Doing More With Less Since 1972

Category: Cycling (Page 1 of 7)

Six Gap 2021 Race Report…AND SHOWERS!

Before I get into the actual race, I’m going to take a moment to recognize the organizers of this event and the people of North Georgia. This was an amazing experience–start to finish. Everything was well organized, ran on time, plenty of options and amounts of food/drink at the SAGs, lots of friendly and helpful volunteers, law enforcement assistance at the turns and helping tamp down the speeding vehicles, etc. Well done!

This is the first endurance event I’ve ever participated in that had showers available at the finish. This was an amazing amenity, and it sets the bar pretty high. I’ve had some great showers in my time, and this one was right up there with the best. It changed my day post-race for sure.

The “Why”

My co-worker Dallas has been gently pushing this ride on me for about 5 years–the whole time I’ve known him. For most of that time I didn’t even own a road bike. But when my friend Bill died in July 2020 his wife Stacey wanted me to have his bike. I was reluctant, but Dallas was the one who convinced me that taking it was the right thing to do. He also reminded me that Bill would love for me to ride, not just store bikes.

Bill and Stacey lived in Cumming, Georgia for many years, and Bill loved riding the roads in the Helen/Dahlonega area.

He bought this bike to ride these roads. It was the bike’s purpose.

Dallas’s wife made some cool decals for me to add to the bike right after I got it. As its new owner, I thought it would be really cool and meaningful to take it back to where it belonged and where he loved to be.

So…this one was for Tiny.

Scott Adcox and Bill McArthur New Orleans 2014

The Posse

I did this event with a mix of people I know and people they know. Primo Juan came down from Louisville to do the ride, and I can’t thank him enough for driving his vehicle and, more importantly, doing a lot of shepherding for me during the race. I’m not super-experienced in big group rides, and he did a great job at the start especially of keeping us in safe and fast lines. He picked out good groups for us to stick with and kept the pace fast and easy at the same time.

His ability to climb is inspirational. We have dubbed him “El Chivo”.

Dallas drove up from Florida with his friend Dave as well. As I said, a lot of the the credit (blame?) goes to Dallas for convincing me to do this race. It was really cool to get to start the ride with him. I think we were together for the first five miles or so.

Justin is a co-worker and training partner from back in the day, and he was in with his brother-in-law Todd. I’ve done a few rides with these guys since we got up to Tennessee, and they are both my kind of people. Was so happy to get to share this experience with such a fine group.

Check In/Expo

Nothing to say other than “super smooth”. Drive through check in!!!! Of course we got out and walked around the expo, but if all you wanted was a race packet, it could not have been easier.

Justin and Todd were picking up packets at the same time, and we decided to go on an easy 10 mile ride just to work the car ride out of our legs. It was really nice, but also a little jolting to see that the rollers start right out of the gate. And they are there at the end. Sunday was going to be a tough day.

Race Day Logistics

I was a little late booking a hotel room, and Juan and I ended up staying about an hour away in Jasper. It was worth the drive, because we had some amazing barbecue the night before.

We woke up at 5:00 am and arrived at Lumpkin County High School at 6:30 after a coffee stop. We wanted to get a spot in the main lot, and luckily we were one of the last 10 or so cars that made it. We had plenty of time to relax and prepare for the start, and we met up with Dallas and Dave at the queue. We weren’t sure where Justin and Todd were at that point. As I said, really enjoyed getting to start the race with Dallas–he’s a big reason I was doing this ride in the first place, and almost all of my outdoor riding this year has been with him.

The energy at the start felt a lot like a triathlon start to me with one exception–even though there was the same nervousness in the air, there wasn’t a competitive vibe going on at all. Maybe up front it was different, but our spot in the queue was just nervous, but friendly. That changed later…I’ll get to it.

Summary – Ride Plan and Execution

Six Gap Elevation Profile

Spoiler alert: I’m really happy with my execution for the entire race. One thing I like about cycling, especially with the trainer, is the amount of data you are able to collect for planning. You can’t control things like temperature and wind on race day, but my goal is to have so much data before the race starts that I can develop a plan based on things I can control, like what cadence I want to ride at, what I’m willing to let my heart rate get to, and how much power I’m going to produce.

I don’t have a power meter on my bike, so that’s a little tougher to gauge when I’m not on the trainer, but I’d calculated a couple of months ago that I should be able to average 180 watts for an effort of 7-8 hours, and my Strava estimated power for this ride ended up being 188. Spot on. I’ll take it.

But without a power meter, this ride was going to be all about heart rate management. The plan was to finish overall with an average of Zone 3 (143-154). In order to accomplish this I wanted to keep my HR really low at the start, keep it under 160 for most of the climbs, and allow myself to get closer to red lining on Hogpen Gap and Wolfpen Gap–what I’d estimated to be the toughest climbs. I know from doing a bunch of races on Zwift that I can maintain that high Zone 4, low Zone 5 heart rate for at least 30 minutes. I also know how I feel after doing that, and I wanted to avoid that feeling. I ended up averaging 144 for the ride. That’s on the low side of the range, but I’ll take it based on the last third of the ride. That was the toughest portion to manage, at least for me.

The Details – Start Through Hogpen

I think thirds is the best way to break this down–not 1/3 distance necessarily, but three separate sections. At least that’s how I had broken it down in my plan. For me, the first third ended at the Hogpen descent. I’d game-planned this ride assuming I’d be solo or close to it the whole way. Juan gave me some really solid info around the bunches of riders early on and that minutes could be banked here with minimal effort. The Neel’s Gap climb started at around 20 miles in, and I hit that with an average HR of 130. NICE! Bonus was that we were averaging 17.7 mph at this point. Lots of speed with little effort.

I haven’t climbed any of these before, but Justin’s recon gave me the knowledge that I’d done a climb very similar to Neel’s many times before. I really kept myself in check on this first climb–HR average was 143. The cool temps helped a lot, along with the really nice jersey Juan gave me that zipped all the way down. Was feeling great at the top, and the descent was so much fun!

That left us a little break before Hogpen. The plan here was to put in a little bit harder effort, but nothing too out of control. I was going to have to use all my gears on this one, and I knew it was going to be a solid 30 minutes of climbing. I can’t emphasize enough how much all those trips up the Alpe du Zwift prepared me for this climb. It takes me 75+ minutes to do the ADZ, and that makes Hogpen seem pretty manageable. I put in the effort I wanted–156 BPM average, and solidly in the 160s for the second half of the climb, which is steeper.

Juan and I had picked up Justin along the way, and we had a chance at the top to reload on goodies and get some photos. I knew Juan and Justin were both a lot stronger riders than me, and I encouraged them to go on, but their plan was to stay conservative and together-ish until the last 25 miles or so.

“Tiny” Giant at the top of Hogpen Gap

At the summit, you could feel the mood had changed. The excitement and good humor in the air was palpable. We’d just completed what was technically the hardest climb of the day. Time to restock, get some photos, and have some fun descending into what was mentally going to be the toughest part of the day.

The Details–Middle Of The Race

Segment two was three gaps long–Unicoi, Jack’s, and Wolfpen. Unicoi was a pretty gentle climb. I saw Juan again at the top (Justin was steaming to the finish already), and I think this was the last time I saw him until the finish. I was feeling the beginnings of a cramp, and I took the time at the SAG to rub it out, stretch, and make sure I got everything I needed to finish the race.

I did get a little tripped up on Jack’s Gap, and was almost sucked into making a mistake. My Garmin 1030 registered 12 “climbs” on this course, but for some reason Jack’s Gap didn’t show up as a climb. I’m not sure why. I wasn’t sure where it started, but I knew (thought I knew) I wasn’t on it yet. This “climb that’s not a climb” seemed to go on forever, and it had me a little nervous about what was ahead. That was a little defeating. If this wasn’t a climb, I was going to be in big trouble when the actual climbing started, because this was not an easy haul.

I was a little worried.

It was only at the top when I saw a sign that I realized I’d reached the top of Jack’s Gap. I ended up averaging 155 and 153 BPM on Unicoi and Jack’s respectively. It was time for what I’d guessed would be the toughest climb of the day. Wolfpen isn’t as hard as Hogpen on paper, but we’d climbed Hogpen at around 35 miles in. Wolfpen was going to hit us at 70-something miles with at least one big climb and a few smaller ones already in our legs.

Wolfpen did not disappoint. Well, I guess it did–I was disappointed to be right about it. It was a dang tough climb. I’d planned to push a little on this one, and I did. Constant cadence, HR in the mid 160s for the last two thirds, and I knew that the race was mostly downhill from here. This last big push was probably responsible for the only real unexpected event of the day, which happened early in the last section of the race.

The Details – Wolfpen Descent to Finish

I felt really good at the top of Wolfpen, and the descent was another fun one. But I think my muscles cooled down a little too much while I was resting. As soon as the terrain leveled off again (at exactly mile 82), cramps started forming for real. The best decision I made all day was to get off the bike at a church parking lot to stretch and massage my legs. It was a good investment of time. I got back on the bike and felt good.

For exactly 5 miles.

Just before mile 87, the same thing was happening again. I took my time again…a little more time, and while I was stretching and massaging I realized the problem was the cooling of the muscles and that I could feel the issue most in right leg at the top of the stroke. So a little change in tactics for the finish–keep the legs moving as much as possible, even hitting some strokes now and then when descending, and don’t stop at the top of that stroke.

It paid off, and I’m glad I took the time to figure it out. I could feel a bit of a cramp every now and then, but I worked it out as best I could without stopping the machine from going forward. Woody’s Gap wasn’t too tough at all, even at this point of the ride.

The original plan was to ride as hard as possible from Wolfpen to the end. The plan was also to change the plan if the plan needed changing.

On that last big descent, I started piecing together what was going to come next. I knew I had the cramping issue going on, and as I tried to calculate about how much time was left to complete the last 18 miles, I was having trouble doing the math.

Now, I’m a math guy. You have to know this. And I have enough experience to know that when I’m having trouble doing math on a run or a ride, it’s a real sign of fatigue. So even though I felt pretty good I decided to be conservative–the cramp situation and the “can’t-do-simple-math” situation were signs that I needed to pay more attention to finishing than to the clock. It was a little frustrating to see groups go by me and know that I had the ability to run them down and finish with them, but…

Did I actually have the gas to run them down? Then what? Would I have enough to hang? If not, it would have been a waste. What if I had another cramp while putting in that effort and I had to get off the bike again?

I figured it was too much of a gamble for a very small potential payoff. I was really close to finishing, and getting into a group was going to save me a few minutes at best. And for what? Nope–I decided to play it safe, enjoy the scenery, and get home in a time that was way better than I’d been hoping for. I’d already secured what, for me, was going to be a great finish, and I wasn’t about to risk it.

So I rode the last 18 miles alone. Fitting, because I almost always ride alone. πŸ˜€

I will say that the rollers at the end were kinda brutal. I mean, not hard climbs at all, but I guess I had it in my head that you could climb the 6th gap and then just coast. It doesn’t work that way. LOL.

Still, I finished with a clock time of 7:32:xx, chip time of 7:27:xx, and a Strava moving time of 6:56:17. I was shooting for 8:00:00 as a chip time, and would have accepted that for a moving time, so needless to say, I was ecstatic with what I’d done.

Post Race

I coasted over to the car to find Juan sitting in a chair relaxing. I was pretty beat, and it was all I could do to remove some clothing and shoes and get my stuff together to go take a shower. As I said, that shower was amazing. Really hot water and great pressure–like a massage. Funny thing–I enjoyed that shower so much that I had a flash right in the middle of it that scared me to death. Was this real? I was scared I was about to wake up from a dream in our hotel room and have the entire ride ahead of me.

I also took Juan’s advice and applied the Inbike Amino Recovery salve we’d received at packet pickup. Amazing! I knew for sure I’d be cramping the whole way home and in bed that night, but this stuff fixed me up–absolutely no issues, which I didn’t think was possible after an effort like this. By the time I’d gotten dressed and had a few cups of sweet tea I was a new person–completely different demeanor when I got back to the car.

We got everything packed up for the trip home and headed into the school cafeteria where we saw Justin and Todd eating. It was great to share some time with them after the race. We also saw Dallas on the way out–he was waiting for Dave at the finish line.

My biggest worry was that we were all going to be doing this together but separate, and I’m really glad I got to spend some time off the bike with my friends at this event.

Wrap Up

Amazing event. I don’t know if I’ll ever do 6 Gap again, but 3 Gap is a definite possibility. I enjoy cycling, but not enough to let it take time away from other things like jiu jitsu (which I hope to start back soon) and even things like rock climbing. Three hours on the bike is enough for me, and I’d rather not have cycling training be my focus.

But I’m really glad I got to do this with some cool people.

Most importantly, I happy I got to honor my friend’s memory by riding his bike on the same roads he loved to ride. I’m sure that he was up there somewhere watching me suffer and laughing his butt off, not just in the race, but also in the training.

Bill was a guy who was always there to push you to be more than what you are today, and this ride pushed me for sure.

Six Gap Training – Home Stretch

Well, here we are just a few days away from Six Gap Century, and I’m writing my final update. As usual, I’m excelling at the taper part of the training program.

The move up to TN definitely caused a few ripples in my training for the final two weeks, but that’s ok. It also gave me a chance to get in a couple of confidence-boosting rides that make it easy to take my foot off the pedal.

The morning after we got here I met up with some former co-workers to put in a pretty tough ride on Foothills Parkway. One of the guys has done a good bit of Six Gap recon, and he lined us up a route that looked like a little mini version of what we’re facing in Dahlonega. It even had some extra juice squeezed in with the Sweetie Pie segment showing us something much steeper than we’ll be seeing on September 26.

This was the perfect ride at the perfect time. Temperatures were in the mid 50s at the start of a beautiful day that eventually reached 80 degrees. 8,500 ft of climbing in 63 miles made sure that there wasn’t much time for “just riding”. We were either climbing or focused on descending for most of the way. These long descents really gave me confidence–haven’t done them in quite a while–but also were the source of my soreness the next day. My lower back and neck aren’t used to being in that position for long periods of time, but I can deal with that on September 27.

The big piece of information I got on this ride was that my rig was set up correctly. I purchased a new cassette earlier this year in case I needed it. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find one with just a couple of weeks left, but I didn’t want to change it out until I knew I actually needed it. There were a couple of spots where I needed to stand and put in a hard effort on this ride, but I was able to comfortably spin most of it.

I got in a couple of Zwift rides during the next week, and there was plenty of exercise unloading trucks, carrying boxes, and building furniture, so the “rest” was pretty active. Then, last Saturday we went out to Tellico Plains and road the River Road at Cherohala Skyway in Cherokee National Forrest. This was a really cool ride– a really gentle 25 mile ascent with a big boy climb at the top. Once we were on the River Road section of this ride we saw less than a half dozen cars. It was another beautiful ride, and a real confidence builder.

From there, it was off to the bike shop for a tune up, and I’m hoping to get just a couple of gear check rides in between now and Sunday.

The final results aren’t in, but I’m really happy I chose to do most of my training on Zwift for this event. The lack of mountains, or even hills, in Florida is a tough obstacle to overcome unless you can go out and find spots with a good headwind. Zwift has plenty of virtual hills that work the same way as real hill–if you don’t keep pedaling, you stop going forward. That constant cadence required to finish a route is feeling like the most important aspect of training. I realized in the last couple of weeks that this event is about being able to spin your legs for 45 minutes to an hour without stopping while keeping your heart rate in check, then being able to recover and do it again and again.

The rides I’ve done in the past few weeks like Mega Pretzel and Four Horsemen lined me up for just that. As a bonus, I feel much better climbing real hills than virtual one. Not having to worry about where all that sweat is going to go, having something real to look at, having climbing partners to talk to…all of that should make Six Gap much more enjoyable than the training.

2021 Six Gap Training – Four Weeks Out

10.5 hours | 161 miles | 10,407 ft climb

We must undergo a hard winter training and not rush into things for which we haven’t prepared.

Epictetus

I tried to make it a pretty big week. We’re headed up to TN for a bit, and this coming week is going to be hectic. I’ll probably get to ride on Tuesday and Friday and Sunday for sure, but the other days are toss ups. So I need to make those three rides all matter–no junk miles. Friday is already planned to be a longish outside ride in the mountains of God’s country! Can’t wait!

So this was my last week of Zwift racing before Six Gap–time to buckle down, focus, and forget about 1 hour hard efforts for a few weeks. I did the last Zwift Classics race on Tuesday, and I thought I was really going to do well in this one. The London Classique course is set up perfectly for my size and riding style–big guy going a steady speed/effort the whole way. But for some reason I was feeling off–just couldn’t hang on after the second sprint effort. My HR never really recovered, and I was probably stupid for going for points there. That big-burst sprint is not what I’ve been training for. Again, I’m lucky that our boy Hal Wye posted this race. Wish I could have stayed with those boys the whole way!

And thanks to all of the fine folks who raced the Eastern European time zone this season. Huge turnout every week, which made for fast times. It was great to be able to hit these on my lunch break and never have to worry about being stuck out on a course alone for long. There’s always someone to ride with in Eastern Europe!

On Thursday, I was back at it with the Dirty Wattz for the ZRL Team Time Trial. We had some strong Bs in our squad this week, and I think I was in the front of the train for less than 2 minutes total. I was barely hanging on the whole time, even though I was being pulled and protected. I’m telling myself this is a good thing, because it means I’ve acclimated myself to longer but less intense efforts. One thing I’m encouraged by is the amount of time I’ve spent during this training with constant cadence. Even when I’m not on hills, I’m not taking a break from spinning (except on the downhills). The ability to spin for a long time should pay off on long climbs at Six Gap.

On the other hand, it was a really good course for me, and I struggled with it. I was definitely putting up bigger numbers in May on these TTTs, and I was heavier then. Robbie got a pretty good screencast of the first 20 minutes or so of this one before he peeled off–I love his setup.

I had zero left for the finish on this one. Again, telling myself this is a good thing, because it’s not what I’ve been training for. But the pace was hot, and the competition between the Dirty Wattz teams definitely fuels the fire.

I took Friday and Saturday off…sorta. I did jump on the bike briefly on Friday to knock out a really short ride with a 37 m climb so that I could finish off the Tron Bike. That sucker was painful to get, but I got it.

Though I prefer to ride long on Saturdays I bumped it to Sunday this week. I was dreading doing the Mega Pretzel, after bailing on it mid-ride a couple of weeks ago. But this one had to be done. No Radio Tower climb, and no trip up Alpe du Zwift like in Four Horsemen, but that second time up the Epic KOM in this one is just mentally defeating. You feel like you are always going uphill on this course. The downhills just aren’t enough time to really feel rested. At least on ADZ, you can jump off the bike, go get some food/liquid, come back and your avatar is still going 65 kph down a mountain. Not so here–if you get off the bike for any amount of time, the avatar stops. It keeps you pretty honest.

But, I got it done in a little over 5 hours. I switched to the MTB for the jungle sections (ick), and looking back I wish I’d used a TT bike for most of this one. I was on my new Tron, and it didn’t occur to me until about 10k left that I’d not drafted AT ALL for the whole ride. Watopia was pretty empty yesterday, so I did this one as a solo effort.

An update on weight–I was below 184 pounds when I got off the bike after this ride. I made sure to re-hydrate all afternoon/evening, and did my best to clean out the fridge and put some calories in me. I’m good at this–it’s my forte. I was able to get up to 190 by bedtime, but I think I’ve broken through that weight loss plateau I hit a few weeks ago, and I may be able to shed another few pounds by pain day.

Six Gap Training – Five Weeks Out

107.8 miles | 6 hours | 5,587 ft

Another low volume week–not enough saddle time, not enough climbing. But I was still feeling a little tired, and now that I’m one ride into the new week I’m starting to fill a little stronger.

On the upside, I got outside on Friday and got in some hill repeats with some fine folks who are also going to ride 6 Gap. I missed recording a little bit of the ride because I’m not experienced enough with my outdoor electronics, but the result was somewhere around 3k feet of climbing in somewhere around 40 miles. That comes out to around 75ft/mile. To give some perspective, 6 Gap is 112.4 ft/mile, and the efforts are going to have to be sustained for a lot longer.

I’m keeping that in mind.

But the company was great (much better than being stuck inside with myself), and I have to throw a shout out to Mo for giving me not only a ride out to Clermont, but also a really enjoyable time there and back. Great conversation, and the time flew by!

It was great to get outside and get a little confidence. You never know when you set out to do something more unconventional like train almost exclusively indoors how it will work out, but I think I’m headed in the right direction. I’m continuing to ride longer sustained climbs on Zwift, and I trust it will pay off on pain day. Honestly, I was a little worried about outdoor descending as well. I haven’t ridden outside for ten years or so (15 years on real hills), and I wasn’t sure if I’d lost some of my nerve being so much older. I think I’ll be ok though, and I’m not afraid to use brakes if I need to.

And just let me say…man, it’s so nice to be outside on rollers and constantly changing saddle positions. Soooo much more comfortable than trainer riding. And I can’t forget that the weather on September 26 in north Georgia is going to be a lot different than late August in central Florida. That definitely goes into the plus column for me.

The night before this ride was the weekly ZRL Team Time Trial with the DIRTy Wattz, and it had me a little concerned. I was soooo off in this race, physically and mentally. I couldn’t get the pull order sorted out in my head, and I felt like dookie. Luckily, I had my mic muted and the team couldn’t hear me begging to be dropped, so I was able to keep the effort up and finish with them. I only had to be rescued back into the pace line once. That’s once too many times, but lucky to have a team that’s willing to do it.

I skipped the Zwift Classics race on Tuesday to help a friend unpack some boxes and get settled into a new house, and maybe all that lifting and sweating can account for some of the fatigue I was feeling. I’ll be back at that race again this week–it’s the last one on the schedule and is pancake flat. Perfect for heavier guys who are geared for longer slow twitch efforts. Fingers crossed!

Also realizing I haven’t done a weigh in for quite a while, at least not on the blog. I’m walking around at 191-192 pounds right now. That’s before getting on the bike and pedaling. I’m usually around 185 pounds when I get off the bike after a long ride, even with the copious amounts of water and food I consume. So I’m probably splitting the difference at around 188 for most of the ride. I’d like to be 185 at mile zero on pain day and finishing in the mid 170s. That can still happen, but it’s going to take some discipline that I don’t know if I can muster between now and then. It’s taking a lot of discipline for me to get the time in on the bike. I’m not exactly enjoying those longer efforts.

Zwift Classics 2021 – Innsbruckring Race Report

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men. Gang aft agley,. An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,. For promis’d joy! Still, thou art blest.

Robert Burns

I don’t know the proper past tense of “gang aft agley”, but hoss I tell you one dang thing…my schemes ganged afted agleyed in this race.

The idea was to hit the Leg Snapper like a maniac on every lap and use my…uh…”corpulence” to carry the attack on the downhill and pressure people to keep up for the sprint. Then lay back in the cut/draft for the rest of the lap.

Almost at the top of the Legsnapper on the first lap, I knew I was in trouble. I lost touch with the front 4 or 5 riders just as we crested the hill, and I was toast. Even before this race when I was warming up it felt like my heart rate was much higher than was being registered on the screen.

I know what was going on here–I still haven’t recovered from Saturday’s massive workout. It really took the mustard out of me. I rested on Sunday and did a pretty easy ride yesterday hoping it would get the jelly out of my legs.

No dice.

I did find a solid group for the 2nd lap, which included my weekly frienemy, Hal Wye. I can’t overly express my appreciation to Hal for screencasting and posting these videos to YouTube so that I can watch them later and share. He was pretty upset with me last week for getting caught in my sticky draft, and he exacted his revenge this week when he Burrito’d me. It’s all queue’d up below–you can see the exact moment when he rang my Taco Bell.

This group helped me get through lap 2 at a decent speed, but I knew the whole time I was just hanging on by the skin of my teeth. I expected to get dropped, I just didn’t know when it would happen. So I finished this race up at a pretty easy pace after getting dropped from this group. I have my first TTT with DIRT (my new team) on Thursday, and I don’t want to embarrass myself there.

Still, thou art blest…

Good lesson learned here. The ZRL season 4 opener is a TTT two days after the 6 Gap ride. I can say without a doubt that I’ll be on the bench for that one, unless my team is hankering for a loss.

Zwift Classics 2021 – Watopia Cup Race Report

I’ve been learnin’ how to lose a thing I never laid a hand on.

Evan Felker, “Good lord lorrie”

First things first, last week’s Six Gap training recap. The highlight was definitely the Richmond Challenge race, where the challenge was exactly what my challenge will be on September 26–steep hills. I ended the week with a longish ride that also served as recon for the Watopia Cup posted course–Muir And The Mountain. I took it easy on that ride, knowing that I was in for another week of “not a chance” in the race, but getting some climbing and saddle time in. I made a wrong turn trying to set my own course after finishing the first lap, and inadvertently ended up getting a little recon on what would be the actual Watopia Cup course for the week–Seaside Sprint.

Fortuitous. I was a little disappointed that the course got changed because I was interested to see how I could handle racing on a longer course, but it’s a better course for me. I wonder if they changed because people don’t want to race something that long time wise.

HUGE thanks to Hal Wye for posting the race. I used his video for last week’s race as well, but this week we spent most of the race riding together. I lost a little sleep wondering what exactly happened for me to get dropped from the lead group, and his video clearly shows where I messed up. I did exactly what I was trying not to do, which was be at the back of the group. I was supposed to be staying right smack in the middle so I could respond to attacks.

But back to the front. I feel like I should do my own video on this one where I narrate his video, but I’m too busy to figure out how to do that.

This race started out at a really fast pace. The middle was a really fast pace. And it ended at a really fast pace.

Seriously. We were already at 52 kph when we hit the first banner 0.2 kilometers in. I was a little surprised people were dropping Burritos so early in the race. I threw away two of them during this race because, well, I wanted to keep a big group going until the last lap (as long as I was in the group). My plan was to stick right in the middle of it for as long as possible. I’m finding in the races that it’s about 2/3 of the way through the race where I get left behind. I have to believe that’s just due to mental lapse. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what happened in this case.

It is interesting that the eventual winner, Emrah GΓΌrel, wanted to push this pace even faster from the get-go. He was clearly the strongest rider in the race. I’m hoping this is an anomaly in the autocat system that they are using to prove out the algo. ‘Cause, dang, even looking at his ZwiftPower profile, dude is just on a different level than the rest of the field when he decides to do the work.

Being honest, it’s the same story in a different race. Once I got dropped I was all alone for a while. I had to keep the pace up enough so that the group behind had to work a little to catch me, but who am I kidding? They were absolutely going to catch me. Silver lining–I got caught right where I wanted to–just after getting a rest on the downhill leading into the sprint (being big helps here) and knowing that there would be a regroup right after the sprint line.

One thing I attempted on the last climb into the volcano was repeatedly attacking the group and trying to fragment it as much as possible. Attack. Get caught and rest. Attack. Get caught and rest. The hope being that I could whittle down the number of riders I’d have to sprint against while also taking some of the watts out of the legs of the real sprinters.

It seems like this was the right tactic, but I just don’t have the raw watts to pull it off. We were a group of around 15 going into the volcano, and the group was about that big at the finish, just strung out. I was assisted by weight and a drafting power up going into the finish, or else I probably would have finished a couple of spots back from where I was.

Final spot was 22 out of 49–right there in the meaty part of the bell curve. I really like racing in this time zone though. There is a very large field compared to the other zones, and I’m still improving my overall race ranking due to the strong riders that are racing. Down to ~453 as of the end of this race. I’d really like to track that over time, as I think it’s the bets way to measure improvement by comparing yourself to a very large sample set of riders.

Richmond Challenge Race Report – Zwift Classics 2021

First, some commentary on Autocat. I was a little worried when I saw I was going to be in C4 for this race. Why the change? Can I compete a level up?

Then I saw that lots of people who were at least competitive at C5 were bumped up to C4 this week, so I wasn’t alone. Also, I realized that the C4 course was two laps instead of one. Knowing this, I was happy to race C4. Longer courses are better for me, especially those that end basically flat.

I also did a little looking after the race to see what the C5 results looked like in my time zone as opposed to the C4 results. I really believe WTRL is onto something here with autocat–your category can change based on the event and course.

Bottom line: The pace for the winners in the C5 one lap race was the same pace as the mid-pack finishers of the C4 two lap race. So they got it right–people who can keep that pace for a longer period of time were bumped up to C4 this week. Honestly, I’d have been disappointed to only get to race a single lap.

I wasn’t even thinking about going for points in this race. Points on the two reasonably long climbs at the beginning were not going to be in the cards for me, especially racing a category up. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to make any points on the first sprint either, since it came right after a non-points climb. And the distance to the next sprint wasn’t very long, so I wouldn’t be competing for that one either.

So the strategy was to manage heart rate and fight for the best position I could get at the finish line. I mostly accomplished this. I was left out on my own for two very short periods of time, but quickly joined up with groups of 5 or 6 each time. You definitely want to be in a group on the flat sections of this course, because they are really fast.

Going into the finish, I attacked early, and that split our group of six in half. I’m seeing a pattern here. It’s the same thing that happened earlier in the season in Yorkshire. It worked as well for me here as it did there, but it still guaranteed me finishing third in that pack.

I’m more than happy to lose while trying to win. It’s way better than losing because someone else tried to win. And someone is always going to try to win in these raced. Let it be me.

I zoomed in on the flat section of the finish–it’s obvious where the power/speed/effort picked up at the end.

I did a recon ride of the course the night before the race, and this was probably a mistake. Although I didn’t go super hard, it’s difficult not to mash against the pressure of the hills, and there are lots of them. I also did a quick trip around the hills again pre-race as a warmup. That probably wasn’t a mistake.

Anyway, here’s a great video of what the race looked like at the front. You can see how quickly I fall out. I was with them for a little while though. Small victories.

The other big changes for this race was that I did the Eastern European time zone, and I rode inside the house instead of the Fart Barn. I think the difference in temperature helped a lot. After my awful trip up Alpe de Zwift last week, I’m being a little more careful about putting in big efforts in the heat.

Again, one of the pieces of information I got from that awful ride was the knowledge of how long I can operate at threshold and above. I’m proud to say I did that on this ride. But man did it hurt.

Next week’s course is Muir and the Mountain. I’m predicting a smaller field for this event–that Radio Tower climb is absolutely gutting. I’m also predicting I get bumped back down to C5, and possibly even C6. There’s a lot of flat after that big climb, but you are so devastated it’s hard to capitalize on it.

This one will be about attrition. I’m going to try to race in the time zone with the most participants.

Six Gap 2021 Training – Week 9

5 Rides | 6.5 hours | 101 miles | 7661 ft

Kind of a step back week, right after a do-nothing week. That wasn’t the plan going in, but I hit a little hiccup on Thursday and changed the weekend plan of doing tough rides on both Saturday and Sunday.

The week started off great with the Crit City Slam as part of the WTRL racing series. I was feeling pretty good and actually looking forward to doing the Specialized Roval Climbing Challenge up the Alpe de Zwift. I just knew I was going to snag a PR on the climb with this awesome bike and pretty good rest coming in.

I did not account for the heat in the fart barn, and I’m having to concede that the elements have finally caught up to me out there. I’ve done my best to get it all sealed up and insulated from the joy that is Florida in July/August, but in doing so I think I may have stopped so much air from coming in that I gassed myself. Check out this HR chart.

That’s not the way I wanted this histogram to look. What had happened was…

I was going for it on the first few segments of the ADZ–not killing myself, but hitting a pace I thought would get me the PR. My heart rate was quickly rising though, and by the 16th bend I was already up in the mid-upper 160s. Anything over 170 is when I have to start backing off when there’s a lot of ride left. Well, I tried, and tried, and tried, but recovery wasn’t coming.

There’s a silver lining here, and I’ll get to it later. But I had to slow down to a crawl to get any kind of drop at all. The SHTF moment happened with about 2.6km left in the climb when I started feeling a little dizzy. Thankfully, I wasn’t too proud to get off the bike and stand directly over the portable AC to try and cool off for a few minutes. I felt better when I got back on the bike, but the heart rate screamed right back up.

I basically pushed the bike up the rest of the hill virtually. Very disappointing– I really wanted that PR, but happy to know I can finish a really tough workout. That’s the type of mental training I hope to get on the trainer.

Now, for the silver lining. I went 30+ minutes with my HR > 170. So that can be done. Now I know. Heart rate is not my real limiter. When I’m feeling like I’m on the rivet, it must be my legs that are failing me, not my cardiovascular system.

So I know who I can rely on now. Spinning my legs is a better option for me than mashing on the pedals. The low cadence work I’ve been doing hasn’t hurt me any, but when it gets hard on race day I’m going to dance with the one that brung me.

Took some time over the weekend to recover. Did a sorta hard ride on Saturday, and I was still feeling this effort, so backed off again on Sunday.

Looking forward to the Richmond Challenge this week. When I looked at the WTRL schedule originally, I was a little disappointed that the C5 course was only a lap, which wouldn’t give me much of a chance to compete on the hills. Luckily, autocat for this week put me at a C4, which means I’ll get two laps, and a chance to make up for my poor climbing.

2021 Zwift Classics – Crit City Slam Race Report – C5 – Americas East

What do you do when you want to get over?
What do you do when you want to get through?
What do you do when you just can’t take it?
What do you do when you just can’t fake it anymore?

Deal with it. That’s what you do.

Henry Rollins

How many ways can my competitors break and demoralize me? We’ll find out, because I plan to keep coming back until I make it through in one piece. This, however, was not the week for that.

I was really looking forward to this race, especially after having missed the Everything Bagel race the previous week. Although I’ve done this course quite a few times, I’ve never done it in this direction and never for this many laps. Even without Sherpa Dave’s excellent recon series. The keys to this course are the cobbled climb and the rollers at the end of each lap–both are good spots to attack.

Or, in my case, to be attacked.

Unfortunately, I can’t find a video of this category and time zone on Youtube. Come on people! Get with it! I’m relying on you to provide content for me! But I’m embedding an exciting race from my cat in another time zone provided by JLC so that my readers (me) have a reference. I really like how JLC’s video has a cam attached, so you can see the IRL suffering.

I usually like to include a link to my Strava analysis of my ride and include screenshots and such, but I can’t do that for this race because the ride details were corrupted by a bug in the Apple TV app which prevented the data being uploaded. Luckily, the data still made it into ZwiftPower, so my results stand.

This was only my 3rd ride using Apple TV after a PC crash. I have to say that the 4k graphics are amazing with Zwift, and the operation is super simple–except for that pesky remote…that is not good! Overall, I think the Apple TV device is the way to go with Zwift, and I wish I’d just started out with that. All the crashes and video card upgrades and stuff I did just weren’t cost effective.

And Zwift sent out a patch to fix the problem that affected me on this day. I just didn’t get it in time.

I really don’t understand why Zwift isn’t selling their own device that is marketed just for their software. I think they could sell a ton of these at the $100 price point, especially to new users. They could even sell a bundle with device/trainer/HRM all together and make a killing.

Anyway, back to the race.

This does give me a chance to document my lack of understanding of how the points are awarded for these races. My reading comprehension is generally pretty decent (at least that’s what I understand from what I’ve read–haha), and I’m pretty good at math, so I’m having trouble understanding how the results I’m seeing for the FTS and FAL results on ZwiftPower translate to only 2 FAL points for this race. The scoring system seems pretty clear, and the FAL results on ZwiftPower are too, so I’m not sure what I’m missing.

Just looking at the FAL points for the hot laps, I’m seeing 16 points for me. But I only received 2 points. I guess as long as the scoring is happening consistently, and I’m sure it is, there’s no problem. And it’s not like we’re playing for money. I’m more interested in this because I like the gamification.

My gut feeling was that I’d be able to stick with the race leaders for most of the race, but would eventually get dropped and finish in the top 3rd or so. Knowing this, my strategy was to try to get as many FAL points as I could while I was in the mix, get with the chase group as soon as possible once I was dropped, and then fight for the highest placement I could get. I executed this plan pretty well (I thought), although I did lose some steam once I joined the chase group and finished at the back of it. It was pretty disappointing that I wasn’t able to compete more in that group. But, when I looked at the results from other time zones, I realized that we were going at a pretty screaming pace compared to them.

My original guess based on the other time zones was that I’d finish in around 36:00, but I ended up finishing in 34:03. It was one of those efforts that had me lying in the floor in a pool of sweat when it was over, just trying to recover and get my heart rate down. There is no spot in this course where you can relax and recover, and 12 laps of that is brutal, even if the time to complete isn’t that long.

I stayed with the main group until the climb of the 10th lap, where I expected a little bit of a reprieve once we crested. Unfortunately for me, that’s when there was an unexpected attack. I was positioned at the back of the group and just didn’t see it coming. Once I was detached they were gone. Lesson learned here–I was trying to stay in the middle of the pack most of the race to prevent this exact situation, but I got caught napping, and ended up 24th out of 56 starters.

Next time.

I’m really loving these races and the format. I’m a little worried about this race upcoming in Richmond though. The climbs happen early and then it ends mostly flat. I’m not a strong climber, so it’s going to be tough on me to stay in the lead group to the flats. If this course was reversed it would suit me much better.

Six Gap Training – Week 11

5 Rides | 9.5 hours | 169 miles | 5988 ft

Astute loyal readers of this blog (0 people) will note that there was no Week 12 Six Gap Training report. It’s not that I didn’t train during week 12, but it was pretty uneventful outside of the autocat beta race I did.

This past week was way more eventful. It was the first week of the Zwift Classics series, which was pretty awesome, with some low key rides mixed in throughout the week. But I did take on a big event on Saturday, doing a 100 mile virtual effort. Hard to call it a real century since the bike didn’t move at all, but it was a five and a half hour effort, and that has to account for something.

I sort of made a badge hunt out of this event–why not use the opportunity to level up? So I got the 10x and 25x badges for laps around volcano circuit, then I navigated over to Tempus Fugit to finish up the final 60k. There’s also a 100 mile badge you get at the very end of a century ride. I have to admit, I was expecting to only go EXACTLY 160 kilometers, but had to do almost 161. That last bit of a kilometer was pretty brutal mentally.

But mental toughness is what I’m going after with rides like this. There’s not really much climbing involved on this route, even in the laps around Volcano Circuit. It’s all about sitting in a tiny room for a long time and making circles with your legs. And that’s what makes riding outside so much easier when I have to do it.

I was really happy to get that distance out of the way–it’s been out there haunting me for a while. That’s the good news. The bad news is that my desktop computer I was using for Zwift appears to have died. I did a little research and found that the most economical option for me was to go with the Apple TV solution. Way cheaper than a computer, and the only other thing I had to purchase is a bluetooth HRM since my old school Garmin straps are Ant+ only.

I’m going to be missing a few days of training for a family funeral, which will give everything time to get delivered, and I’m gearing up for a big weekend next weekend as well.

Yorkshire Grad Prix Race Report – 2021 C5 Americas East

I wrongly assume that anyone wants to read anything ever again. But I still like to read, so I’m writing this for myself. If you (or I) like watching videos instead I got lucky that Lee Brill edged me out at the line, and he recorded the entire race and posted it to his YouTube channel. We were pretty close for much of the race, so this video tells a lot of the tale of my experience.

Good–that gives me a chance to talk about my personal thoughts and realizations from this race.

This was not a good course for me, so I’m actually pretty happy with finishing 20th on time and 15th on points. I’m more of a steady effort guy–not exactly known for my punchiness. Actually, not known for anything on the bike other than wearing motley kit that’s embarrassing to actual cyclists.

Anyway, there ain’t a single flat spot on this course. You can see what happens at the end of Lee’s video when I go up against a real puncher. I attacked, and was able to split the group of 4 we were in up in half, but he delivered the knockout blow.

I did learn something in this race that is haunting me a little. I can’t explain why I have problems tapping into my grit/aggression on these virtual races. In live competition I’m pretty decent at digging deeper than I should be able to. But for some reason I envision all my competition in these races having an easy time with them–just coasting along dishing out punishment. That’s the best case scenario I imagine actually. Usually I imagine them poking at my avatar like a voodoo doll and laughing at my suffering. It’s really defeating.

I realized while showering after this race that they are hurting too. I can put a hurt on them. Well, some of them anyway. Not all of them, but that’s ok. My move at the end of this race cut the number of people I had to compete with from three to one–proof that I need to get more aggressive. When I’m going into a physical competition like rugby or jiu jitsu, I always go in with the mentality of, “That dude better watch out for me–he’s about to feel something he’s never felt.”

Now, of course, it usually doesn’t work out that way at all. Even when I win, it’s seldom dominant, and I’m always a breath away from snapping. But I need to figure out how to get myself there for virtual bike racing too.

It’s the right mentality when competing.

Overall, loving this format. I do wish there was league scoring, but I think that’s coming for future series. I think what they’re really trying to work out here is the autocat system. I’m up in the top third of C5, and the competition feels about right to me. I’m sure the bottom third would disagree though.

Zwift Autocat C5 TEST Race Review

So, yeah, I’m reviewing the race. I can’t help but do that because I’m happy with my results. But I really want to give some thoughts on the new categorization system Zwift is testing out. Basically, it places you in race categories of 1-6 instead of the traditional A-D they’ve been using. They’re using the WTRL Zwift Classics Series to try this new system out.

Spoiler alert: Scotty Likey.

The old A-D system is based solely on your watt/kg number. For me, that’s currently at 2.89, which is a solid C. Yeah…the denominator of that number is too large. I’m working on it. But this single measure doesn’t say a ton about you as a rider. Are you a good climber? A good sprinter? Are you punchy? Are you at time trial specialist?

The Cat1-6 system uses your registered numbers on ZwiftPower and considers many more factors from your past performances. When I went through the process of getting categorized, I was a little disappointed that I ended up a ‘5’. I was so sure I was a mid-range 4.

Well, after racing last night, I think the categorization system put me in the right place. Whatever it’s labeled, it put me in with folks I can race with, but can’t beat. At least not yet. I was hoping I’d be in the top third of finishers, and ended up 6th out of 21 in the race. I could just have easily been 7th, but I happened to get the perfect power up (aero boost) for a big guy to finish on a short flat right after a big downhill. I literally crossed a fraction of a second ahead of 7th.

So…yeah. Top third.

I did some recon before the ride, watching videos others posted from previous test races. After seeing Cat 4, I knew I would not be able to hang. The Cat 5 race I watched looked doable, but painful. One thing that stuck out in both races was that (as always) people come screaming out of the gate and push for the first 1k. Knowing this, I went way harder than I wanted to go in order to stay in the lead group out of the gate and just try to stay with the group for at least the first lap.

The lead group was made up of 10 riders, and I made it a point to attack on the first KOM, just to see how others would react. Everyone stayed with. One guy kept riding out solo, but no one chased–the group of nine could handle a single flyer an reel him back in.

We remained a group of 10 for the first two laps, and the second lap was much more calm and had a pretty steady rhythm. But I knew from my recon that a big attack was coming. I got a feather power up at the start line and opted to hold it for the climb. Man…EVERYBODY attacked. and the pretenders (I was one) were detached quickly from the top 5 riders. Three of us quickly separated ourselves, then settled down a bit.

Just before the KOM banner I attacked hard, knowing that the mostly downhill finish benefitted me as a big guy. What I didn’t know was that one of the other two guys was even bigger than me, and he cranked out some serious watts on the downhill to catch back up with me with about 1k to go. I jumped on his wheel and held on, hoping he didn’t get the aero power up at the KOM banner like I did.

Lucked out, and was happy to edge him out. Looking at his numbers later, we are really well matched. Hopefully I’ll be seeing him in the East Coast time slot on some of the Classics!

Six Gap Training – Week 13 – Stop Piss Farting Around!

Titled in honor of an old football coach who didn’t curse, but used these two words liberally. I never really figured out for sure what “piss farting around” is, but I know he would yell it at us for doing it twice a day in the late summer. And that’s the theme for this week…

Two-A-Days!

The big ride(s) of this week were both virtual, and both around 60 km each by the pixel count. I did two group rides on Saturday of the Petit Boucle course and the Tire-Bouchon course. I have no idea what those words mean, but I had about an hour between finishing one and starting the other. That gave me some time to go inside the big house, eat, refill water bottles, and literally chill for a bit before going at it again.

The first was really nice. It was a ‘C’ ride, and of course I was dropped early because I couldn’t hold that pace for 60k. Luckily, a couple of us slower folk hooked onto the wheel of a guy who was doing 2.4 w/kg steadily, which let us run at just under 2. Eventually we were the only two in our group, and I was able to pull the hills for us. He was even bigger than me, so the downhills were really nice.

Not so lucky in the second ride. I was solo the whole time. πŸ™ The only bonus is that we were on a course that was not one of the Zwift worlds of the day, so once the group ride was over and I kept pedaling on an empty course I ended up with a KOM jersey. Had to take a picture, because you won’t ever see this again.

I also did a couple of easy rides, and another trip up the Alpe de Zwift. I’m doing this ride repeatedly and using it to experiment with cadence. I’m going to need to keep my heart rate in check to have a good day at Six Gap, and that’s means being aggressive (but not TOO aggressive) on Hog Pen Gap. I worked on a lower cadence here while continuing to push the watts.

It felt like I was getting a PR, but I ended up about 3.5 minutes off my best time where I pushed more watts at the same cadence at a lower heart rate. I need to do some more work to figure out why that was because it could give me a hint of what will work for me on pain day and my fitness/freshness leading into it.

Zwift Group Rides – Y’all Just Chill On This

It’s been a long time since I read a blog post and then wrote a blog post responding to it. Like, it’s been years. But yesterday I read this post on ZwiftInsider around group rides, giving feedback to group leaders, ranking group rides, etc.

I joined one just last week, led by a pro rider. (This, by the way, is often the kiss of death on Zwift – pro riders are notoriously bad ride leaders.) The ride details stated a pace of 2-2.5 w/kg. He messaged before the ride began to say he would be holding a pace of 2 w/kg. Then promptly launched off the front, messaging 10 minutes into the ride that the pace would be closer to 3 w/kg.

It’s funny, because last week I did a couple of group rides that I normally don’t do, and both of them went poorly. Well, poorly for some of the people doing the rides. I didn’t have a problem with the rides or the leaders, even though they didn’t stick to the advertised pace. I just rode my own ride, found a couple of other people who were doing the same, and finished my workout. But I was amused with the whiny riders complaining about the leaders. Even while I was in the rides themselves I was thinking about this. I mean, it didn’t really irritate me, because the little text/message boxes popping up on my screen with people upset with the leaders didn’t affect my ride at all.

And that’s kind of the point.

Look, a virtual group ride shouldn’t put nearly the amount of expectation on ride leaders as in-person group rides. Safety is not a concern–nobody’s getting hit by a car on the trainer. Cues and steering are not a concern–nobody is getting lost out here. And really, speed shouldn’t be a concern–at least not one big enough to get upset about.

I get it. It’s fun to “go fast” on the screen because you are riding in a big blob while only putting out 2.5 w/kg of effort. But at the end of the day, what does it matter if the leader (and most of the peloton) want to bump it up to 3.0 w/kg and you can’t keep up? Why would you get upset about this? No one is stopping you from continuing on at 2.5 w/kg. That’s on you. That’s your inability to be disciplined with your pace. Take the opportunity to work on it.

Is it because you’re trying to get PRs on Strava segments or get more “miles”? Um….this isn’t real riding. What you’re really doing on a trainer is X watts for Y minutes. Spoiler alert–you aren’t actually going anywhere.

So if you don’t like the way the group ride is going, don’t complain. Just ride. Or just get off your bike. It’s not like the leader drug you out 25 miles away from your house. You’re already home. And guess what. There’s probably another virtual group ride starting up in 30 minutes or so.

Then you can get mad at whoever is leading that one. They are probably getting paid exactly the same thing ($0) as the person who was leading the last ride you whined about.

I get the point of the post is that there should be a way to provide feedback, but that’s so the leaders can get better and have more successful rides in the future. I’m all for that. What I experienced last week was anger and whininess during the ride. The feature I’d ask for is the ability to mute the Debbie Downers.

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