Racing on Zwift is the real deal

Each week there are a couple of training races that take place on Watopia. The Tuesday Night Worlds and the Friday Training Race are the two I will typically attempt. It is somewhat of a challenge because the TNW takes place during the time of the “real life” ride with the same name here in Greenville. The Friday race takes place at 1:30 PM — when I am typically at work. Yesterday I was taking a long weekend, so I was able to join in the fun.

Special thanks to Chris Wiedmann who organizes the events. It is an interesting exercise to organize a “virtual race” and then to report on it afterwards. Chris does a good job, and I wanted to share his report from Friday so you can see what it is like. I’ll have some comments from my perspective at the end of his report.

FTR Race Report 2014-05-01

Fifteen riders took the start for what we’ll call “Rund um Watopia” in tribute to the pro race that was cancelled today. A strong international field with representation from South America, North America and Europe rolled out promptly at 17:30 UTC for the neutral promenade to the bicycle statues. As usual the first half lap at race pace was relatively quiet with only a brief testing of legs on the back climb.

The first climb was the first real test of strength. Matt Wardle (UK) initiated the acceleration with H-G Becker (GER) following suit to push the pace. The field showed considerable depth with 9 riders cresting the climb in the lead pack. A little later in the lap, Becker and Francois Coppex (CH) again tested the field with an acceleration on the back field that opened a small gap. The gap was only a few seconds but took ominously long to close, with the group only coming back together past the start/finish line.

The second main climb followed a script similar to the back climb with Becker initiating a move and Coppex following. The pair then started rolling away from the chasers. Jonathan Pait (US) tried a bridging move after the hairpin, but was unable to make the junction. Just after the KOM line he came back to the chase group consisting of Wardle, Casey Schumm (US), Robson Figueiredo Rodrigues (BR) and Christian Wiedmann (US). Unfortunately the bridging effort had taken a toll and he lost contact on the rollers before the bicycle statue.

Becker and Coppex worked together well, slowly opening up the gap. Wardle was clearly strongest of the chasers and after pulling the group for a lap decided to go on his own up climb 3. He got to within 30 seconds of the two leaders, but then got stuck in no-man’s-land 30 seconds in front of the chasers.

This situation held to the finish. Coppex and Becker sprinted for the win with Coppex leading out and barely holding off Becker for the win. Wardle finished solo in third. Schumm won the sprint for fourth over Rodrigues.

Results:
1. Francois Coppex 1:00:16 (41.6 km/h)
2. H-G Becker s.t.
3. Matt Wardle 0:00:37
4. Casey Schumm 0:01:37
5. Nelson Figueiredo Rodrigues s.t.
6. Christian Wiedmann 0:01:55
7. Jonathan Pait 0:04:43
8. Frank Garcia 0:05:42 (completed three more iterations of the full ride distance afterward – 20 laps total)
9. Mark Howard 0:05:45
10. Jonathan Lemon 0:07:01
11. John Greig 0:08:17
12. George Thomaidis 0:12:04
13. Johnny Bevan -1L 0:05:24
DNF M. Trudell
DNS J. Purtell (gender disfunction)

Note: Time gaps for entertainment purposes only. Corrections to placings and race narrative are welcome.

Not placed because  I couldn’t locate the Strava activity
G. Christopher

I think it is easy for people to discount Zwift racing because you are not actually on the road. You definitely have a point in that the dangers or racing are not present. Road hazards, equipment failures, and close proximity with other riders are not an issue. However, when it comes to effort and strategy, this IS racing.

Consider the course. “Oh, you’re just spinning along on your trainer.” Nope. Here is the topographical map of the island. See that climbing? It is real. The data used to create this virtual course is sent to my Wahoo Kickr and the resistance on my drive train increases to match the incline.
watopiatopo

So, all the tactics of when and where to attack are there. This climbing is real! Actually, I think the one place where the island really steps out of reality is on the downhill. I found that the group seemed to pull away from me on the downhills and at times I was putting out 400+ watts just to get back to the group. Then I would go shooting through them and then when I tried to find the sweet spot that would keep me in the group, I would immediately start fading back to repeat the process. Frankly, that worked to wear me out early.

Consider the data from my participation in the race which lasted 1:15 hours and covered 29 miles…

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.26.22 AM

Now, compare that to the most recent road race in which I participated that lasted for two hours and covered 43 miles…

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.29.13 AM

What about the work I put out? Here is the power breakdown from the above road race…

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.31.38 AM

Compare that with the breakdown from yesterday’s Zwift race…

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.36.27 AM

Keep in mind that the Zwift race data includes a cool down lap that lasted for about 20 minutes. So, the percentages above Active Recovery will be higher than what you see here. Even with that lap, the effort put out in the Zwift race exceeds that of the road race. Yes, the road race was longer, but I did not work as hard.

Now, you could say that I am comparing apples to oranges… maybe it is more like oranges to tangerines. The two activities are definitely NOT the same. Zwift racing puts the emphasis on effort and secondly on tactics. The software has some work to be done before you will see riders taking advantage of a pace line in a chase group.

However, it is cool to see the race develop. It is like having a TV monitor of your race as you are able to instantly see time gaps. You have the visual stimulus of seeing the riders ahead of you forming that gap or drawing closer as you chase them down. It isn’t like racing in a group, but it has its own camaraderie.

Zwift will never replace racing on the road. It will never match the thrill of racing on the road. However, as a means of competition in and of itself, it is a blast… and is the closest you are going to get to racing on the road while in your basement!

The main point I’m trying to make is don’t downplay the competitive nature and sheer workload of competing on Zwift… especially if you are using an intelligent trainer. It may not be the same as racing on the road, but I give testimony that it is RACING!