Six was it? Not sure, but if memory serves, there were a total of six events in ‘Season 1’ of the latest ZRL Zwift racing series. I’m so lucky, the C category team I captain has a full complement of riders, all super keen to line up in the virtual start pen. The run-up to the closing event of this season was no different. This race was oversubscribed. That’s a great problem to have.
The selection process
The private link to the race (RacePass) is issued on Friday evening. Part of my duty is to let everyone know. People then click on the link to register themselves for the event. You’re allowed a maximum of 6 riders to cross the start line. 8 or 9 wanted in. So, I’m left with the unenviable task of making the final selection. I usually post my final decision on our Discord server on the Sunday or Monday prior to the race.
Arriving at the final lineup
That Monday before the race, after posting the final listing, some individuals discovered they couldn’t ride. This can happen for many reasons; work commitments, illness, injury, the list goes on… Happily, some of the riders I sidelined earlier were now afforded the chance to race. This left only one person on the sidelines.
I like to do a lengthy 20 min ramp up to my ‘all day’ pace then put in four or five very short, 10 sec, hard efforts, where I’m spinning the legs fairly fast.
Our club runs two other B cat teams, which are significantly faster than our C cat. As luck would have it, at the last minute, a position in one of those teams became vacant! Perfect. The captain of the B team gladly accepted our spare rider. Having spent a couple of previous seasons racing for the B(ees), I knew the roasting he was in for! It wasn’t without some friendly words of warning, that I handed him over. I gently teased him and wished the best of luck. The scene was set.
Off to Titans Grove
The time had come. As usual, I short changed myself timing wise. Instead of the 30 mins warm-up I’d hoped for, I found myself with only around 15. I like to do a lengthy 20 min ramp up to my ‘all day’ pace then put in four or five very short, 10 sec, hard efforts, where I’m spinning the legs fairly fast. Whilst doing my curtailed warm up on Zwift, I received the 5 min to go pop up notice offering to put me in the start pen for the race. I accepted and found myself in Titans Grove (the name of the course) alongside my five other team mates, waiting for the flag to drop.
The race report
As per usual with Zwift racing, the start was frantic. As I understand it, the logic is that by starting fast you can eliminate much of your competition by forcing many weaker riders off the back of the group. With indoor racing, once you lose contact with a group, it’s damn near impossible to get back on. By shelling a few riders early, you reduce the competition for the win. Such is the nature of online racing.
As suspected, those riders with the power to do so kept up the pace after the sprint finish to break away and get a gap.
This course, whilst reasonably flat, was rolling. Did I mention that I find climbing challenging? Well, the route didn’t play to my strengths. However, I had a pep talk with myself beforehand and made a promise to overlook this minor detail. To my delight, after about 5 mins, I was still in the front group alongside two of my teammates. We hit the first section with points on offer at around 4km in. It was an uphill section. I pushed myself hard and managed to stay in the group. Thankfully, I felt reasonably good all things considered.
Over the top
At the top of the segment, those who had something left in their legs pushed on. This happens IRL as well as in Zwift racing. I was in danger of getting dropped and actually let a slight gap open up. Luckily, now on flatter terrain, I was able to claw my way back to the lead group. It took something out of the reserve tank. That said, the group slowed its pace a little and I caught my breath. Two others in my team were still there.
Next, came a lengthy section of flattish road. The group held a manageable pace, probably trying to conserve a little energy for the sprint section at around 19km. A bunch of riders from behind managed to merge with us before the start of the sprint, which kicked off as you would imagine. As suspected, those riders with the power to do so kept up the pace after the sprint finish to break away and get a gap. Thankfully, I saw this coming and held on. However, this left my teammates having to catch back on. One of them put in an heroic solo effort for some 5 or 6 mins and actually managed it! Awesome work!
Overall, the team held on to it’s 5th place in the league, only a few league points away from the 4th and 3rd teams.
All that was left was a ramp up to the finish line. Again, I somehow managed to stay in the mix – just. Right before the flag there was a short section of flat, which meant I might be able to catch a few in front at the last minute. I gave what little I had left at about 200 metres out. The red mist brought on by hypoxia descended and before I could blink, I had bagged myself 14th place.
The race results
I’m one of the few people who are content with whatever place they finish. I’m able to look into my soul alongside the recorded data and ask myself if I gave it my all. If that answer is “Buddy you smashed yourself” and the data supports that, I’m good. So, it’s interesting to me when people want to know straight away where they were placed.
That said, I totally get it! Knowing this, the first thing I often do, as captain, is notify the team. In the process of doing this, I find that I’ve managed to bag 20 points, the most across our riders! I also came first over the line out of the six of us! Result! That’s one of the best outcomes I’ve had in a ZRL race.
Overall, the team held on to its 5th place in the league – only a few league points away from the 3rd and 4th teams. Not such a bad result from a bunch of cyclists who only came together 6 weeks ago and have never even met IRL.
Post Zwift racing chat
Even though people sign off from race radio pretty quickly, most seem to enjoy carrying on a sporadic conversation over discord. It’s fun to go over what happened and congratulate others for the outstanding efforts they put in. This is what makes racing in a team so special; the camaraderie. Often these conversations carry on well after midnight. As this was the last race in the series, tonight was no exception. We now faced a few weeks off from our regular Tuesday night ‘smash fest’ and were already feeling nostalgic. Also, coming 5th place in the league was no mean feat! So, there was plenty of congratulations and back slapping in order. Eventually the posts faded as people went to sleep for the night.
It’s a wrap
What a season! Everyone seemed to have a great time judging by the things they posted online. If there was one complaint, it was that I needed to ask people to sit on the benches while others raced. One of the best things about my team was the will to line up on the grid. All my squad were up for racing. I discussed this with some of the captains of our other Zwift racing teams. After a little to-ing and fro-ing, we agreed to start a second C team. This way there’s more space and flexibility to accommodate more people, meaning less folk are left out. Before all the congratulatory messages died down we had that second C team registered and then faced the task of recruiting for those extra spaces. On to season 2….