Walloped on Watopia

When something isn’t working, you sometimes have to take a chance to try something different.  The problem is there is no guarantee that what you try will work. It’s the risk you take, but it doesn’t make you feel any better when you fail.

Well, that is what happened at last night’s Tuesday Night Worlds on Zwift’s Watopia Island.

My best ever finish on one of these Zwift races was third. Several of them were DNFs and the rest involved me finishing somewhere mid to back of the A group. All I know is that I am getting tired of getting several laps in and then getting gapped on the KOM climb and then being left to fight over scraps.

So approaching last night’s race I decided to take a different approach. I would try to keep my power up by increasing my cadence instead of my usual mashing along. I also would do everything in my power to stay protected in the group. Finally, my plan included going as easy as possible up the KOM climb — even if it meant a slight gap at the top.

On Watopia, it is hard for me to get the power I need to pull my weight around when I am spinning at, say, 95 rpm. I’m typically hitting my power sweet spot when I am in the mid-seventies. In real life, I would typically be averaging low to mid-eighties.

My hope was that by getting in the field, I could allow them to pull me along and I would not need to produce as much power and I could spin along. Of course, this changed the dynamics of how I’ve raced on the island. I wasn’t prepared for what happened.

I knew I was going to be in trouble before we had even finished a half a mile. The start is on a decline and then onto a flat. At first things seemed fine. I was with the front part of the group. I was pedaling along at 90 rpm. I began to slip back in the group, but that was okay. I figured I just needed to find the right rhythm.

As I started slipping farther back, I started increasing my cadence to bring my power up. I was now well over 100 rpm. Then I dropped off the pack as we came onto the flat section.

Once that happened, it was as though someone had put one of the running parachutes on my back. I tried to ease my way back to the field, but they appeared to be getting farther away. Finally, I shifted to a harder gear and went after them. I finally caught them, but I was already feeling the burn and was mentally frustrated.

I tried again and this time with a little more success. Success, that is until I reached the rollers. I learned how to attack the rollers in my normal lower cadence approach. Now with this different method I found myself once again getting separated and fighting to get back to the group after making it through the rollers and onto the “finishing stretch.”

Twice on this first part of the race I had sustained periods of efforts over 500 watts. Worse, I was mentally starting to fight the “here we go again” attitude. Still, here I was with the group and the climb was next. This could be the place where my new approach would pay off.

At first things seemed to be going okay. I didn’t start on the front, but close enough that I figured I would be able to set my own pace. So, I aimed to keep my wattage at or just under 400 watts. This is about 50 watts less than I typically put out to stay with the front in these races.

I also noticed I had an aero power up. My thought was that I could allow a slight gap at the top and then use the power up to give me a slight advantage in a chase. Saving my average watts up the climb might leave more in the bank even if I had to do a short effort to get back on.

Experience should have told me this was not going to work. Here is the fact: if you are gapped by 4 seconds when you reach the top of the climb and the riders ahead are in a compact group, you are toast — or you are one strong rider! My plan fell apart right there.

I launched my power up right before I crested the KOM line. I shifted down to put in a dig. The 4 second gap coming up to the line suddenly was 12 seconds before I new it. It hung there taunting me for a bit and then started ticking up.

My plans of putting in a chasing effort fell apart. I just settled in trying to hold the gap. When it reached 20+ seconds, things did hold for awhile. I even noticed a couple of times that I gained a second or two. However, by the time we crossed the start finish banner, the gap was over 30 seconds.

I was done. Of course, I still had hopes that I would stay ahead of the riders behind and maybe I could get past some riders who might fall off ahead. I pushed along looking for drafting help. However, most riders I came upon were not riding at high enough speed to help me without causing me to lose more time.

Finally, with the gap ahead over one minute, I decided to just finish out the fourth lap and call it a night. It wasn’t fun anymore and I had no real objective to accomplish. No need to rub in the disappointment by slogging through that last lap.

It was one of those “why do I do this” kind of moments. I mean, I’m not a guy in the running for winning these things, but, come on, that was just awful! There were C group riders who finished in front of me.

Of course, you know, I will have to try again.

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About Jonathan Pait

Jonathan started riding mountain bikes in the early 1990s. After discovering the ride can start at the end of his driveway, he moved to the road in 2006. Little did he know that first pedal stroke would lead him on an adventure that has become much larger than the bicycle.