, Ossenbrink was ready. She found herself up against some tough competition too, including a slew of Category 1 racers and two-time cross-country mountain bike world champion and bronze-medal Olympian (and fellow Kamloops native) .

It was a 90-minute, 60K race in Watopia, on a figure-eight circuit.

“I just kinda rode the race like how you would in a road race, and went with all the attacks on the hills,” Ossenbrink said. “About 3K to go, somebody attacked and I was dead. But my husband encouraged me, and my friend was in my earbuds talking, helping; they said, ‘Just dig, just dig.’”

Ossenbrink dug, tapping into her old sprinting legs, and won.

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While some cyclists still shudder at the thought of being relegated to riding indoors, Ossenbrink has embraced it fully. For her, virtual riding is a kind of freedom, allowing her to ride whenever, increasingly wherever (as more routes become available), and with whomever, all while still devoting time to her family and work.

“It brought back my love of competitive cycling,” she said.

And now that her kids are getting older, they’re joining in on the fun, too. Their daughter loves hopping on her own trainer for some quality ride time with mom, while Ossenbrink warms up for whatever virtual road she chooses next.