Earlier this afternoon I took part in Stage 4 of Zwift’s Tour For All 2020. Today was probably the most challenging of all the stages of the Tour – a racing climb up the Alpe Du Zwift.
Being completely honest I wasn’t super up for this one. I had originally planned to ride at 9am, but for once, I managed to only wake up at 08:50, so that went out of the window. Instead, I took a lovely lounging breakfast of fruit and fibre with assorted nuts, and decided I’d get in on the action at 11am.
Well, 11am came and went, and I still wasn’t in the mood for that one, either. Uh-oh.
Instead, I decided I’d race at the next available event – which would be immediately after dinner. A dinner, I should add, of last night’s chicken pasta.
I went into this one feeling fairly decent about my daily food intake. Pretty good race fuel. Certainly better than some of my previous dietary options prior to a big climb.
But as I’d eaten the dinner within ~30 minutes of the ride, I was feeling less than optimal, shall we say.
What I did manage to do today was to get a fairly decent warm up. Only 5km, but it got the legs spinning, and I was able to bed in the changes I’ve made – yet again – to my power setup. Back to 170 on the cranks now, so a dip in watts, but I hope to God as close to accurate as I’m going to get.
Starting off today I definitely went a bit too hard on the lead in.
I should state straight away that I had my own game plan today. Race or not, I knew my numbers.
I was aiming solidly for 220w average per corner. This would be approx 3.3w/kg for me. A challenging increase on my previous attempt at the Alpe.
My underlying goal was to beat the climb in under 60 minutes. My previous best time being 1h 3m 15s.
I tried to figure out a way to mathematically deduce the average watts needed, but failed at that. So I figured I’d do a 220w average and see what that came out at, and then next time, adjust if I still didn’t break the 60 minute marker.
Right off the bat I went too hard. I knew this would happen, so had to actively force myself to slow down.
Ideally I’d like to go at a cadence of 90-95rpm on a climb like this, but I simply don’t have the bike setup to allow me to do this. I found a fairly steady rhythm at around 85rpm in the very easiest gear, but even so the first few corners were in the high 220’s.
I was all too aware that such a pace would inevitably come back to kick my ass later on up the climb.
My idea today was to have a full playlist of programming tutorials stacked up and ready to go on my second monitor. Anything to take my mind off the relentless 9% average gradient.
Unfortunately though, my playlist kinda didn’t work. The sound was all over the show, so I gave up and settled for the standard Adam Beyer techno set to get me through. Shame really, as with an hour to kill it’s at least worth a shot at trying to kill two birds with one stone.
The other strategy I use is really basic:
I look focus on the current corner only. I’ll steal a glance at what the next corner’s distance is, but keep the current corner as my primary focus.
Today was all about ensuring every corner was at, or above, that all important 220w figure.
I find having a hard target in mind makes hitting that target easier than just ad-hoc’ing it corner to corner.
There was one corner – I think corner 13 today (the one with tents) where I thought I was going to considerably drop under 220w for that segment.
After the first 10 or so efforts I was really starting to feel it, and both my cadence and power took a dip. I told myself I was taking a breather in the first third to half of the longer segment, and that I’d “put the hammer down” so to speak for the final 2/3rds to 1/2.
But as we got closer to the end of the segment I really hard to work hard to get that average back up. And I’ve made this mistake before – thrashing myself to meet a target, only to dip harder on the subsequent corner.
Fortunately today, whilst my averages very much started to slip in the last ten corners, I managed to hold them all above 220w.
Again as Zwift doesn’t really have a great UX / UI to show how my time was progressing, as I came to the final corner I had no clue as to whether I was under, just about on the hour, or already over.
From somewhere, God knows where, I managed to really dig in on that final kilometre or so and finish the ride strong. Frustratingly, Zwift drops the average watts on the final climb, so you have to guess. Fortunately with the finish line in sight, it’s easier than it has been for the previous 21 corners to find that hidden reserve and push home to the finish.
Typically I wouldn’t know my time on the climb until checking Strava after the fact. But today I was met with two achievement unlocks:
- Lift Off: Climb the Alpe in under 60 minutes, and;
- Avid Climber: Climb the Alpe 5 times.
Knowing I’d hit my target of climbing the Alpe du Zwift in under 60 minutes was a massive win for me. I didn’t much care about anything else honestly, not my place in the race, not having done the Alpe 5 times, and I missed whatever drop I got from the spinning wheel in the process. Oh well.
88th out of 169 on the day, with Zwift Power recording me as 66th in Category A out of a field of 80. I’ll take that all day long, honestly. I’m hugely punching above my weight riding in Category A, so really don’t put much substance on any of these rankings.
My one regret today was not setting my Zwift FTP back to 214w prior to the ride.
As a result of having differing crank lengths and what not, my figures seem very skewed at the moment. I do feel at this point they are accurate and fair, but I don’t know what the best figure to use as an FTP would be at this point. I’m tempted to call it 218w which is where I was a few months back now, but holding ~220w for the climb kinda says that figure might be more accurate.
That said, what’s 2w, really? Nathin. That’s watt.
On the way back down today I got a new bike unlock.
No idea why I got this, or for what. But I’ll take it.
I have to say after this one I am really feeling it.
This ride thoroughly took it out of me, as these longer climbs so often do.
It’s been a solid way to end the week, and I’m glad I decided to do it today – and as a race – so I can take tomorrow off as a solid rest day.
That said, I have “committed” to doing the Tour For All as both long rides, and long races. And to do the long group ride again is yet another trip up the Alpe.
I’m honestly not sure if I can be bothered with that again so soon. Sure, I’d take it at a more relaxed pace, but really, is that the best use of my time? I think I’d prefer to do the shorter group ride and get in a solid outdoor ride midweek with the alleged mini heat wave instead.
All in all, this was a solid way to cap off a really busy week on the bike. I still need to do my weekly review write up, but this week has seen some long and hard riding. I’m glad the final ride of the week came away with such rewarding numbers, even if my thighs feel absolutely smashed as a result.
I feel the 223w for the hour mark is about as fair as it’s going to get at the moment. This puts me at needing to find 7w, give or take, over the next 7 months. I’m not sure where they are going to come from as that ride felt like I was pushing my absolutely limit towards the end. But I guess that’s how I’ve felt on every other ascent, so I’m sure they will come from somewhere.
I took the liberty of looking ahead at Stage 5 of the Tour. The so called “Fan Favourites”.
I have to say, they are not any of my favourites. Most of the options look bloody horrendous.