Tour de Zwift 2023 | Stage 6 | Longer Ride

Having hurt my knee climbing up Mount Ventoux on Stage 3, here we are 11 days later and I’m only just about back up to speed – not quite, but close enough.

The plan today was to complete the Longer Ride, but not at max pace. I had in mind ~220w on the flats and 230w on the climbs. I’d say I did alright on the climbs, but keeping up 220w on the flats after the first two climbs was a tall ask. Overall though, very happy with the recovery, and I think I can potentially get back to racing in the latter part of the week ahead.

But before that, we had to tackle Zwift’s The Three Sisters route. This one tackles the Hilly KOM (Forwards), then the Epic KOM (Forwards), and finally the Volcano KOM. You can see their varying degrees of climbing difficulty over on this page.

Because of the latest Zwift patch I very nearly missed this one. I’d completely forgotten about it, and booted up my PC with 15 minutes to spare, but only made it into the ride with 1.5 minutes ticking down. As such I was right at the back of the bunch when we set off.

It took me a while to find my feet as well, with no warm up and then straight into the Hilly KOM I was definitely dubious about over pushing myself and could already feel my left knee nagging a bit, which wasn’t a good sign.

Fortunately though I had two strategies in mind. One was to keep the cadence high – which invariably meant a fairly easy gear on the relatively gradual (when compared to Mount Ventoux) slopes of all of today’s climbs (bar one, more on that in a sec).

The other was to get out of the saddle as and when I needed too. And I did need too. And that led to some … fun. But again, we will get to that.

With the Hilly KOM done it was still early enough in the ride that holding 220w on the flats was no big ask. So I cruised, with the help of a very large bunch, over to the bottom of the Epic KOM.

From there it was really about executing on the plan. Get my head down, find a nice rhythm, and crank out a ~25 minute effort. I used the Garmin to lap it and see from the stats I hit 228w average – so pretty much bang on target there.

And then we got to the Radio Tower climb.

Straight away I was struggling. It’s a tough climb, but usually I can stay seated, drop to the easiest gear and grit my teeth.

Unfortunately today that didn’t work.

There was a definite pain in my knee – 25 minutes prior effort, into an even bigger ask. Danger. Yikes. Pain.

So I got out of the saddle. Something I rarely do. But hey, it worked. It got me to the first corner, and then I had to sit back down.

With the hardest part done, the second leg – up to the top – was not fast, nor pretty, but I managed it. Around and down, not even close to breaking the 100km barrier today. For that, I’d need an aero, but up until that point I’d had zero power ups all ride. That wasn’t the only quirk today – the drops counter was massively bugged out. But whatever.

Ripping down, I managed to get around the bend and back on the Epic KOM descent when … yowch.

Mega pain.

Thankfully(!?) it was just cramp. That horrible cramp that feels like a golf ball has nestled itself under your skin and found a new home on the back on my calf. It’s so nasty, if you reach down (as I did), you can actually feel this knot twitching maliciously.

Anyway, the pain was so bad I had to get off. I thought I wouldn’t be able to continue. But with a minutes stretching I chanced it back on the bike, and thankfully it had gone. Result. And on I went.

From there I found myself at the bottom of the Volcano KOM with a huge bunch. And of course they tore away from me as we went over the start marker.

Again I fell back into my now well practised rhythm. This time around though I was struggling to find 220w, let alone 230.

However, after doing ~32 minutes of climbing on the Epic KOM + Radio Tower, the ~9 minutes on the Volcano soon passed, and I found myself passing through the arch to complete the days climbing.

Yet again I got the nigglings of cramp on the descent. I think this was residuals though, and I managed to keep going. I hadn’t been out of the saddle at all on the Volcano, so not sure what was going on. I guess with ~10 days recovery I’m just out of routine maybe?

And then that was that really. I just wanted it over with and realised I’d dropped off my pace. So isolated, and with a couple of riders up the road as my target I set off aiming to put in a good final couple of kilometres. I never caught them, but I did manage to use my Draft with no one to draft. I feel like I was being trolled with power ups today.

Anyway, glad it’s done. I did enjoy it, in its own unique way.

I have no idea what Stage 7 has in store, but it feels like the only place we haven’t been now is Makuri, so I’m guessing it will be there. And no doubt there will be plenty of climbing to be done, because that seems to be the mantra of this Tour. Up hill. All up hill.

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