This morning I took part in the 3R Tour of Fire and Ice Hilly Race, which is essentially:
- Start in downtown Watopia
- Head around the Volcano (fire)
- Climb up and then descend to Jungle circuit
- Climb the Alpe Du Zwift (ice)
Whilst I had planned to climb the Alpe Du Zwift this morning, I hadn’t planned to do it as a race.
Waking at 8.50am, I did a quick check of the Zwift Companion App to see if there was anything Alpe Du Zwift related that seemed like a good shout. After all, suffering alone is one thing, but it’s vastly preferable (for me, at least) to suffer with others.
Fortunately there was the 3R ride available, but it started at 9.10am! Yikes.
With my two slices of toast barely swallowed, and half a cup of coffee sitting alongside me on the window sill, we were underway.
I’d have liked a bit of a calmer Sunday morning, but the truth is, the sudden start was the kick up the pants I needed to get this climb underway.
I tried my best to pace myself out of the gate, and did fairly well on this front. Aside from a small portion at the start, I largely stuck to around 160w or so as we complete the Lead In and go the race under way proper.
It seems a bunch of other Cat C riders had a roughly similar idea to me, and I found myself in a small pack. Generally I tried to sit in the middle of the bunch and take advantage of the draft.
Being completely honest, even with the fairly casual start pace, I was feeling tired by the time we hit the first “teaser” climb. This is the little switch back that gets you up to the bridge heading over to the Epic KOM, or down to the Jungle Circuit.
As ever with Zwift races, I was highly aware that a bunch of riders would likely have shot out of the gate at an unsustainable pace, and my goal was to see just how many places I could claw back.
Hitting the little climb, the small bunches of riders that had clumped together were quickly fractured apart.
By the time I got to the top of the this little climb I was effectively riding solo. Things remained this way all the way in to the Jungle Circuit descent.
I took this opportunity to catch a breather, ahead of the big climb.
About two thirds of the way down the descent, most of the small pack that had been together before the little climb had reformed, and they swallowed me up.
I noted that I’d been ~50s ahead of these guys prior to them catching me, so was all too aware of how slow I must have taken that descent.
In pictures it seems like we were at the base of the Alpe Du Zwift really rather quickly. However it had taken me 30 minutes to reach there.
I wasn’t feeling too bad at this point. I knew I had at least an hours climbing ahead of me (at an average of 12% gradient) but 30 minutes of what was essentially a warm up had me feeling good to go.
This has to be compared and contrasted with last week’s climb, Passo dello Stelvio, where I’d started at the base of the climb and in no way felt ready to hit that hill.
One of my goals for this ride was to try my best at a 20 minute road test for my FTP.
I knew I’d spend most of this ride in the saddle. I’ve learned the hard way that the very best way to tackle a climb like this is to use the little ring right from the get go, and try as best I can to stay north of 70rpm (and preferably 80rpm).
Focussing on watts per kilogram rather than actual wattage numbers has also been something that has served me well. On this one I was targeting 2.8w/kg, if at all possible.
There was a risk to this after yesterday’s ride, which was harder than I should have ridden.
Ahead of the climb I was sitting at 122/188 riders, and I’d had the goal of breaking the Top 100.
By the end of the first corner I’d managed to pass 12 riders, and was sat in 110th.
And this continued on to the second corner in which I managed to pass another 7 riders and get myself down to 103rd.
This was in large part to me mentally setting the start line as the start of my FTP road test.
However, the idea of being able to push at ~225w average (or about 3.1w/kg as best I recall) for the next 15 minutes or so quickly faded.
As I neared the 100th rider, things got more tiring.
I was aware that I’d gone harder than I perhaps ought to have out of the gate. However I still felt decent, even if the ~180bpm heart rate is making you think otherwise.
After this things just became a grind.
I tried my level best to keep the average watts above 200 for each corner, but by corner 16 I was starting to struggle with this.
Essentially at this point it became a mental battle. Just keep turning the pedals, try to stay ahead of the people behind me, try to catch the next rider in front of me.
Large parts of these sections were head down, with very little memory of proceedings.
In many ways the Alpe Du Zwift riding experience makes things seem easier than last week’s Passo dello Stelvio.
Having the corners so clearly marked gave me something to focus on.
I could see the next corner would be half a kilometer, or 400m or a long one at say 0.7km or whatever.
I could see my heart rate from the previous segment, and what average watts I had achieved.
And there were loads of riders around me. Targets, or markers not to let my pacing fall off.
This was dramatically different to the samey-samey scenery, and no one else around me for miles.
Unlike yesterday, I only managed to achieve my weekly riding goal once today 😉
By this point I had grown accustomed to the names around me. Rather than being ever changing, even the tiny amount of screen real estate handed over the 3 riders around me became useful information.
I noticed today that sitting up (not holding the handle bars) was giving me slightly higher average watts than holding the bars.
I swapped between them frequently, and am aware this wouldn’t work out on the road. But indoors, it’s another tactic to know about and use accordingly. That said, I’m really not sure why this would be?
Inside the final 10 corners I’d managed to climb my way up to 85th.
I was wondering if I’d have a chance of breaking under 80th (spoiler: nope).
I really do think the recent Sweet Spot Training has been a major help in my increased fitness and ability on these long climbs. Hitting over 195w, and then having to recover at FTP is a really important skill to have and even though I’ve only done a couple, those workouts have definitely helped.
Around tent city / corner 6, I really found myself struggling.
I’d dropped down to about 2.2w/kg average, and the riders behind me seemed to be catching me up. Even though this section looks fairly flat (at about 5% average), I really found it difficult to drop gears and continue the push.
This is simply lack of fitness, and something I am sure will come in time, if I keep up these weekly longer climbs and harder training sessions.
I’m not sure exactly where I am with the November Movember kit goal. I do know that riding of 9 hours or so should be fairly easy to smash.
That said, I do have another Zwift alternative I want to use for next week’s climb. More on that in the weekly review.
Around these last few kilometers the riders around me were very difficult to catch, but also they seemed to be keeping a standard distance from me, too.
Perhaps working together with another rider or two would have helped me make a better time of this ride. That said, I could only go with the riders on the road around me. And I had no intention of dropping back, nor the power to catch the person in front.
It was around this point that I made my way up to position 80.
This would be my best position on the day. And unfortunately I dropped a couple of spots back over the next few corners after stronger riders ate me up.
With no idea of my overall time, and no other markers or guides to work with, my goal became to keep in front of those riders behind me at all costs.
The problem here was that I’d dropped off the pace quite significantly. The last 3 corners were the hardest challenge of them all. And this wasn’t due to the steep slope. By now things had become somewhat less slope-y at about 8% average.
I’d just burned myself hard and was now really feeling it. Minutes went by where I was at 160w or so. Again, sitting up was the answer and I managed to find it within myself to get back up to about 180w / 2.6w/kg.
By the final corner I was losing ground quite significantly to the riders behind me.
Gone was the chance of catching the rider in front. He was simply too good for me.
I could see one of the riders behind me had shaved about 10 seconds off the gap in the last 3 corners, and it took a mammoth push on my part to grind up that last stretch to the finish.
Unlike last week, I made sure not to push super ridiculously hard to the line. However I did definitely give it everything I had to make it to the line.
Along the last three corners I’d had a bit of activity out of the saddle. During that time I’d not managed more than 230w (not sure of the w/kg unfortunately), and was down around 50rpm or so.
For the final push I was in the saddle, giving it high RPM’s (or as high as I could at this point) and do recall seeing over 300w, but again, I couldn’t tell you the watts per kilo.
Overall I came 80th.
I’m really happy with this.
I’m not sure I could have done any better, with my current fitness levels.
After ride weigh in came to 11 stone 2lbs 2 ounce.
Here’s the results that matter a little more too me.
In Cat C I managed 29th of 43 riders.
The top 8 riders in Cat C all managed to average over the 3.2w/kg guidance range for Cat C.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, why the F doesn’t Zwift auto categorise? I just don’t get it.
As covered last week in the Passo dello Stelvio write up, I have seemingly lost my previous Alpe Du Zwift climb time from Strava.
However, from the Leaderboards I made, I do know my last attempt on this segment was a 74:26.
Today’s effort was a 71:44, so a significant improvement.
Once at the top, I was pretty much ready to be off the bike.
For once I let myself cruise down. Only a touch of light cool-down peddling before admiring the Super Tuck positioning as I zoomed downhill for a solid ten minutes.
Once at the bottom I had already been off the bike for about 5 minutes 🙂
There’s no better workout available on Zwift, as far as I am aware.
1172 calories burned by 11am on a Sunday morning? I’ll take it.
I’d not expected to cover 40+km on a ride taking in the Alpe Du Zwift, if I’m honest. But again, happy tor get a bunch of extra kilometres on the week.
There’s still an absolute ton of work to be done regarding my fitness on these climbs, but overall I’m really happy with this progress given it’s only been 2 weeks.
The real win for me on this week’s ride was seeing the new top line on the critical power chart.
From my early days of riding, I learned that FTP is the measure of average watts a rider is expected to be able to sustain for an hour.
Well, today I managed to do just this.
This seems like a major achievement for me.
I’m fairly sure that given a solid rest period, and then a little fiddling about on the 20 minute FTP test (i.e. not doing the stupidly hard early effort), I could put out something higher than ~195w at this point. I’d be dead, for sure, but I think I could push it beyond 195w at this point.
That said, today is proof that I can hold my FTP for an hour. So for me, big big win.
Afterwards I put all my calories back on.
Well, you have to treat yourself.
OK, so whether or not I ride tomorrow I am absolutely uncertain.
One things for sure, my next ride will be an easy one. Probably the FTP Builder series, and one of the long blue rides at 130w or so. Nice and easy.
For now, it’s time to rest my thighs.