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Danish ultracyclist completes 5,000km virtual Race Across America - in a shopping centre on Zwift

Michael Knudsen got by on 3-4 hours' sleep a night and burned 7,000 calories a day...

Danish ultracyclist Michael Knudsen has completed a virtual 5,000 km ride on Zwift as he prepares to take on next year’s Race Across America – and all without leaving the confines of a Copenhagen shopping centre.

The feat, which sets a new Zwift distance record, took him 10 days to complete, with Knudsen getting by on between three and four hours sleep a night on a mattress next to his bike at Fields Shopping, one of the biggest shopping centres in Scandinavia.

Afterwards, Knudsen told road.cc about the biggest obstacles he had faced during the challenge, as well as the coolest things he experienced over the 10 days he spent riding in Zwift’s virtual world, Watopia, where he was joined by other members of the online community as news of his exploit spread.

“Being in a mall for 10 days straight is something really crazy,” he said. “I think it’s difficult for people to truly understand the level of stress you put your body and mind under in such circumstances.

“For 240 hours I didn’t breathe fresh air. I didn’t see the sky. I lived and slept in an air-con environment surrounded by people.

“At night I had to put up with music, and a massive amount of draughts which caused my throat to mess up.

“To sit on a home trainer for so many hours with so limited movement is a huge stress factor for the body.

“My daily routine was to set the alarm for around 04:30 am,” he continued. “Pack my bed away and get on the bike.

“I was then on the bike the entire day save for when I had to walk the 100 metres down to the toilet and hope it was not being cleaned which then meant I had to go to the second floor.”

As for the positives? “To see how the entire Zwift community came together and joined me on this epic adventure, and to hear stories from people who rode their longest rides, who had their biggest weekly mileage – people who challenged each other to push for more miles and so forth,” he said.

“I was basically never alone in Zwift during the entire ride. People got up in the morning and rode with me and people stayed up late.

“An entire school class of kids came out on day 4 and cheered on me which really boosted my mood,” he continued.

“It was cool to see how the body reacted to all the stress and all the uncontrollable elements in the shopping mall.

“It was of course also nice to set the distance record on Zwift, but the goal was more to do a cool PR event and encourage a lot of people than to set a record.”

Knudsen acknowledged that riding 5,000 km on Zwift is nothing like the challenge he will face next summer when he takes on the Race Across America for real, crossing the United States from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “They are not comparable and shouldn’t be. On Zwift I can draft and I’m shielded from the elements inside.

“On the other hand, being inside a shopping mall non-stop for 10 straight days, not seeing the sky, not breathing fresh air, looking at the same TV screen for 240 hours is a mental challenge which is really hard to truly understand without trying it.”

In all, he rode 5,011 km, spending between 16 and 17 hours on the bike daily and burning 7,000 calories and drinking around 6 litres of liquid each day.

For hydration, he drank coffee, energy drinks, protein drinks, sports drinks, electrolyte drinks, meal replacement drinks, chocolate milk, fruit smoothies and soda.

Food, meanwhile, was a mix of normal sports nutrition foods, Nutella or jam sandwiches, pastries, pasta and pizza, chocolate – Snickers seems to be a particular favourite – ice cream and bananas.

“Save for one situation I never felt in energy deficit during the whole event and felt we were on top of both nutrition and hydration,” he added.

Knudsen said that both he and his wife Kathrin were “super happy with the way the event went down but are also happy it’s over. And I’m really happy to be back sleeping in my own bed.”

He added: “The plan was never to kill the body totally like you do at RAAM since I don’t want a two-month recovery period. I paced this event perfectly and will be back training after the weekend.”

The Dane undertook a similar PR stunt-cum-training ride in 2017, ahead of finishing second in that year’s 9,100-km Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme.

He spent a week virtually riding the combined elevation of the highest peak on each continent – a total elevation gain of more than 40,000 metres.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.