Doing More With Less Since 1972

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Zwift Crit Race 1 – Bell Lap Cat C

After my rough experience doing the TTT a few weeks ago, I thought it would be a good idea to get some Zwift racing experience that didn’t negatively affect others. Basically, learn how to race I guess.

I considered doing individual time trials and crits, and I chose crits because:

  1. There are more of them
  2. They included drafting (just like TTT)
  3. They are usually pretty short efforts (8 laps), so they don’t disrupt my FTP program much. I can just do these on an off day.

There are a bunch of Bell Lap races, so I thought I’d give this a go. I’ll be able to race on the same course over and over, try different tactics and strategies, document them, see what works best, etc.

I’m a boring nerd. I’m not going to even mention the spreadsheet I’ll be using to track all this…yet.

I picked the Friday 11:45 am EST race to be my “standard”. I’ll be able to make that one most weeks, so hopefully I’ll be racing against the same people over and over as well, which gives me another control point in the experiment.

Race Prep

Before racing, I did do a little recon. I watched a couple of races on this course live, and watched a couple of videos on how to race the course. Quick recap of what I learned and observed:

  • Like all Zwift races, start fast! Shoot for 4.5 w/kg
  • Flyers get caught in the first minute
  • Leaders ride the first lap in the high 3’s w/kg
  • After a couple of laps, the chasers are ~ 7s back, and some riding solo
  • After the halfway point, leaders are riding in the low 3’s, high 2’s w/kg
  • People get strung out on the bumps–that’s where attacks happen
  • Don’t fall for attacks on the 7th lap

Strategy and Reality

The winners of the races I watched were finishing in just over 21 minutes and around 3.3 w/kg. My 20 minute best effort is around 2.7 w/kg.

So…I’m not going to win in Cat C, and if I can put in a solid effort, a finish under 25:00 would be pretty good for me. The game is going to be trying different approaches in multiple races to see what works best for me.

The strategy for this first race was simple–stay with the lead group as long as possible and see what happens. I knew I’d get dropped, but the question was “when?” and “what happens after that?”

Execution

The good news is that I think I found something that doesn’t work. I was able to go out with the first group and stay with them for the first lap and a little beyond. But just like going out too fast in a running race, it caught up with me. Positive splits on every lap except for the last one (by two seconds…just barely).

I was able to finish in 24:22, and I think I could do a lot better than this by evening out my splits (negative splits?), but what makes cycling way different than running is that I need to find a group to ride with to make it happen. I rode the last laps by myself in this race, and I think that really shows in the results. I was putting out wattage that were around the same or higher than previous laps, but not getting any benefit of the draft until the last lap.

My question and challenge for the next race is how to find that second group, and can I stay with them. I think the key for me to do my best in these races is to find the right group that can support me for as long as I can stay with them, or find a group I can ride easy with and attack from on the last lap.

One thing is clear–I’m not worried about winning any time soon.

FTP Test – For Real

After my humbling performance in the Team Time Trial #95, I knew it was time to get on to the real business I have to take care of on Zwift. Not riding tours or group rides. The focus has to be on getting better.

Like, real results.

Still, I did want to do the makeup stage of the 2021 Tour de Zwift. It happened to be the climbing stage, and since I was only going to do one ride in this stage, I chose the most advanced one. Gulp. This took about 20 minutes longer than I was hoping it would. It was brutal. Another confirmation that I’m not where I need to be.

I did take a day off, but wanted to stick to the schedule. Legs were pretty heavy, but I went ahead with the FTP test. I’d done these before, back in the Trainerroad days, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Luckily, Zwift has a different type of FTP test that doesn’t take nearly as long and isn’t as grueling. I did a ten minute easy rise to get my trainer warmed up and did a quick calibration, then on to the test.

Unlike the 45 minute efforts I’ve done before, this one went pretty fast, and it only hurt for a little while. It’s a 5 minute warmup, followed by 1 minute intervals at increasing wattage. It didn’t even take me 18 minutes to complete and for my HR to get to critical.

I ended up at 243 for and FTP–for real this time, not virtual power. That makes sense. I was hoping for somewhere around 250. It’s funny to read back through old posts from before and see that history may not repeat itself, but it rhymes. I’m at 2.6 w/kg, and my goal (once again) is to get to 3.0 w/kg. Roughly, that means increasing my FTP to 270 watts and getting my weight down to 198 pounds.

Totally doable. In fact, I’ll have a hard time keeping those 7 pounds on if I’m doing all the workouts. My raw wattage may not jump all the way to 270, but if I weigh in at 195 pounds and hit a raw score of 265, the result is the same.

First Experience in Zwift TTT Racing

Alternate title: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good: I have an image that proves I was actually with this group at some point of the race

The Bad: It was evident early on that I couldn’t hang

The Ugly: My heart rate and recovery

Some background…

I’ve been doing a weekly Zwift recovery ride on Wednesdays with the Vikings – Valhalla team. This ride is super-fun, super-inclusive, and they seemed like a great group of people to ride with and represent. It didn’t take long to realize that this was the team for me. I’m doing this for fun and health, not for champeenships or money. Is there any money in Zwift racing? A different topic to explore.

After doing a race where I was not up to snuff, I can confirm that these are some cool people. No one dogged me out for not being able to keep up. In fact, they did everything they could to keep me in the group and only dropped me after the 2nd or 3rd time I told them that they should drop me.

As a member of a team I definitely feel like I let them down. But the best thing I could do was to let them go on without me. These guys were way stronger than me, and as I watched them finish as I continued to putter along the course I was amazed at the effort they put in. I have a lot of work to do before I try one of these again.

Race Report – Or at least the part I participated in

Zwift TTT is made up of up to 8 riders, and the time of the top 4 riders to cross the finish line is what counts. In the league we were in, there can be 3 “B” class riders and the rest “C” class. I’m a C rider, which means the responsibility to pull the group and ride at the front didn’t fall on me as much as others. We had a team of 6 in the start pen, but one of our riders had a technical issue, which had us start with 5 riders.

The call was to ride on raw watts over w/kg because we were riding a flat course. We were shooting for 300 watts at the front.

That’s 3.2 w/kg for me.

*Gulp* That’s hot. I was already a little worried. In the start pen I noticed my HR was over 100, and I wasn’t even pedaling–just nervousness and adrenaline, and that didn’t serve me well at all. Then again, they were only asking for 15 seconds of effort from me for my turns. I was determined to stay on for as long as I could, and I knew it was going to be about recovering for the 1:45 seconds my teammates would be pulling.

Since I’ve started riding again, the highest HR I’ve touched so far is 173. And I mean that I TOUCHED it. I can’t stay there for any amount of time. So I was really mindful of where my HR was and paying close attention to it. Two minutes into this ride I hit 158 on a pull, then I recovered. I hit 160 at ~4:00, and I recovered.

At ~5:00 I hit 161, and I climbed up to 169 in the next three minutes, and it just wasn’t recovering.

Somewhere between 10 to 13 minutes I fell off the back, and teammate Sylvan pulled me back to the group. I stayed in the 4th position for the rest of the time I was with the group, until the 20:00 mark or so. But I was stuck in the mid 160s and still struggling, so I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do this for another 25 minutes. I fell off again, and Sylvan slowed down to try and help me catch back up, but I was cooked. I was having some trouble with Discord to tell the guys to go without me–wasn’t sure they could hear.

When they made the call to drop me (great call!) I was tasked with “just finish”. That way if someone else had an issue we would at least get credit for the race…just a horrible time. It’s clear from the power graph above that I immediately started soft pedaling and trying to recover. I knew my best chance for a better time was to get my HR under control and then ride the best I could.

It took me 12:00 to get my HR under 150! Once I recovered, I tried to keep my HR at a reasonable rate and get the best time I could. Pretty boring work, so I decided to watch the rest of the team finish. Wow–the effort those guys put in was inspiring to watch. And it was great to hear how happy they were at the finish line!

They finished at ~44:00. There’s no way I could have stuck with them. No way. It’s crazy to look at the graph of Sylvan’s ride to see how much he was recovering when trying to pull me back to the group. And the work he put in after I dropped is just crazy.

I still had 2.6 KM to go after the team finished, but now there was zero pressure to get any kind of time. Just riding for pride at this point, and I’d already had that taken from me LOL. I pedaled into the finish and did the sprint at the end. Woopity Doo!

Ok, so how do I fix this?

I learned a lot on this ride, and it’s pretty evident what I need to work on:

  1. Increased FTP–I have a lot of room to grow in the C class
  2. Weight loss (to give me better w/kg)
  3. Intervals, intervals, intervals

So Friday was a light swim day–just short and easy to get the heaviness out of my legs. Today I’m doing the last Tour de Zwift ride that I missed to get every stage completed and a short easy run. After that (and a rest day on Sunday) the work begins.

Monday: FTP test. I need to baseline exactly where I am. I think my rating on ZwiftPower is a little inflated at this point because I’ve only had a smart trainer for a week. It’s evident that the power readings (estimated) from my dumb trainer were super inaccurate as the power increased. So I need a better baseline

Tuesday I’m going to take a rest day. Well, a rest from cycling. I’m actually going to get to roll on Tuesday! Woot!

Wednesday is going to be the start of a 6 week FTP builder. That takes care of increasing FTP, and if it’s like other plans I’ve done before there are lots of intervals on the menu.

And for the elephant in the room…almost literally…weight. When I was at BJJ peak fighting shape, I was walking around at ~190 pounds for most of the day. I was never under 200 when I was doing triathlons back in the day, and I think that extra 10 pounds made a big difference. I just hadn’t been small in so long I thought 200 WAS small. Now I’m aware of how much more athletic I feel at 190, and I’m motivated to get there from my current 205. Picking up some BJJ training is going to help with that for sure, but it’s going to be a tough row to hoe.

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