Racing with Zwift

There area number of different types of organised rides you can do on Zwift with a 24 hour calendar of events. So far I’ve done social rides and a few races. Recently they have introduced group training workouts to supplement the menu of different workouts for individual riders. I haven’t tried a group workout yet but will do so in the next few days hopefully.

They are like the individual workouts in that you work through a series of intervals based upon a percentage of your FTP but you are riding in a group that always stays together (assuming you keep pedalling) despite in practice producing different watts that would in the ordinary way mean individuals would be travelling at widely different speeds. Unlike a social ride or a race you can’t get left behind and you can’t escape off the front. The illustration above shows that despite the riders in the group list producing varied watts per kilo but still riding in a compact group.

I have done a few races. My first one was a handicap event where you signed up to race in one of 4 grades, A, B. C or D. I was in the D grade for riders whose watts per kilo are 2.5 or less. My FTP is about 150, maybe a little higher, and my weight is 87 kilos so my watts/kg are 1.7 so as you might imagine I took quite a pasting! THe groups started at 3 minute intervals with the D group setting off first. I got dropped very early, after about 5 minutes and rode alone until first the B group and then the A group came flying by far too fast for me to latch on and get a draft. After about 30 minutes the C group caught me going significantly slower than the B and A group and, if I had not been so knackered,  I think I might have been able to stay with them for a while. In the event I was just about cooked by then, 40 minutes into a 60 minute race, and I blew up and stopped. My big mistake was not realising I had to go absolutely flat out for the first few minutes so as not to get dropped by my D group. I let them go because I knew there was no way I could keep up the speed at the beginning of the race for a full hour but I now know neither could they. After I dropped of I found that after a while the gap between me and them more-or-less stabilised. They still drew away form me but quite gradually and not so fast that, had I still been with them and drafting, I could have lasted much longer with them. Who knows how long but the C group would have caught us or me much further into the race and I may have had a chance of at least finishing and getting a position. I’ll try this race again in due course I think.

Otherwise I’ve done 5 races with The Big Ring handicap events. These are rather different in that everyone starts together but are handicapped by adding or subtracting from their weight depending on their FTP. The idea, I think, is to make everyone have the same watts per kilo so that in practice the same watts produced at anytime in a race, up hill or down dale, will produce the same speed over the ground. This means in theory that the only difference between riders and therefor the race results will depend on how they manage their effort, for instance judicious use of drafting, choosing when to use energy closing gaps and when to conserve it and hope to get a tow across, when to climb at a steady rate and when to make a greater effort to bridge a gap or drop someone drafting you, and so on. And of course, the ability and stomach for suffering!

So far my results have been mixed to put it mildly! My first race I didn’t finish. I got dropped in the ‘neutralise’ ride to the start where the leader’s call of ‘go, go’ go’ started the real race. An ignominious start. My actual weight at the time was 88 and I was riding with a handicap of 78 I think. The problem was mainly not warming up properly and not being mentally prepared to go with the pace even for the roll out. As a result of this the TBR handicapper took pity on me and I found I had a handicap of 61 kg for the next race. Not surprisingly I found I was able to stay with the bunch near the front and finished 3rd. I was with the leaders at the top of Box Hill after a hard chase but had little left for the few miles left to the finish. So, a podium. In fact the next race, with the same handicap, I won! This was in the final sprint which I took by 2 seconds.

This, I’m afraid, was a false dawn for my renewed racing career at the age of 71 and after a 31 year break from road racing. A mistake had been made on my handicap and rather than 61 kg it should have been 88, the same as my real world weight. The next two races were a trip back to reality for me. My third race I finished last just over 4 minutes behind the second to last rider and about 12 minutes behind the winner, someone who I had beaten by two and half minutes the week before! I rode the whole race by myself apart from the first 5 minutes. My fourth race, last Tuesday, once again I finished last, this time over 5 minutes behind the penultimate rider and nearly 15 minutes behind the winner. This sounds worse than last week’s race but in fact there were some signs of improvement. I managed to stay with a small group for about 15 minutes before getting dropped but managed to stay with and get a draft from one other rider. I managed to do a few brief turns on the front but even drafting I was at or above my threshold for most of the time so wasn’t much help. I hung on until the bottom of Box Hill but got dropped by two and a half minutes by the top and struggled to the finish line alone losing a further couple of minutes.

So, from hero to zero in 1 week. It is a little dispiriting but I didn’t start using Zwift with a view to winning races, just to lose weight, get fitter and live longer! Unless my handicap is changed I think I am likely to finish last on a regular basis but it will still be a measure of growing strength and fitness if I can be closer to the riders n front of me and, perhaps, one day, not be last! My next race is tomorrow. Watch this space!

Update 8/11/17. My handicap was reduced from 88 to 76 kilos so I did better in yesterday’s race. I finished last as usual but only 9 minutes behind the winner and 2 and a half minutes behind the second to last rider. I also stayed with the main group for a little longer and lost less time on Box Hill. Progress!

 

Neo update

In the last two posts I mentioned that I had not got the Neo setup quite right as the gears didn’t change very smoothly and one of them, the 4th from bottom gear (i.e. from the largest sprocket) slipped and was unusable. However, I have been riding the bike like this since July and it hasn’t stopped me enjoying riding on Zwift and so up until today have not got round to trying to fix it. This is also partly because it took me so long to fit the cassette in the first place that, since it was ride-able, I was reluctant to spend another 4 hours trying to sort it out. I did discuss this with Woodrups some time ago and the theory was that I had fitted the offending sprocket the wrong way round. I decided to attempt the fix at this stage as recently I had been getting involved in rather more demanding rides on Zwift including some handicap races and I found that the unusable sprocket was frequently the one I needed!

In the event, fixing it today was not too bad. I had indeed fitted the 4th sprocket the wrong way round and when I put the bike back on the trainer this gear now worked fine. Much to my dismay another sprocket had become unusable due to slipping. In this case I spotted straightway that I had put a spacer on the wrong side of it so it was hard pressed up against the next sprocket, thus making 2 of them unusable. This was soon remedied and now all seems well. The whole process took me about an hour so a vast improvement on the 4 hours the original cassette fitting took me.

I have made extensive and regular use of the trainer and Zwift but not had much time to record anything here. I will do so in the near future, including my first experiences of virtual racing. I’ve still be going out in the real world (IRL rides – in real life) while the weather has been good and will continue to do throughout the winter but there is no doubt I will hit next Spring significantly fitter than in the past now I have a smart trainer and Zwift.

Tacx Neo – 5 weeks later

In the 5 weeks I’ve had the Neo I’ve ridden it 27 times. long enough for a detailed reflection on the experience. It’s an expensive bit of kit and, if you pay the full price, can cost you £1300. I did rather better than that but it was still a considerable investment. I bought it for various reasons but on the technical side it is the quietest on the market, it has all the necessary connectivity for use with laptops, smart phones, TVs and, importantly, Zwift (of which more later – it is the deal maker as far as I am concerned) and even has a ‘road feel’ feature so that you feel the cobbles, paving, boardwalks and gravel as you ride over them. This can be disabled if you wish. It is also very accurate in its measurements of cadence, watts, speed and miles as well as how it reacts to gradients – It will measure power at far higher levels than I will ever achieve and accurately simulates gradients up to 25%. How all this adds up to an enthralling experience when riding on Zwift, either alone or in a social or race group, I’ll leave ’til another post.

When I got it home and unpacked it, I found the setting up was very easy with the exception of fitting the sprockets to the freewheel body. It is designed to take either Shimano or Campagnola sprockets, 10 or 11 speed but this complicates the way the sprockets line up with the appropriate spines. I took me nearly 4 hours to get the sprockets on and my Giant Defy Advanced up and running on the trainer. The first problem was getting the sprockets on in the first place. I couldn’t see how they should slide on so I just tried everything until, one at a time, I succeeded in getting them to slip over the splines. But then the sprockets were loose. On reading the instruction again I deduced (it wasn’t very clear) that as I had only 10 sprockets I needed an additional spacer behind the innermost sprocket to make up for the missing twelfth. So it all had to come off and be put back on again. Hence the four hours.

Once the bike was on the trainer things went better. It was very easy to install Zwift on my laptop and the mobile app on my tablet. I didn’t take advantage of the 1 week’s free trial and started to pay the subscription straight away. Right from the start I was hooked by Zwift. I set up the laptop immediately in front of the bike so I can read the screen easily and reach the keyboard for changing the camera view and sending text messages to anyone I’m riding with. I have an open window beside me and a water bottle on the window sill alongside a Bluetooth speaker on which I’m playing a Spotify playlist. I have a heavy duty rubberised mat under the bike to make the trainer even more quiet and collect all the sweat I leak and I hang a towel over the handlebars for frequent mopping downs. I can easily spend an hour riding on this set up whereas on my old turbo rollers I was bored out of my skull withing 15 minutes. And riding with others up hill and down dale,through London and the Surrey hills, or on The Richmond, Virginia, 2015 world championship course, or on the fictional roads and the volcano of Watopia, or undertaking any of the structure training programmes and workouts, brings out a lot more effort than if you’re just pedalling along to a bit of music on a standard set of rollers or a non-networked static bike.

Having said all that, I have had other problems. The most irritating is that the gear changes do not move the chain smoothly through the gears and the 4th sprocket from bottom is unusable as the chain just slips over it. I’ve spoken to the dealer I bought the Neo from and it seem I am by no means the first to have this problem. It sounds like I have put the slipping sprocket on the wrong way round and may have not got the others lined up properly. Having got a couple of tips I will reassemble the block in the next few days and see if I can fix it. In the meantime I will carry on as it is and as I have been for the last 5 weeks.

The other problem was after I upgraded the firmware on the trainer using the Tacx utility app on my Android tablet, Zwift stopped registering my cadence. My on screen avatar just freewheeled everywhere even though my real-life legs were whirling around! I repeated the upgrade process again and immediately all was well. In fact the road feel feature started working too, for the first time.

I’ve ridden with a number of training and social groups on Zwift and loved it all. My FTP (functional threshold power) is currently 167 watts and, given my weight is 89 kilogrammes, my power/weight ration is approximately 1.9 w/kg. This is important as it places me in one of the 4 categories for the purposes of entering appropriate races, training and social rides. The fourth group is D for riders with a w/kg of 1.5 to 2.5. So as you can see, I’m near the bottom of the bottom just about! I have survived a couple of events where the pace was held at between 1.5 and 2.0 w/kg and have just about got to the end of the hour.

So this is where I’m at so far. Another post will report when I get my gear changes sorted out – the shop has offered to do this for me if I can’t manage it – and report on how I’m getting on with Zwift, what the features I love are, and what I’ve learnt about the Zwift platform and virtual riding.

Zwift and smart trainers

For a few months now I’ve been trying to persuade myself to buy a new smart trainer and start riding on Zwift, the internet cycling social platform. So last Tuesday 25th July I bought a Tacx Neo direct drive smart trainer and set it up on the spare bedroom.

It took a while to fit the sprockets from the Giant Defy to the cassette body on the trainer but once I realised it needed an additional spacer (I had 10 sprockets and the body takes 11) all went quite well except I get chain jumping on the 4th largest sprocket, the first separate sprocket after the block of 3 biggest). A smart trainer measures speed (mph), cadence (rpm) and power in watts. When linked to software it will display and record all this data.

I have joined Zwift which gives you a range of virtual locations to ride, at the moment various circuits if different length and terrains on a fictitious island called Watopia, various courses in and around London including the Surrey hills like Box Hill, and the Richmond USA world championship course from 2015. In addition there are a number of training workouts to choose from for everyone from beginners to top athletes.

I have joined three Facebook groups focused on group rides and races on Zwift. The Big Ring, based in Australia, runs a series of weekly races on Mondays and Thursdays. The Monday races are handicap events which in principle puts everyone on a level footing. Most races are for different categories of riders depending on their watts per kilogram measurement. This is calculated by dividing your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) by your weight in kilograms. FTP represents your ability to sustain the highest possible power output over 45 to 60 minutes. Generally speaking the figure used is 95% average power you can achieve going flat out for 20 minutes. Mines about 160 watts at the moment so my watts per kilogram (current weight 94 kg) is 1.7 w/k, not very good. For Zwift races this puts me firmly in the D category for riders under 2.5 w/k. The Big Ring handicap races even everyone up by assigning them a weight to enter into their Zwift profile before the race. Strong light riders have an increased weight and heavy weak riders like me are given a lighter weight to enter. At the moment my race weight is 78 kilograms! The highest is 220 and the lowest 58. My first race will be next monday.

In the meantime I did a steady paced 1 hour ride with another Facebook group, Ride On For Health, or RO4H. This was very steady and it got me used to riding in company, drafting and closing gaps. The illustration below is of me (my avatar is not a good likeness!) leading the group. It’s a good supportive group mainly focused on fitness and health and, where appropriate rehabilitation.  Zwift seems to simulate drafting and the gradients very well and you get a real feel for group riding and the tactics of racing. On this ride I got a bit carried away and around the 40 minute mark another rider, not in our group, came past and I jumped on his wheel gaping my group by about 15 seconds at one point. I dropped back fairly quickly and we all finished together as intended.

 

2017 trip to France

Back from another lovely holiday in France and back to reality. It took seven hours of driving for the last leg yesterday from Brighton to Bradford (about the same total time from Dieppe to the Dordogne) and this morning we woke to heavy rain. At least I’m not sweating.

The plan to use the holiday and daily rides round our Laveysierre circuit did not work out due to me arriving with a heavy head cold. It was not too bad on the Saturday afternoon we arrived so I did a circuit steadily straight away as we had had 2 days of driving, eating and drinking with practically no exercise. The cold got worst for a couple of days so I only managed to go round the circuit a couple more times towards the end of the week. My best time this year was 22 minutes 03 seconds compared with my all time best of 19 minutes 38 seconds. My best time this year up the 1.2 mile climb was 9 minutes 38 seconds compared with 8 minutes 15 seconds. So not too bad considering my cold and the fact that I’m about a stone heavier than when the best times were set.

I’m now 32nd out of 46 on the leader board for the Strava segment I set up. The current leader is a young local man who has done it in 4 minutes 17 seconds, about twice as fast as me! Strava has a facility where you can compare your stats with any other rider. In 2017 so far this young man (I shall call him Pascal since that’s his name) has ridden 4,767 miles compared to my 256. I’m guessing he is a pro bike racer but he may just be an unemployed enthusiast. He also rides a full carbon bike worth about £6000. My rides are on a near 30 year old heavy steel hybrid with heavy duty wheels and tyres, not to mention a bell and a carrier. Pascal must be praying I never bring my carbon bike over! On the plus side I’m second on the 65 and over leader board and Daniel is only 1 minute 17 seconds faster than me, also on a race bike. He has done a mere 1,927 miles this year so far and I bet he’s only just 65, so a youngster. I think 6 minutes 58 seconds might be doable if I can lose the stone and get on a race bike. I will be petitioning Strava to introduce a 70+ leader board. 65 is so yesterday.

Another plus is that I didn’t put any weight on while in France this year. This, I think, qualifies as a miracle and I am expecting pilgrims at my door any day.

Tadcaster Sportive 2017

When I bought my Giant Defy Advance all carbon sportive bike in March 2013, just over four years ago, I had no idea how little I would use it. For most of that year I was doing fairly short rides on my steel hybrid to get fit and the first sportive I entered was the Lincolnshire Arrow in May 2014. This didn’t happen as I was unexpectedly away and the following April, 2015, I had the mountain bike accident that required most of the summer to recover. So the first sportive I managed to do was April 2016, the Tadcaster event I reported on here, three years after buying the bike. As a result of my stay in hospital with a ruptured kidney I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had surgery in August 2016 which kept me off my bike for most of the rest of the year but I did manage to ride the 2017 Tadcaster sportive earlier this month. But as the route recorded below, I only did 22 miles.

I played in a racketball tournament the day before and had a fairly heavy evening so got up late on the Sunday morning and had to rush. I got to Tadcaster in time to sign on and get through the starting gate before it closed but I was on my own. The route for the 60k event, which I was doing, was common to both events, the 60k and the 100k. Those doing the longer event repeated the first 3 miles or so of the 60k route and then went off on another 40 k hilly loop to the north east of Leeds. The route was well signed but unfortunately I missed the right turn in Boston Spa for the initial 60k loop and when I picked up the next sign I was unknowingly on the 40k hilly finishing loop for the100k event. As soon as I got into the hills near Collingham I knew I’d gone wrong but didn’t feel I had the fitness to turn back. I carried on, walking on a couple of the steeper hills and eventually got back to Tadcaster when I recorded a time of 1 hour 51 minutes, an average speed of 12 mph which, in the circumstances, was quite creditable. But it was a lonely ride with none of the group riding I’d bee looking forward to, or being able to shelter in the wheels like I had last year. On the plus side it was lovely countryside, the East Leeds villages are very pretty, and it was a sunny and fairly windless day.

I shall do more sportives and also look out for suitable audax and reliability trial events. I’ve got a few days cycling with my friend Mike in Scotland in June and France again in July. There is also talk of doing the Sustrans route along the coast from Dover to Brighton. We shall see.

Post prostate cycling

After my radical prostatectomy on the 21st August it has taken a while to get back on my bike. I was walking the next day and having a gentle knock on the squash court in less than 2 weeks. Competitive racketball started early November. But cycling is more of a problem as the re-plumbing required is directly adjacent to the perineum which presses on the saddle. I first rode my hybrid post-op on the 21st October for about 15 mins. A bit sore but not too bad. Over the next few days I did a short 2 mile circuit with the saddle tilted slightly down at the front to relieve pressure. This seemed to work but put additional load on my arms. The following dated paragraphs are copied from my Facebook updates.

1/11 Went a bit further today. The saddle tilted forward does help ease the pressure on ‘the affected area’ for the moment but a new saddle is still needed, probably in the next week or two. I spent a lot of time pushing a highish gear on the top ring to help keep weight off my bum. This worked pretty well too. I’m usually a twiddler and prefer lower gears and faster pedalling. This is a habit I got into riding many miles in road race bunches conserving energy. Being in a lower gear (as long as it’s not too low) helps you accelerate faster in response to an attack or splits in the bunch. I managed to do at a PR on Strava even though I’m unfit. Perhaps I should start using higher gears in future. The ride back along the canal was stunning; sunshine, the autumn colours and the swish and rustle of golden leaves on the towpath.

[I bought a Bontrager Montrose Comp MTB saddle from All Terrain Cycles in Saltaire on the 5th November. It is suitable for road of mountain bikes but is designed for a fairly aggressive forward leaning posture; posture 2 in the Bontrager 5 posture schemes where 5 is leisure and 1 road racing].

8/11 First ride on my new Bontrager saddle. Only 30 minutes but felt OK so far. Still making steady progress but will need to get longer rides in and a few more hills to get my previous level of fitness back. Fortunately there is no shortage of hills round Bradford!

13/11 Had a lovely ride this morning, testing out my new bum-friendly saddle on slightly rougher ground. Met good friend and fellow racketeer Rick Brooks at Saltaire and rode back with him along the canal to the Bridge cafe at Apperley Bridge for breakfast. We then rode up the hill to Greengates to catch the 2 minutes silence at the Memorial Garden before going our separate ways. It was interesting to hear about his experiences meeting an old friend in the US a few weeks ago. Where he went there seemed little doubt that Trump would win.

4/12 Great social ride with Rick this morning. An interesting mixture of short sections of main and minor roads, cycle paths, bridleways and canal towpath. Stopped for breakfast at the Bridge Cafe, Apperley Bridge. Once again luck with the weather. Knackered by the time I got home! The ride was quite demanding with three shortish but steep climbs and my hybrid makes quite hard work of the rough bridle paths compared with my mountain bike. I’ve put on half a stone since my operation at the end of August so I need more time on the bike and less at the bar!

So, that’s my post-op cycling so far. The last ride particularly was quite comfortable, probably a combination of the new saddle and continued healing.

Latest holiday in France

Went to Lavaysierre in France again this year with my bike and did quite a lot of cycling, some every day. I rode with Matt to the Bastille Day brunch at the Domaine De Coutancie brunch, about a 14 mile round trip. I rode to Bergerac and back for the first time, about 18 miles in all. And about 6 laps of the Lavaysierre circuit that Matt, Judy and I compete over. The following is my last ride round the circuit when I set a PB for it and also for the Strava climb segment. This is the first time under 20 minutes with and average speed of 14.2 mph and the 8 mins 15 seconds for the 1.2 mile climb represents 9.4 mph.


Pre-breakfast training

I did one of my regular short fitness ride this morning before breakfast on my carbon Giant Defy. The difference is amazing, compared with my trusty hybrid. I did the ride in 31 minutes rather than the 40 or so I normally take. The tyres are rather narrow (23mm) for some of the road surfaces round here and I’m wondering if I could do with a more utility road bike in my stable. The Ridgeback hybrid is very heavy but I wouldn’t dream of parting with it. It makes a great commuting bike and of course, being heavy, it gives me plenty of exercise too!

Tadcaster sportive

On Sunday 10th April Laurie Bailey and I (almost) completed the 60k version of the Tadcaster sportive. In fact we went slightly off route and missed about a 3 mile loop but I was still pleased with how I went. I was confident I would complete the distance but not if I would be able to keep up with a reasonably paced group. We found ourselves in a pretty fast group that batted along at between 15 and 20 mph most of the time and the initial hilly section (about 10 miles of fairly gentle undulations were ridden entirely on the big ring. I was also a bit worried about how safe I would be on a strange and rather fast steering bike riding in close company. I hadn’t ridden my Giant Defy for over a year and had not been on anything like a close ordered group ride for over 30 years! But all was well and I soon got back into the swing of things. When I think of how many thousands of miles of club runs, chain gang sessions and races I have done then perhaps I should have been a bit more confident in my ability. The average speed was just over 15 miles and hour. The whole thing was a great experience and left we keen to do some more this year. Laurie is about 10 years younger than me and a strong rider. I was OK at the back of the group but when needed he paced me to keep me in touch. I seems I can still follow a wheel pretty closely! Over the last 4 miles or so I began to tail off on the finishing hills but always kept going and soon made contact again on the flat and downhill.
Although I had intended to do the Lincoln Arrow sportive in May as well (the one I had to pull out of last year after my mountain bike accident) I will be away that weekend on a narrow boat holiday on the Leeds Liverpool canal. However, there is a similar event near Wetherby in September and I hope to find some audax events or reliability trials before then too. I’m gradually building my fitness and cycling a bit more regularly now. Last week we were in Norfolk staying at Sutton Lea Manor with family and I managed to ride everyday while we were there covering just over 80 miles in short rides of between 7 and 15 miles. This was on my Ridgeback hybrid, a very different experience to riding the much lighter and responsive all carbon Giant Defy.
tadcaster sportive april 2016(2) tadcaster sportive april 2016 tadcaster sportive2016-04