As the dark winter days were getting behind us and we welcomed the first rays of spring sunshine it was time to conclude the “Flanders race De Ronde” Zwift racing series with a grand finale. The concept was simple: during the winter months, we held a weekly race. Each race you could gather points. At the end of the winter, the top 10 of each category were invited to contest the finale.
The finale took place in the Cycling Power Ghent training center in Belgium, where we had access to 10 full-blown Zwift stations: Kickr or CycleOps smart trainer on a trainer mat, big screen on a tripod and a fan. All trainers were calibrated, and everybody had to go up on the scales to check their body weight. Time to discover if those online virtual winter wattages match what you produce in real life.
Race 1: The Epic KOM
The first race of the day was food for the climbers. We started at the pier, and had to climb the epic KOM. The finish of the race was around 900 metres behind the epic KOM banner, meaning you still had to conquer the first 13% gradient section of the climb to the radio tower. A nasty surprise for those who thought the finish was at the banner!
Race 2: Two Laps of Watopia Flat Reverse
Second race of the day was a flat race where the sprinters could make up for the time losses of the climb. There were bonus seconds for the first 3 finishers (20″, 10″ and 5″ seconds). As the events were open for everyone (Zwift has no private events), it meant you not only had to race against your fellow finalists, but also against ‘outsiders’ with fresh legs.
And as everybody who has some experience with flat Zwift races knows, once you get dropped on the flat the time gaps can become quite large. As such, this race was a matter of giving it all to make sure you could stick with the pack, and keep your fingers crossed you would have some energy left in the tank to sprint at the end of the race.
A one lap race sounds easy… but not if you already did 2 races that day. And since you cannot draft with the TT bike, there was no hiding in the pack. If you were running on empty, you would lose a lot of time in this race.
We had a bit of bad luck with the TT. During this time slot there was also a Fondo event on Zwift, and the servers were clearly struggling with it. While everybody could do the race, we could not see the names kits of other riders during the race. That made it nearly impossible to see who around you was in the general classification, as you had no idea who was who.
Luckily it didn’t have much effect on the final results. Each of the category winners was clearly the strongest guy that day, and a well-deserved winner.
For everyone that ever has the chance to attend such a Zwift event, I can highly recommend it. Even for spectators it is great. For example seeing the A-category fight for the win is something unique. While the typical B and C races are won by riding at a high but relatively steady speed and hoping the rest would get dropped, the A’s really put in cruel attacks.
And if you have 10 A riders in a room, it means that each time somebody shifts and stands up to accelerate, all the others hear it and react immediately. Before you know it, the whole room is filled with the sound of smart trainers getting tortured and people dancing on the pedals with the occasional swearing. This can be seen in the video below, which was recorded at the end of the flat stage in the A category:
For the racers themselves, it also brings an extra dimension. If you can see the pain face and hear the breathing and suffering of the guys you are racing, you are really motivated to bring on the pain and ride that little bit harder. This resulted in some real FTP increases. Some only by 1 Watt but we also had people who managed a 20W increase.
Some photos of the event can be found in this Facebook album. We were lucky enough that one of the participants is also a professional photographer, and he has put a huge collection of high quality photos in a separate Facebook album.
Last but not least I want to thank Stephan Tytgadt, owner of the TS-Bikes bike shop, for finding the time to setting up this racing series, and organizing the finale. It was an amazing event, and I heard nothing but positive reactions from all the attendees. He even invited a professional barista and his coffee machine. What more can you wish for ?