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!