Taking part in a sportive or a race brings a rush of emotions. No wonder – for many of us it is the pinnacle of all the pre-season training and club rides. The butterflies in the stomach before the start, the strong feeling of presence e.g. during my first Vätternrundan ten years ago, the marvelous sense of an achievement after the finish.
It doesn't mean they all end up as highlights. My first local race didn't turn out as great an experience as I had expected. My fitness wasn't on the level needed, and my novice tactical mistakes got me dropped from the peloton.
I've gathered a lot of experience, memories and highlights, from Melbourne AUS to Lapland FIN, from Hualien TW to San Jose US.
How do virtual races compare to real life events? The bar of my expectations is set high.
#myfirst virtual sportiveGiro de Castelli is my first virtual sportive. Two of the five stages have been ridden now. My work trip keeps me away from stages 3 and 4 but I anticipate riding the final stage next Friday.
Zwift is a popular marketing channel nowadays. Thousands of cyclists take part in the event that is easy and cheap to arrange. There are some Castelli kits (jersey+bibshorts) as lottery prizes drawn among those completing at least three stages.
It's a bit more difficult to join a virtual race than a real one – unless you leave it to the last hours and use your Zwift Mobile Link app (more about joining here).
I had read that Zwift races start with an explosive burst, riders pushing crazy hard to break away and others doing their best to follow. So, I began Stage 1 well over my FTP and got tired soon. Luckily the event was a short one (5 laps of Watopia Flat, 55 km) which helped maintain a decent power and pace to the finish.
For Stage 2 I chose a more conservative and steady tactics: keep it at FTP for the first minutes. I had joined the event, I did the warm-up properly, the app teleported me to the start area, and I was better prepared this time. Bring it on!
Clock is ticking. 1:12 before the start I try to change to a longer gear, only to realize that my Ultegra Di2 control box is dead. There is juice in the battery but absolutely nothing happens when turning the shift lever, nor in front neither in the rear.
I step off the saddle and kneel down to check if there is a loose contact or other issue I could fix. Meanwhile the
I'm stuck with a 34-16. Gradually I find it a rather useful compromise ratio. Surely I can't meet the pace of others on downhill but upping my cadence I can reach a steady 200 Watts and 250 Watts for shorter periods. It's enough to catch the lantern rouge and to overtake some 50 others.
Not bad after all. Average cadence was almost 100 RPM, and it was a good exercise for the legs.
Did the virtual sportive reach the podium place on event roster?The virtual races are the rookies, the newcomers on the sports market fighting for the attention, time and money of a cyclist. How well do they perform?
Zwift events generate a feeling of riding together with other cyclists, almost like belonging to a group. Knowing that these are real persons pedaling their own bike kept me trying a bit harder. Even though Giro de Castelli is a "sportive", it was clear from the first push of pedal that we are racing.
The routes in Zwift are very rideable. Even Watopia Flat wasn't as dull as I expected. As the smart trainer reacts to uphills and downhills changing the resistance, even small ascends make a difference when you are giving it all.
In Richmond, on Libby Hill cobbles section the resistance of my trainer eases off completely but instead of flying forward like in a downhill the speed slows to 1-3 km/h. Some weird and annoying bug.
Surely there are many things with room to improve in online racing. We are talking about a 'promising rookie', aren't we?
Talking with your riding buddies is very limited. You won't learn to know them as all event participants have the same outfit. As Zwift can't show all riders when the group is big, it gets even more confusing.
As the bike-trainer combo is unnaturally rigid, the race simulates speed but has nothing to do with bike handling, or the nuances of drafting. We don't react together to wind, hills, or taking positions inside a group, and drafting is rudimentary.
The races tend to be short, an hour or less. Doing these short steady FTP efforts is not optimal training, unless you are about to race similar ones later in the season.
So, riding with others online has some of the fun experienced in the real world, but to a limited extent.
Then again – it is -6° C outside. Snow and ice. No road bike events in sight. It is very nice to have at least this virtual option available.
For a fitness game like Zwift events and races is a great feature, also marketing-wise. Currently the events are in their "beta", or "rookie" phase. I expect them to develop rapidly and find their place in the "starting lineup" next season.
Cat. A had over 800 riders doing 3 laps. Results in Zwiftpower.