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How's It Working Out?: Road Grand Tours

This week, I installed and rode several times on the virtual cycling platform, Road Grand Tours. It is a free for now in beta platform that delivers great graphics and seems to put a Zwift-like experience on top of some of the world's most iconic climbs and courses. But once you use it, does it stack up to Zwift?

I rode five of the RGT courses this week, and had a few distinct impressions. The hilly courses like Cap Formentor (Majorca) and Pienza (Italy) are great. If I wanted to do a solid sweet spot hour on the bike, these would be (and will be) my go to activities. You can do the Cap climb in about an hour and the Pienza gravel climb twice in an hour.

Cap Formentor is a nice 12 mile course with lots up up. 1700 feet of elevation give you a nice work out in 60 minutes or less. There is a little downhill, too, but I liked that it allowed me to hop on and warm-up as I headed to the lighthouse at the top.

This is the kind of hour I like to spend on the bike where I can ride freely, not in erg mode. I like that that the course forces me to work hard and do some intensity. It is not a total killer, but my IF was .84, so I worked relatively hard. Also, the graphics and scenery looked great.

Pienza was the same. It was a little shorter, but had a nice mix of punchy climbs and fast descents on gravel roads. It was a unique looking course that is nothing like Zwift has in its graphical arsenal. I was liking the graphics and mixed terrain quite a bit as I spent a lap on it today. It reminded me of Strade Bianche, the beautiful and challenging Italian road race. Pienza covers 1050' in 8.7 miles, but definitely works the legs differently than the longer steadier Cap Formentor course.

While both of these are a hit, I think that the short courses are where RGT falls apart for me. The 8Bar and the Canary Wharf courses are relatively flat, which is what I need for lots of my trainer miles. However, their brevity is what causes me a bit of angst. They are boring. The graphics and game feel are good, but the lack of other players and social feel are deal breakers for me.

Today, I spent five to ten minutes in a Zwift Pack ride after logging out of RGT, and it just hit all the right buttons: real people, the longer Watopia course, and graphics that are a nice blend of gameplay and system efficiency. Zwift lacks a little of the graphics detail, but the laptop runs great when it is on, and the gameplay is fantastic.

I feel like I personally cannot use RGT for a flat recovery or long slow distance type ride. So many of the miles we put in during the winter are either base or workout type miles. If RGT wants to compete with Zwift once it becomes a paid not in beta program, it will have to add workouts and variety in its course offerings. We will need the ability to have RGT control our smart trainers in workout mode, and we need longer flat roads to do it on.

The other short course on the Paterberg was a little too intense. In short, pun intended, the short course are lacking. The flat ones are too short, and the Paterberg is too "hill intervally." This might be great at certain times of the year, but it cause me to not look at RGT for just normal everyday trainer rides.

Until then, I see RGT as clearly being useful in two ways for me. One, it will provide nice hour long or longer climbing sessions for when I really wanna work the legs. I think it works great for climbing, and I bet its Alp-like courses (Stelvio and Ventoux) are as good as Cap Formentor or Pienza. Second, it will be a great tool in the summer when people cancel Zwift and need to get in a ride or two in bad weather. Since Zwift doesn't offer a discount for annual purchase of a subscription, I will surely be canceling mine in the summer and use RGT for free while it lasts. You would be crazy not to.

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