Continuing my plan is to race each Tour of Watopia stage, it was stage 4 at 6:10am for me. Two laps of the Jungle Circuit, a route I haven’t raced much, but know well.

Course knowledge didn’t put me at ease, though: quite the opposite, in fact. I knew the climbing half of the circuit would be super-challenging, and I just hoped I could hold onto the front of the race as we climbed up through the ruins not once, but twice.

Bike Selection

Everybody on a mountain bike!

Bike selection is a non-issue for this stage, because Zwift has configured the event to put everyone on the Zwift Mountain Bike. You can’t ride anything else, so embrace it!

Warmup

I rolled out of bed at 5am, chewed two pieces of caffeine gum, put some PR lotion on the legs, and kitted up. Then I hit Tempus Fugit for longer, ~15-mile warmup. I wanted to ease my legs into the effort, because they were sore from a long “socially distanced” hike two days before.

(I can ride 100 miles and not feel sore the next day, but get me out running or hiking for a much shorter time and my legs are in pain for two days. Sad.)

The warmup felt pretty good – my heart rate was responsive, bumping up into the 160’s during hard efforts. That’s always a good sign for me. If I can’t get the heart rate up it means I’m not recovered (or I’m getting sick). Time to race!

The Start

The Jungle Circuit route begins from the Jungle start pens, winding down tarmac to the dirt portion of the Jungle. Today’s start was pretty easy, because 1) everyone was on the same bike, so the roadies weren’t attacking on the pavement and 2) we all knew the climb was where things would break up.

343 watts for 60 seconds kept me in the front group. Our initial starting bunch of 83 was quickly cut in half before we reached the bottom of the Jungle dirt.

The Middle

The Jungle Circuit can be broadly visualized as a simple loop. From the Jungle start banner the first half of the loop is a climb up to the top of the Jungle where you cross the rope bridge. Then the second half of the loop is a descent back to the start line.

We crossed the start banner for the first time and began our first of two climbs. And that’s when things got hectic!

The Jungle climb isn’t particularly steep, averaging around 3%. So race speeds stay high enough that drafting still matters.

Hitting the climb for the first time. This is gonna hurt!

Our first jungle climb took around 5 minutes and 20 seconds, and I averaged 360 watts (4.3 w/kg) to just barely stay with the front. It was a max effort! As we crossed the rope bridge it was clear that the second big selection had been made: we had a front group of 20.

The descent to the start/finish banner was quite easy, with the group easing up since no one was chasing hard from behind and we had another climb ahead. I tried to recover as much as possible, but I knew this final climb was going to hurt bad. I had my doubts about holding onto the pack, but I resolved myself to give it all I had.

Soon enough we hit that second climb and the group immediately strung out. And I was at the back! A gap opened up a few riders ahead, and I didn’t have the legs to jump across. And that was it. The front rode away, and I couldn’t even hold the wheels of the two riders who had been dropped with me.

Dropped.

The second climb took me about 20 seconds longer than the first, with an average power around 30 watts lower. The front pack went hard up that climb!

The Finish

There was a pack of 5 riders 30 seconds back. I quickly did the math and decided I should be able to stay away, as long as they don’t push too hard. So I buckled down to finish the climb and TT it home with whatever I had left in the legs. I kept a wary eye on the gap as we neared the finish, and it steadily dropped to 20 seconds, then 10.

In the final few hundred meters one rider jumped from the chase group, and that inspired me to use my aero powerup and push it hard to the line so he couldn’t pass me.

I finished 19th according to Zwift. 13th on ZwiftPower.

See my activity on Strava >
See my activity on Zwift.com >
See race results on ZwiftPower >

I stayed away from the chasers… just barely.

Takeaways

No major revelations from this race: it reminded me that climbing is my weakness. I need to keep building that 3-5 minute power and dropping a bit more weight.

This race also has me looking forward to returning to well-managed community races who have much less sandbagging. These ToW races are a bit too influenced by sandbaggers for my taste. Many of the riders who finished ahead of me were legit, don’t get me wrong! But there were several in the 4.3-4.6 w/kg range who doubtless pushed the speed of that front group up the climbs.

What about You?

Did you race ToW stage 4? Share your experience below!