What it takes to win the Zwift Academy

We caught up with Alex Bogna's coach to find out what sets the 19-year-old Zwift Academy winner apart.

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Earlier this week Zwift announced that 19-year-old Australian Alex Bogna had won the men’s Zwift Academy competition for 2021, joining the women’s winner – Dutchwoman Maud Oudeman – in securing a professional contract for next year.

Over the course of several months, Bogna had battled it out against tens of thousands of fellow hopefuls, before ultimately taking down the entire competition in the finals in Mallorca. As a result, he’ll race with Alpecin-Fenix in 2022, joining last year’s winner and fellow Australia Jay Vine on the Belgian-registered ProTeam.

Bogna, who currently races with Australian Continental team ARA Pro Cycling Sunshine Coast, has only been riding a bike for the past five years. Until now, he’s been a virtual unknown, even in the Australian cycling scene. His ProCyclingStats page shows just one result: 35th in the U23 men’s road race at this year’s Australian Road Nationals.

So what sort of rider is Alex Bogna? And what is it about him that helped him to victory in the Zwift Academy competition? To find out, we asked his coach Jakub Novak, head coach at ProCyclingCoaching, and a former professional cyclist himself.

CyclingTips: What is it about Alex that makes him stand out? What’s he particularly good at?

Jakub Novak: Since I started working with him when he was just 17 years old, Alex was already showing potential, which I haven’t seen in any other young rider so far. All his numbers were just different for a rider at his age. 

I think what distinguishes him the most physically from other cyclists is his ability to recover from day-to-day. For example, Alex has been doing two hard sessions (equal to +250 TSS), and [on the] third day, where other cyclists show signs of fatigue, he would still be fresh enough to complete the required training.

This ability compounded/accelerated his fitness growth, and enabled him to have better power numbers than most riders at his age. 

In the past year, I was often wondering if Alex’s power meter is calibrated, because even when I was in the WorldTour BMC Racing Team, I never had numbers like him, let alone at his age. 

[Novak isn’t able to provide Bogna’s specific power numbers for confidentiality reasons, but he did point us towards Bogna’s effort on the famous Sa Calobra climb in Mallorca, on the fourth day of the Zwift Academy finals. Bogna’s time for the segment was the same as Vuelta a España winner Simon Yates’s PB (fourth on Strava).]

What sort of rider can we expect Alex to be?

Alex is currently looking to develop into a specialist for stage races with longer hills. However he is only 19 years old, therefore can develop his explosivity and short-term power and could also become a rider for hilly classics like Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

In 2022 and 2023 I think he will be an exceptional domestique in the hills for his teammate, GC rider Jay Vine.

How would you expect him to improve in the years to come?

Alex’s biggest room for improvement is in racing tactics and bunch skills. Because of his young age and the lockdown due to pandemics in Australia, he hasn’t been doing many races, so I expect him to improve the most in these areas.

I hope he will have a chance to race in the U23 category and compete at Tour de l’Avenir and other major U23 races so he can improve on this. I hope the [Australian] national team will give him chance to participate in these races!

What sort of progression have you seen in Alex since you started working with him?

We started working together when he was 17. At the start, Alex’s baseline VO2max was already at a very high level, so you can’t really go much higher than that. But for the past three years, he improved his threshold power by roughly 11% per year on average. He similarly improved other aspects, such as aerobic power, strength, fatigue resistance, and cadence.

Cadence was probably something we needed to work on the most in 2021 because as you could see with Sam Hill (another finalist at the Zwift Academy), lower cadence will damage and make muscles tired more rapidly, and you also have a higher risk for cramping. 

Since the beginning, Alex always had an exceptional ability to recover, but this doesn’t mean he couldn’t improve. Basic things like stretching, nutrition, yoga, core training, and other tools were implemented into his daily regime. You need to live like a cyclist even outside of training, and Alex understands that. 

What else should people know about Alex?

Alex is a very motivated individual, and he likes to work hard and suffer, which is a really important quality in a great bike rider. He is easy-going, always curious, and asks questions. I think he has what it takes to be a great bike rider. 

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