Zwift Academy Road 2021 has been particularly good. The structured training sessions have been tough and sometimes painful to complete, but they’ve left me with a sense of accomplishment. It has also made me realise that I don’t do enough structured workouts, which really stretch me. So I decided to build a structured training session into my weekly riding, and this is where I discovered Le Col Workout Sessions with Chris Opie.
A Bit Special
The first session that I joined was called Le Col Workout Sessions Weekend Tune Up Ramps and was on a Friday at 8:10AM CEST. Having completed the Zwift Academy structured training sessions, I was expecting much the same, simply another automated session. However, I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to see that this was not a “copy and paste” of that format. Yes, there was the structured timed sections of the ride, controlling your power, but this ride was actually being led by Chris Opie, an ex-professional cyclist and former presenter with Global Cycling Network (GCN). Chris spent the entire session coaching and genuinely engaging with people.
This was new to me and different. The closest similar experience I’ve had was in June when the Olympic Virtual Series training sessions were hosted and Sir Chris Hoy led one. That wasn’t really coaching, more a training session with Sir Chris Hoy where people asked him questions about his Olympic glories.
However, this session with Chris Opie was planned coaching and it became clear very early on through the onscreen chat that a training community was established and Chris was leading familiar Zwifters through a well-structured and fun session. I joined in and by the end, I was asking Chris if he would care to catch up on the roads of Watopia and chat more about what he and Le Col are doing.
About Chris Opie
For those of you that are not familiar with Chris, he is a British ex-professional cyclist who recently retired from the Saint Piran Pro Cycling Team, who are a British UCI Continental cycling team based in the region of Cornwall in southwest England. Chris had to retire suddenly from the sport in May 2018 following the bankruptcy of one of the team sponsors which led to a halving of riders’ salaries. This resulted in Chris working for Global Cycling Network (GCN) which as you probably know is a hugely popular cycling-related YouTube channel that was launched in 2013.
The desire to race still pulled at Chris, and he still had good legs (as proved to him whilst undertaking a racing challenge on Zwift for GCN) so he decided to return to racing with Saint Piran. Sadly, his racing schedule was compromised by the global pandemic and only as recently as July, Chris has decided to retire from racing. He now dedicates more time to enjoying training towards events and putting his energy into family life, working for Le Col (more on them later), and not hurting himself too much on the bike!
Interestingly, in preparation for catching up with Chris, I asked the Zwift community what questions I could ask him and the first question was “Would you attempt another World Record on the Penny Farthing?” For those of you that don’t know, Chris holds the World Hour Record on a Penny Farthing. His response was “Only if someone breaks the record – it’s so scary and so painful!”
Who are Le Col?
Le Col is a premium cycling clothing brand that was created by Yanto Barker, a British former professional cyclist, in 2011 Their stated mission is to “Make the best performance kit to help you ride faster and further on every ride.”
Their products are worn in the pro peloton and Le Col previously sponsored the Bahrain McLaren Team. They had their own cycling team, Team Wiggins Le Col, in 2019 and their roster included Tom Pidcock, who went on to become the mountain bike Olympic Champion in Tokyo. They now even have their own esports team called The Wahoo Le Col E-Racing Team.
Le Col state that they have “one of the most sophisticated testing networks in cycling, thanks to the constant feedback and testing the Pro Teams provide, pushing the kit as fast and far as any cyclist can go.”
They are able to make enhancements to their clothing designs very quickly because they manufacture the clothing themselves, having purchased a factory in Italy, which allows them to control the end-to-end design and production of their products.
Cycling legend Sir Bradly Wiggins even has his own line of products by Le Col. He noted “I wanted to create a range of cycling kit that captured my cycling world, so I partnered with Le Col, who make the best technical kit on the market, and then added my personal style.”
They offer a range of products. The three signature collections include:
- The Hors Categorie Collection delivers comfort and performance due to breathable and luxurious fabrics and feature-filled assembly
- The Pro Collection is designed with speed in mind and is form-fitting, aero-dynamic and designed let you breathe as the intensity of your effort increases
- The Sport Collection combines function with comfort and is ideal for intense training and dedicated club rides.
In addition to these lines of clothing, Le Col developed clothing specifically for indoor cycling in partnership with Wahoo. With Wahoo’s market knowledge and access to levels of data, Wahoo were able to create kit that has been refined for riding, racing, and training indoors. (Unfortunately, it appears this line is out of stuck currently.)
Le Col are a progressive company, and their foresight with establishing a brand presence on Zwift, including having their own esports racing team, is to be admired. They’re moving from just being a clothing manufacturer to creating a cycling community of their own within Zwift.
Le Col’s Training Sessions and Zwift
Chris’ role is a Community Coach and he has the responsibility of organising and hosting all of the Le Col training sessions on Zwift. He has been in this role since February and has watched as the community has grown. He explained to me that each event has a purpose and each is specifically tailored. There are three key weekly events…
Le Col Social Recovery Sessions are hosted on a Monday evenings at 7:10PM CEST. This is a socially paced group ride, with a pace of 1-2 W/KG. The objective is to stay below 2.5 W/KG as this is a recovery ride. Chris noted that it’s “important to ride slow to recover” – which is something I am trying to learn to do.
Chris explained that he has developed all the material that can be read on Zwift about the sessions and to use his own words to explain the Monday session, “Think of this as the ultimate virtual bike ride, where you can ride along, pop your questions on screen, have them answered via our livestream, and listen to the same playlist as everyone else.”
Le Col Workout Sessions Wednesday Kickstart are early morning sessions hosted at 8:10AM CEST and a cross between a spin class and your more traditional cycling interval session. During the winter months in the Northern Hemisphere, this event reverts to an evening timeslot.
The purpose is to keep the event dynamic, ensuring there is group interaction between sets. Chris explained that this session “blurs the lines between the entertainment of a spin class and the fitness of cycle training.” The purpose of these sessions is to break up the intensity and the sessions are more VO2 focussed. Chris encourages people to change the intensity of the trainer via the Companion app to tailor it to their needs, appreciating that some days we simply feel better than others. He noted that often people can get caught up and push each other.
These sessions are planned well in advance, and Chris explained that they can take easily half a day’s worth of work to design and get uploaded into Zwift’s system with the correct prompts and timings. This is something that the user community doesn’t get to see. The events often mimic major cycling events that may be going on at the time. For example in April, to mirror explosive Spring Classics races, short, hard intervals were built into the sessions to replicate the efforts of the professional cyclists.
Le Col Workout Sessions Weekend Tune Up Ramps are another early morning session each Friday at 8:10AM CEST. This is designed to activate the legs for an event you may be undertaking at the weekend. It’s not a maximum effort interval session, but if you adjust the difficulty settings on the Companion app, you can have a solid workout. As this is not a maximum effort, it provides Chris an opportunity to talk through the mechanics of training and field any questions that you may have, making this event ideal for newcomers. With a lifetime of cycling and racing experience, Chris is a very helpful host. He said, “We are here to train with you and we have a way of coaching people and highlighting that exercise is enjoyable.”
More About the Events
The training events are all livestreamed on Le Col’s YouTube channel so you can watch Chris live whilst simultaneously cycling along with him. Chris’ sessions are actually unique in the sense that they are all undertaken in a specific studio that has been designed and fully kicked-out with technology to stream these sessions live, including a beautiful KICKR Bike for Chris.
The rides have developed a core following and therefore buck the trend of many events seeing fewer attendees during the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere. Sometimes substitute ride leaders step in, as when Chris took a much-needed vacation, in August. During that time, Jon Warner and Stephen Fisher led the sessions with such professionalism that John was given the nickname “Jon BOT”.
It’s this community that Chris has fostered over the last 9 months that he is really proud of. He told me, “leading rides is the most positive thing, it’s a positive way of sharing your time with people and it’s a healthy way too.”
It’s something that Le Col is also proud of and has a dedicated part of their website to promote their contribution to Zwift.
Like their clothing line, Le Col are always looking to raise the standard. Chris was able to give me a bit of insider information with a tease that there is a big event planned for the start of November which will span two weeks. Watch Zwift Insider for more info on this once it’s available!
If you are interested in joining a developing community that sees regular riders return week-on-week, and would like some structured coaching, then it certainly is worth attending these sessions. If you complete just one event, you unlock a really nice Le Col jersey that you can wear with pride in Watopia and that alone is worth coming and completing a session!