Saturday, July 18, 2015

Training - Zwift Sprint, 21.67 seconds

Things have been super busy with me lately and it's hard to find time to post stuff in the blog. One thing that I've been doing is riding the trainer while logged into Zwift. I usually go for the green jersey sprint (a timed few hundred virtual meters sprint). I occasionally go hard on the KOM (my best time is over 3 minutes, typically it takes me 5-7 minutes).

Zwift awards you a boost when you cross a line (start/finish, KOM, sprint). Boosts can be weight reduction (15 seconds long, worth a few kg), aero (30 seconds, worth a second or two over a 30 second super hard effort), drafting (30 seconds, like drafting a truck if you're behind someone, otherwise it's nothing), etc.

If you don't use the boost (press the Space bar to use it) then at the next banner you don't get another one.

If I get an aero boost I feel obligated to save it until the Green Jersey sprint segment. Of course when I soft pedal through stuff I don't get the aero boost, and when I do a "okay this is the last sprint of the night" sprint I inevitably earn another aero boost. I've often ridden another 30-35 minute lap to use up that aero boost and I've extended a ride an hour at least once when on that "really the last sprint of the night sprint" I get yet another aero boost.

To give you an idea of what it's like during one of those sprints here's a short clip I made of a Green Jersey sprint on Watopia, the Zwift island. I got an aero boost at the prior banner (the KOM) so I was psyched to have it for the one sprint I planned on recording.


Screen shot from the ride.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

May 26, 2015 CCAP Tuesday Night Race

"So what's the plan tonight?"

"Well, the first week I just sat at the back. I didn't know how hard it'd be so I just saved as much as I could. I think I can be more active though. I don't want to just sit at the back, I want to be involved a bit more. Maybe be up near the front more and stuff like that."

Yeah, yeah.

Start. Most of the field, it was a small race tonight.

I dislike small fields. It's depressing, as a promoter, and it's difficult, as a racer. Less shelter, less room for error (meaning if I go too hard somewhere there are fewer people to pass me before I get shelled), and overall it exposes my weakness (lack of FTP) and doesn't allow me to maximize my strengths (hiding from the wind).

So when only a couple dozen riders lined up I felt a bit dejected. A few more riders rolled up late but still, it wasn't a big group. I counted the local pro (just one of them), the guy that won Raritan P12 and Somerville Cat 2s in the last two days, a former M35 Canadian Cross champ (okay, he's my teammate), a couple Cat 1s, a bunch of Cat 2s… yeah.

The antagonists getting ready at the front.

Of course those that could got to the front, looking to put down the pain early. I thought about what the Missus asked me on the way to the race, and I thought about my answer. I decided that I'd go with whatever big moves, no matter what it took, and try to hang on.

Two to the left attacking hard.

I saw the pro and a Cat 1 go for it. A few others followed, but I couldn't see them because I was a bit far back. But I knew that the pro would go, the Cat 1 was good for a break, and there were enough guys going up the road that this was the move.

The front group is going away - it's the race and I know it.

I knew that at least two teams would be blocking. I didn't realize it but one of my teammates followed the move. Had I known that I'd have sat in, but I didn't see him and the move was going away so fast I had to go as soon as I could find room to move.

The view as I launched.

After Turn 3 (the break went at Turn 2), I launched hard. I launched so hard I hit numbers I haven't seen all year. 1266w jump. 1100w for 10 seconds. 750w for 30 seconds.

Going past two guys, on the way to the front group.

About 15 seconds in, maybe 20 seconds, I haven't checked, I rolled by two guys that weren't quite on. I was starting to realize that I'd gone way too hard but at this point I wasn't going to slam on my brakes so I kept going.



About to bridge at Turn One.

It took me until just after Turn 1 to bridge. I got some satisfaction when I looked back. The break had a solid 1/3 lap lead on the field and this was only the 3rd lap of the race.

I knew I'd gone too deep and the only thing that would save me is if they went sort of steady for, I dunno, the next 30 minutes.

The break goes hard out of Turn Three and I'm done.

Yeah, right. About 30 seconds later the front guys punched it out of Turn 3 and I was ejected like there was no tomorrow.

Waving to Junior and the Missus.

I couldn't get back into the field, nothing. I was absolutely and totally cooked. I spent a number of laps waving to Junior, who looked very worried the first time I saw him. I must have been making faces and stuff, plus I wasn't going "bike racers very fast" like I normally do.

More waving, this time he was clapping.

I felt better when I saw him clapping. That was better than looking at me all worried and stuff.

Cooked and unable to do much of anything.

My numbers were pretty pathetic. I had nothing.

Lance, good guy and former teammate, rolled by.

Lance, who helped immensely at the Bethel Spring Series as well as the Aetna Nutmeg Spring Series, lapped me a few times, like everyone else. Of course the first thing he said when he lapped me was to get on his wheel so he could pull me along.

I asked him if he was off the front. He was, and in fact I think he was 4th on the road. So I tried to repay him for all the laps he rode at the front for me, all the hours he marshaled, all the hours he swept and brushed and plowed at Bethel, for the help in troubleshooting some of the small engine problems we had on various Sweep Days.

Pulling for Lance.

I couldn't pull him much, just 3/4 of a lap, but I tried to make it count by pulling into the wind, hard, and sitting as high up as I could so I could give him shelter. Seems a bit sad that that's all I could do for him, but there will be other races, other opportunities to try to give something back.

Lance on my wheel.

The long shadows make me look tall but Lance towers over me.

All I can do.

I couldn't pull more than that and I had to tell him to go after a much-too-short pull.

The Missus asked me what I was doing, circling at 10 or 12 mph. It's a sign of how slowly I was riding when a spectator can ask me a detailed question and I could give a detailed answer. I told her I'd do a sprint and stop. I wanted to do a sprint with a clear course. Then the break lapped me (they had lapped the field twice I think so it was a different set of people) so I decided to do my sprint that lap and make it a bridge as much as a sprint.

Before I jumped, that's the break ahead of me.

This is exiting Turn 3 so just the straight plus the curve and then the finish line. I wanted to bridge by the finish line. The break was maybe 2/5 of the way to the line.

Mid effort.

I did what I could on the jump. It wasn't great but it was okay.

Bridge at the finish line, sort of.

I bridged shortly after the finish, coasting up on them as I closed the last few meters. I went straight at Turn 1 when they went left - I knew I was done and made a U-turn and found the Missus and Junior playing in the field.

Junior jumping up and down.

With Junior so happy to see me it was hard to be upset about my race. I felt disappointed, of course, but I took away the one positive - I could read the race perfectly. I knew the move to follow, I just couldn't follow it.

So I played with Junior, caught up with friends, and then packed up and headed home.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Helmet Cam - 2015 Circuit de Walnut Hill, win

It's been a while but here's the first of what I hope to be a few clips from the 2015 race season. This will be the only one from the 2015 Aetna Nutmeg Spring Series - I was too sick during the first three weeks to have a ride worthy of a clip, even skipping the third week altogether.

This was the first outside ride of the year where I felt good, and only the fourth ride outside since an unusually warm Christmas time set of rides.

I'll let the video tell the story, although the text is here.


Monday, May 04, 2015

Racing - 2015 Lime Rock Park, 3rd

Lime Rock Park

So this was my first race since the last of the Aetna Nutmeg Spring Series (ANSS) races that ended April 12th. For me this season has been a sort of revelation. I didn't think I had done much differently compared to the prior 4 years (2010 was an exceptional year) so I didn't have massive expectations. The biggest difference has been losing 15 or so pounds compared to 2014.

The other difference, which I'll address, involves me doing some varied training.

First were some VO2 Max intervals. They've ranged from 5-8 minutes long, 3 or 4 sets per day, 2 days a week. Even though I was sick for most of the ANSS I still managed to improve my fitness significantly, mostly doing the two VO2 Max rides each week. I never do intervals so these longer efforts really helped.

Second is riding with Zwift. With my natural competitive nature (apparently) I found it hard to resist going for the sprints. I basically never sprint on the trainer so for me to do sprints on the trainer, at 100%, for as long as 20 seconds… that's huge for me. I think these short, intense efforts really helped.

My bike is the same as before, wheels, position, even the chain, tires, and cassettes. I've changed nothing on it since 2014, just replaced the electrical tape holding the end of my bar tape and a few zip ties.

Waving to Junior and the Missus, who are on that upper deck area.

Although we arrived at Limerock more than 90 minutes before the start, I was still scrambling to get to the line okay. I had to hit the portapotty while everyone was already lined up, I was physically pushing people (Juniors no less) out of the way to get my bike to the line, it wasn't good. Ultimately though I got everything done - Strava was on, SRM going, helmet cam recording, gloves on, number pinned, bottle on the bike.

I even had to say no to a fellow racer when he asked for help pinning up. As it was I was already scrambling, I think that if I'd pinned him I'd have missed one of my crucial stops before the start. Sorry Jack!

This was a warm day, really the third warm day for me outside (and the fifth ride outside for the year). I  had one Podium Ice bottle, full of ice and water, and I hoped it would be good for the hour long race. I had one such bottle for a close-to-3 hour training ride and it was okay.

I had two teammates and we had really two "plans". Stan had already won the overall at the ANSS and was obviously on a roll. He's our strongest Cat 3 break type rider so he was a natural for going for a break. Nick is also strong and has gotten in some breaks and such. I hoped he could make it into a group off the front. For me it was all about the field sprint. I'd try to help where I could but then I'd focus on doing a good field sprint.

With the win April 12th I had some expectations put on me, both by myself but also by others. For the first time I realized that people would say, "Oh, watch for him in the sprint." To me I wasn't any different but to others I guess I was a guy to watch.

I knew of at least three strong break-type riders in the field. I knew they'd probably mark similar moves and they could very well end up together in a break. I talked to one of the "break-type" riders (he goes by TKP in the forums so that's what I'll call him) and told him Stan would be looking for him.

Problem was that I didn't get a chance to talk to Stan before the race. Therefore...

Telling Stan about allies.

I rolled up to Stan a lap or three into the race and told him that this one guy TKP would be looking for him. Stan immediately moved up and attacked, but TKP didn't go. Then TKP and another guy, GlobeCanvas, went with a second group, chasing down Stan's group. They ended replacing Stan's group and established a solid 20 second lead. With more than 5 riders the break had the whole race sewn up (5 places).

With a massive headwind on the main straight really discouraging chases, and with the hill and downhill a bit limiting in terms of bridging (meaning the field couldn't go that much faster in those sections so it was hard to make up time), the break seemed to have a really good chance of succeeding.

I was focused on the field sprint but I hoped that Stan would be able to get up to the break. Therefore I went to the front to give it a little dig.

Field splintering at the front.

I pushed through and closed some gaps and then went to the front. I wanted to halve the gap, take maybe 10 seconds off the lead, put the break within reach, and set up a good scenario for a counter by Stan. If he could go with one or two other guys (the third strong break type rider I knew was still in the field) then they could realistically make it to the break.

Moving past these guys.

When I hit the front on the main straight I was shocked at how hard the wind was blowing in my face. In the field it felt reasonable, standing near the start/finish building you couldn't tell it was windy at all, but here, on the course, at the front, it was really bad.

Pathetic pull. Break is at the end of the straight.

I realized I needed to worry more about not getting shelled after my pull than about pulling back 10 seconds of the gap. I pulled only to try to maintain some momentum. If anything I probably allowed the gap to go up.

Nick goes.

When I started getting tired on the hill Nick made a move on the left side. Only one rider went with him so I eased to allow the gap to open. Although initially it looked like everyone just passed me, there was in fact a gap between Nick's two man group and the field.

Easing to let the gap open.

Unfortunately by the hill the next lap the field had reeled in Nick's move. With just one rider for company, and that guy covering for a guy in the break, there was no way Nick's move would work.

A little off the back.

Unfortunately my efforts put me in the red for a bit. The next lap I was struggling to stay on and had to make a big effort to stay on before the downhill. If anyone got caught off a wheel on the downhill then the field would just ride away. The speed of the field (38-39 mph) along with the wind meant that any gapped rider trying to chase would be left behind. I spoke with someone who'd gotten gapped like that - he chased at 38-39 mph but couldn't close the gap and ended up off the back.

Break just ahead.

Up front the break started to crumble a bit. The field seemed a bit more strung out at times so guys were chasing, but I think it was more the break coming to us than the field going to them.

Break, gap, chase, gap, field.

A lap later a chase had formed off the front, and with the added incentive of not letting those guys go, the field really strung out, stretching out and enveloping the chase and the break. Suddenly the race reset for us - Stan, Nick, and myself.

Really far back on the downhill.

On some lap I looked up on the downhill, knowing I'd gone over the top of the hill in "reasonable" position. I was a bit surprised at how far back I was - it was a couple seconds to the front of the group. With the wind and the speed it would be hard to move up significantly here. I made a note to myself that I had to be in good position cresting the hill on the last lap so that I didn't use too much energy moving up on the downhill and the fast bits right after that.

Grass surfing to the right, just before the bell.

We hit the bell with the field all together. We hadn't worked on any teamwork for the sprint so I assumed I'd be contesting the sprint individually. I was too far back though and I wanted to move up. With a guy grass surfing to the right (and later someone on the left), I didn't trust the sides. Plus the field looked a bit spread out and I hoped to move up the middle.

Just before I started to move up - it looks crowded.
Whit line points to the rider I got to, riding through the field.

Target - the white line, pointing to TKP. I didn't think to myself "I want to be near him", I just wanted to move up. He happened to be in good position and when I got there I decided that was good.

Next to TKP.
Much less crowded.

Once I finished slithering through the field I was in good position. I was near the front, still had solid shelter, and I'd be in good shape going up the hill. I knew also that there was an accordion effect on the hill, where the back had to slow early and then accelerate while still on the hill, so I was glad to be toward the front. No unnecessary acceleration on the hill meant a bit more gas for the sprint. I was happy with my position.

Leadout man going backwards.

Problem was a leadout guy for GlobeCanvas going backward on the hill. He had gone 100% to the bottom of the hill and blew spectacularly. Wobbly and exploded he ended up directly in front of me. I managed to get around him but had to virtually stop to keep from knocking him over. I lost all the position advantages I'd just worked to earn.

Now not so good.

After I got around GC's teammate I found myself much further back than I'd hoped. That saved gas for the sprint? I figured I needed to use it now. I knew that I'd have to move up somewhere and I decided I'd do it at the top of the hill. It would leverage my better-for-2015 weight, it would give me the downhill to try and recover (I know I can drop about 10-15 bpm in 30 seconds), and it would be as far away as possible from the line. I expected I'd be recovered by the time I got to the sprint, hopefully in the 155 bpm range.

After the effort. Lead rider is at the top of the picture so about 10 wheels back.

I made a strong surge - 900w peak I'd see later - and moved up into the front end of the field. I still had shelter but I was within striking distance of the front. My heart rate climbed to 166 bpm, which I didn't know until downloading the SRM, putting me well into the red. I just knew I was in position and I had to ease a bit.

Letting in a Junior.

On the run in to the curves a Junior made a move to try and get into better position. I knew it was too early so I let him in, hoping that his gear limit wouldn't gap him off if someone went super fast. I knew, though, that the wind would keep peak speeds down so it seemed like a safe bet to let him in. I had to make a big surge though, a 750w push to stay in position. This prevented my heart rate from dropping more than a couple bpm.

Future winner to my left.
Strong wind from our front left, therefore I'm sitting to the right.

Going into the left-right-left curves I was sitting about 6 wheels back. Douglas, who got third in the last ANSS race, was directly in front of me. I was so focused on the overall tactical situation that I had no idea it was him. It was only when I reviewed the clip that I saw I was following him. I knew I usually tried to look at the overall picture, not mark a particular rider or two, but I didn't realize to what extent until this race.

Going into the sprint. The bridge marks the beginning of the straight.

Going into the headwind sprint I wanted to be right. I knew that the wind would be coming from the left, I knew it was pretty strong, so the best choice would be to sit to the right. I'd have shelter from the left side crosswind as we went around the last curve. Then I'd have shelter on the straight.

Right side looked tight.
Huge hole to the left.

I knew I wanted to go late because the early guys just wither in a headwind. Therefore I wanted a clear lane when I was ready to go. Problem was it started getting a bit jammed in front of me. The winning move went right but I thought there was too much potential for someone to close the door on them.

Therefore I looked left.

Huge hole left.

It was pretty clear to me that I could go left. Huge hole, not much movement (meaning no one was going super fast so the hole would be static), and I knew I had a solid jump in my legs.

I went left.

It was a solid almost-1100w jump followed by an almost-900w sprint.

Toward the left side of the road now.
Future winner at the front right.

When I was sprinting I didn't think I moved so far left. I thought I went "to the middle". On review I ended up pretty far left. One of the Juniors was to my left, a friendly rival Ednilson to my right, and I blasted through the gap. I made up ground in a hurry but I never felt like I had a solid sprint. In my data analysis I saw that I jumped at 166 bpm, much higher than I prefer, and that's why I didn't have as solid a sprint as I could have had.

Bike throw. Third.

Probably because I was feeling tweaked I left the jump a bit late. I don't know if I'd have done better had I gone earlier. I don't think I had much more speed meaning I don't think I could have gone faster, especially with the headwind. I was closing on the two winners but they were also celebrating. I figure third is what I should have gotten here.

I might have had a chance had I followed them up the right, but that would have really been the only chance. If I'd followed them I'd had gotten a leadout and this would have let me sit until I knew I could go to the line.

Celebrating teammates. Winner's son got 4th.

Douglas won, his teammate got second, and, unbelievably, Douglas's son (a Junior) got 4th just behind me. I was turning my 53x12 in the sprint so the son did well with his 52x14 or whatever gear limit he had.

I was so shattered I couldn't get up the hill on the cool down lap. I turned around and rode on the grass and curbing to get back to the start/finish building.

There an excited Junior (meaning the Missus and mine, not a random racer) came running up to me, jumping to a stop next to my bike.


Overall it was a good race. I was a bit unprepared before the race. I hadn't eaten much for breakfast and downed a PB&J just before the start (and bonked hard when we got home). I stepped into a portapotty with the whole field already lined up. Yada yada yada. Overall it was obviously a good race. I'm better than I've been in a while. I have to admit it's a bit more interesting racing when I have some form.

The Missus told me the announcer (I don't know who it was) was talking about me during the race. He really didn't know me because he was calling me by my full name and not what everyone calls me, but the fact that such a person was talking about me is actually pretty flattering. I never think of myself as a race contender but it's hard to deny my last two race results.

Now I'm just waiting for the veil to fall. My low FTP, my inability to work during a race, all that stuff. I feel like a pretender right now. My next races will the CCAP Tuesday Night Races, the Kermis (same general location), and the Mystic Velo Crit at Ninigret.

We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Training - Zwift

So a few of you know that I'm on Zwift now. For those not in the know it's basically an online "game" version of riding your bike. You ride your trainer and your character/avatar mirrors your power output in the Zwift world. Zwift figures out how much power you're putting down (based either on an Ant+ power meter or a calculated "zPower" based on a number of "supported trainers") and your character rides at the appropriate speed for whatever current part of the course.

Note: I have not played online games since about 2007? which is about when I stopped playing Counter Strike, so I don't have other online game experience to draw on. Some of what I "discover" with Zwift may be standard features in other games but I don't know. I imagine that many of the folks reading this aren't regular online gamers either so maybe it'll all work out.

Basically you need five things to get onto Zwift, and a smart phone helps.

1. Something to ride, meaning a bike and some kind of trainer. If you don't have an Ant+ power meter you need to have one of their supported "classic" trainers. I don't have an Ant+ power meter but I do have a CycleOps Fluid2, one of their supported "classic" trainers, aka "dumb trainer".

My bike on the trainer (out of sight to the right).
Wood frame in the back is part of my (rarely used) motion rollers.
USCF wood sign will end up in the trailer I think.
Note the aero wheels. They really help on the trainer. Ha.

2. If you do not have an Ant+ power meter then you need an Ant+ speed/cadence sensor. I have one of those, from my 4iiii Sportsiiii days, and it's mounted in tandem with my SRM speed pick up. It gets tricky - it's why my speed pickup was not aligned in my last race - but when it's right it's right. Picture will be after #3.

3. Ant + USB dongle. This item receives your Ant+ data from your bike (either the power meter or the speed/cadence sensor) and tells the Zwift world what you're doing on the bike.

Ant+ dongle on the floor; it's the part that looks like a black cap on the USB extension cable.
Ant+ speed pick up is the rectangle thing on the frame, the cadence is the cylinder thing.
SRM speed pick up is behind the chainstay under the Ant+ speed pick up.

4. The Zwift application on your supported computer. I think most modern computers will be fine - I use a 2011 MacBook Pro, nothing special, and it's fine. You need some minimum video card. I haven't tried Zwift on anything else.

Zwift app on the silver MacBook, at the screen where you can click "Just Ride" to start a ride.
My MP3 player resides on the black Toshiba. It dates back to 2000 or so and struggles to play MP3s.
Note also: white baby monitor, smart phone set on "keyboard shortcut" Zwift page, big fan on floor, TV, stacks of DVDs, wired SRM on bike, temp/humidity, DVD/VCR, speakers (not hooked up), backup bike laying on its side on a box in the background.

5. Optionally if you have a smart phone then you can download the Zwift app to your phone. It's not a standalone app because it won't display the Zwift world, it's a support app. It lets you see some things like a rider list, it's really the only way to text other riders (no verbal/mic/talking stuff yet), and it gives you some shortcuts for things like waving, wiggling your elbow, using a power up, or taking a picture. I mainly use it for pictures and sometimes for texting. I'll also use it to view the rider's full name (only the first initial appears on the computer app).

My smart phone (Android) with one of the three screens up.
Note power differential - I'll return to that later.

So once you're all set up you log in and set some parameters. At first it was just weight, sex, and… was that it? Recently they added height, FTP, and age.

You get to set your avatar (the thing that represents you in the Zwift world). I put gloves on my guy, a helmet, and I darkened the skin a bit (I thought the whole skin tone thing was interesting but I guess it makes sense).

Then you allow the Zwift computer app to find your bike (Ant+ powermeter or speed/cadence pick up if you're using a classic trainer), click "okay", and you're on the island.

Recently Zwift introduced a second island, and I have very few screenshots from it. I do have some screenshots from the first island.

My first screenshot on the first island, just testing things.
I'm in the grayish Zwift jersey on the double yellow line.

For the first lap I went around clicking all the buttons so I was waving, elbow wiggling, saying "Ride On!", stuff like that. Whenever I see someone going through those motions I smile because it seems pretty apparent it's someone new to the island and playing with the controls.

No idea who this is but I'm just in front of him.

If you click on someone else you get a small leader's board as well as the other rider's current ride data. Right now this is the only way to see the leader board, at least the abbreviated version. You do see the one leader board when you pass through the leader board finish line for that board (like the green jersey board when you go under the green banner), i.e. the three inflatable banner/bridge things.

A real life elite teammate in the Polka Dot, me in the green.

So what does Zwift do for you?

The biggest thing I think Zwift does is it gives you a lot of the normal (good) distractions you experience on the road. You see people you know, you go for familiar land marks, and you feel compelled to push a bit if it means hanging with a particular rider.

One missing aspect is the "big group ride" thing. Yes, you can ride with someone for a bit, maybe even two or three someones, but eventually one rider will pull away on a hill (almost always) and without any compelling reason to hang onto that rider the impromptu group starts to split.

I think when there are more people there will be more organized rides and therefore more groups. I can't imagine what it would be like to be buried in a 100 rider group but I hope to find out.

So barring the future big group ride thing I found Zwift did two big things for me.

First it motivated me to do some all out sprints on the trainer. I really dislike sprinting on my trainer because I can't rock my bike. Therefore it's not a natural motion and I quickly find excuses not to sprint. On Zwift, though, there are some clearly defined spots where Zwift times you, and if you're going for a sprint, Zwift only counts "right here".

Therefore when you get to that spot on the lap you have to sprint or you don't get timed and you have to do another lap to get another chance to do a timed sprint. When I'm thinking of sprinting on a regular training ride I inevitably ease and think, "Okay, let me sprint in a minute or five".

And then after an hour or three I decide I'll do the couple sprints some other time.

Second, with Zwift also there's a sense of trying to do as best as possible. I didn't think I rode better "for others" but recently I did a set of intervals for someone else, and I found myself much more motivated to do the intervals since I had to upload the file after the ride so that someone else could check it.

Likewise Zwift puts you and your effort in front of everyone else, so you naturally want to do well. Call it what you will, competition, whatever, it's still effective.

On the first island I even went for a KOM. It took me about 1:23 (83 seconds) and absolutely massacred my legs, but I pushed about 75 seconds more than I would have had I made the effort in my own little "sitting on a trainer" world. With Zwift, with a timer staring me in the face, a concrete albeit virtual goal ahead of me, I pushed until I got to the banner.

I've probably done more hard sprints on the trainer in the last several weeks than I have in the last several years, and I can't remember the last time I'd done any kind of way-over-threshold effort lasting longer than a minute that wasn't in a race.

So Does Zwift Work?

Well yes and no.

First the negatives.

There are no structured workouts (yet). Zwift exists for you to use, not to tell you what to do, so if you want a structured training ride then you will probably ignore Zwift while you do your ride. That's how I did it.

It emphasizes fitness over virtually anything else. Zwift doesn't reward a good bike handler, someone who knows how to corner, any kind of real world group riding skills. It rewards numbers, high watts and, for climbs anyway, low kilograms. In fact in the new world Watopia there are two hard turns in the green jersey sprint and you really have to go 100% through both of them. It's so unnatural that I consciously look away from the screen so I don't try to lean or coast or whatever.

Finally, for now, it's in beta so there are a limited number of riders in the world. It's not like a true Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) where you drop into a road and there are riders buzzing back and forth such that you can't ride alone. The newness also means very little structure, meaning very few group rides, very few races, very few regularly scheduled anythings. I imagine in the future you'll find a 5 PM ride, 6 PM ride, 7 PM ride, etc, so that you can log on and join a 20 or 40 rider strong 6 PM group ride or whatever. But right now? Not so much.

Now for the positives.

First, the world engages you. It's not quite like the real world, where there's much more randomness. Sometimes a training ride is nutty, sometimes it's boring. In Zwift, at least for now, it's pretty stable, so no Godzillas or snipers or anything, just you, the other riders, and the course/world.

However that world gives you landmarks, some level of expectation ("okay after the left turn it'll start to descend a bit"), and it allows you to think ahead of your avatar. If you were just riding the trainer then every second is consumed by the here and now, and every second can feel like it's dragging on forever.

I've found myself so distracted/occupied by Zwift that I almost forgot that I was coming up on the green jersey sprint.

What this does is it makes time absolutely fly by. I'm good on the trainer for 2 hours at a time, without Zwift. Music, a bike DVD on low volume, that's all I need.

Last night I wanted to do at least two sprints. Ended up being three, but with Watopia the laps take me 30 minutes each. 3 sprints meant I rode 90 minutes. It didn't feel like 90 minutes because I was so focused on whatever was happening around me.

It was like being on the road.

Second, Zwift does make you put some skin in the game, meaning you end up with a vested interest. As I mentioned above I did repeated sprints on Zwift, something I never do on the trainer. I mean, why would I? My trainer power is much lower than my outside "rock the bike" power so I never saw the point to doing a trainer sprint. However, with Zwift, I now have a reason, so I sprint.

Zwift also gave me motivation to ride a bit harder than normal. Again, on the trainer before Zwift, I could ride hard but there was no point. Now I'll push a bit to see if I can stay on a wheel, or try to not be too pathetic in the KOM, or whatever.

Third, Zwift allows me to interact with riders from all over. Back in the day (23 years ago, give or take) I did the Tour of Michigan (part 2, part 3). Our host for the two years we did it, Alan, was super nice, super supportive, and… we never saw him again. Alan never came out to the East Coast and we never went back to Michigan.

So I never saw Alan again.

Until I was on Zwift.

Then, bam!, a guy with his first and last name went flying by me.

Not only that, he was up there in the green jersey leader board.

It was Alan, the same Alan from the Tour of Michigan.

And now we comment to one another on our own efforts and stuff.

I think that that is what Zwift really brings to the table. It's the social aspect, like Facebook on bikes, and although I initially thought of Zwift as more of a MMOG kind of thing, it's really a social tool as well. In most MMOGs you don't use your real name, so you don't see a Joe or John or David, you see SuperDuperHaxx0R or THOR or, well, SprinterDellaCasa.


I plan on being on Zwift for the long term. I know the development will continue with the platform and I know the crew there have a passion for the sport and a vision for Zwift.

I know this because at the beginning, before any Zwift investment opportunity showed up, I spoke for an hour or so with one of the founders. He later told someone else I was "bullish" on the concept. A now-former teammate moved to join the team. And a fellow NYC race promoter (and former pro, which is way more than I can ever boast), also joined the crew.

I believe in all of them. I can't wait to see what they unveil in the next year or two.

Last Word 

There's one more data point I have.

In 2015, because of the insane amount of snow we had over the winter, the bitter cold lasting deep into March, I rode outside three times between January 1 and April 12. I rode outside March 15, 22, and April 12.

Every single other ride was on the trainer, maybe 70 hours worth.

I was sick for most of March and up until after Easter weekend. I therefore raced poorly on March 15 and 22, not even finishing the race officially on the 22nd (I stopped halfway up the hill in the sprint).

However, after recovering from my bout with what appeared to be the flu, I showed up April 12th hoping for something a little better.

I won.

I'm not going to credit Zwift with everything. But it certainly helped me, it helped push me to make race-like efforts, and the 30+ second solo effort I put in at the end of the race is something I haven't pulled off since about 1986.

So there's that.