How the Race Was Lost: Power to Weight (Bologna, TdZ Stage 4)

How the Race Was Lost: Power to Weight (Bologna, TdZ Stage 4)

Since I’ve set a goal of racing each stage of Tour de Zwift 2020, I knew the Bologna TT route was looming. And I wasn’t happy about it.

Bologna, if you aren’t familiar, is a short course with a painful ending. The first 6km is flat, the final 2km is a steep climb (9.6% average). As a bigger rider who can hold decent wattage, I knew the flat part would be a breeze. The climb? Not so much. I’ve raced here before, and I was under no illusions as to what the final result would be. (Spoiler alert: it certainly wouldn’t include me anywhere near the podium.)

Despite this, I was looking forward to another chance to push myself to the limit and see where I landed in the rankings. My goal, based entirely on rough guesswork: finish in the top 50%. Let’s go!

Standing water in the closet. Never a good sign.

Waking to Drama

I rolled out of bed at 5am, wanting to give myself plenty of time for a warmup before the race at 6:10am. Using my iPhone flashlight I walked into the closet where I’ve been storing my cycling kits since we moved to our new house. But when I stepped in to grab a pair of bibs, I was greeted by an unwelcome sensation: cold water on my bare feet.

What the… !?

There was standing water on the bare plywood of the closet. (This closet is in our unused master bedroom, the last portion of our house that is officially still under construction)

I quickly did the math in my head. How bad of a man would I be if I grabbed my kit and went upstairs anyway? The answer came back: a very bad man. A very, very bad man.

So I got to work (wearing only briefs, mind you) moving all the clothes and banjos out of the closet for safekeeping. Then I toweled off the floor and turned on an extra Zwifting fan to get air moving so things would dry out. Once that was done it was time to get dressed and starting looking around for the water source: outside, inside, under the sink… where was it coming from?

I couldn’t find the source. And water wasn’t pouring out from anywhere. It could wait another 60-90 minutes. Let’s race!

Warmup

I’d have to hustle to get a warmup in, so I went through my typical pre-race ritual quickly: a piece of caffeine gum and some PR lotion on the legs. Actually, scratch that: I went with two pieces of caffeine gum. Because this was already starting to feel like a long day. I got in a 20-minute, ~7-mile warmup on Tempus Fugit before heading to the start pens.

Bike Choice

Many Zwifters have asked what the best bike frame and wheel setup is for the Bologna TT course. It’s an interesting question without an obvious answer, thanks to the way the course lays out.

If you’re talking about an actual time trial (no drafting), the most aero TT bike and wheelsets are your best choice, because the gains made over the first 6km are more than the seconds lost to a lighter bike up the 2km climb. Additionally, many races on this course are two laps – up to the top of the climb, down to the start, then back up to the top of the climb. In this scenario, aero wins much more so, since you have a steep descent (where aero performs better) and even more flat ground between the two climbs.

The climbing rig

But what if you’re in a drafting race? That’s where things aren’t as clear. Because if you’re sitting in with the pack and staying out of the wind, the gains from having a slightly more aero setup are reduced. But when everything splits apart on the climb, you’ll want the lightest possible setup.

So I went with the Specialized Tarmac Pro frame and Lightweight Meilenstein wheels. It’s the best climbing setup currently on Zwift, and the same setup that posts the best time up the Alpe.

Of course, even with the best climbing bike on Zwift, I wouldn’t be able to hide. This race would come down to watts per kilo and my butt would surely be handed to me on a silver platter. But I still wanted any advantage I could get up that tough climb!

The Start

The start was quite tame – perhaps the easiest Zwift race kickoff I’ve experienced in recent memory. Everyone was conserving for the climb. I only averaged 306 watts in the first minute, and 282 watts over the entire flat portion before the climb began.

In the front group heading into the first climb

The starting pack of 65 was quickly reduced to 35 by the time we hit the first climb. So I’d made it to the climb in the front group–but how many riders were going to catch me from behind? I was about to find out.

First Climb

The Bologna climb breaks up into three sections for me. First you’ve got the beginning stretch which is fairly steady and steep, ending as you turn left through the brick archway. Then there’s a crazy and steep hairpin which places you on a long, steep straightaway–the steepest part of the climb. Then it’s through another arch to the right and the road gets less steep for the final portion.

I quickly slid to the back of the front group as the climb began, then watched as the chasing group closed the gap behind. Finishing in the top 50% was beginning to feel like an impossible dream – but I kept pushing.

This is no time, to chat, Mr. Doucett

I was able to hold my position around 30th place all the way to the top, averaging 310 watts. Not a great average – perhaps my legs were a bit tired, or I was distracted by my wet closet. Regardless, once the climb was done it was time to supertuck to the bottom.

On some descents, pedaling will get you going faster than the supertuck. But steady, steep descents like Bologna are perfect for the aero tuck, and my legs were happy for the short break.

Wheeee!!!

The Middle

When I got to the bottom there were two riders ~15 seconds ahead, and several just 5 seconds behind. I eased up so I could join the riders behind, knowing they would be catching me soon enough, and we would probably have the firepower to catch the riders up the road.

My strategy at this point was to conserve energy for the final climb. Pushing big watts to tow my group up to the next pack on the flats wouldn’t gain me nearly as much time as those watts would up the climb (read “How to Pace Your Best Bologna TT Race” for more on this). So I sat in with my group, and we gobbled up a few riders as we completed the trip back to the start line, turned around, and rode back to the base of the climb.

I only averaged 231 watts on this flat section, making it barely even a zone 3 effort. But that was fine, because we were gaining places, I was recovering, and now it was time for that final climb!

Starting the second climb

Second Climb (and Finish)

The front of my small group of five riders was 28th place going into the final climb. I needed to finish 32nd or better if I wanted to hit my goal of a top 50% ranking. On top of that, a few riders from the group 15 seconds back were pouring on the watts per kilo as we hit the climb. I knew this would be a fight to the finish!

I tried to keep my breathing even, alternating sitting and standing efforts. (I love the muscle and saddle relief from standing, but it also elevates my heart rate a bit.) When the road turned especially steep on the hairpin heading into the second section I stood and hammered extra hard, because it’s through these steepest portions where extra watts matter most.

In the end, I finished solo, with riders a few seconds ahead and behind. Zwift’s results show me at 31st place–just barely making it under the 50% line. My second climb’s power was just slightly lower than the first climb, 306 watts vs 310.

Also, ZwiftPower, where I usually finish higher in the results than what Zwift shows, bit me in the butt this time around. Out of 36 finishers, I was 20th. So much for 50%!

See my ride on Strava >
See race results on ZwiftPower >

Power to Weight

This race is a perfect example of rider weight affecting speed in cycling. I’m on the larger side when compared to the population of serious cyclists (84kg), so climbs are where I struggle. I’ve got the muscle to hang with pretty strong riders on flat roads, but when the tarmac tilts up, physics kick in. Power to weight ratio becomes more important the steeper the climb gets, so on a steep KOM like Bologna, my ability to hold 3.7w/kg (like I did in the first climb) is going to lose handily to a B rider who can hold 4w/kg or more.

For more on this topic, read “How Rider Weight Affects Speed On Zwift” >

Takeaways

Here are my takeaways from this morning:

  • Lightweight bike is definitely the way to go: I think my bike choice was perfect. A more aero bike wouldn’t have moved me any further up the rankings on the flats, and it would have slowed me down on the climb.
  • Fewer cookies: if I want to be competitive in any sort of hilly races, I need to increase my power to weight ratio. I can maybe do that by training more (building power), but that’s been a real challenge in the past. The easier solution, I think, is dropping some excess weight. It’s definitely time to shed ~10 pounds.
  • Finish the job: if I’d finished moving the clothes out of the closet before the ride, I would have seen that the leak was coming from behind the wall. Pinhole leak in the copper pipe. Plumber friend fixed it a couple of hours later.

What About You?

Did you race TdZ stage 4? What bike setup did you use, and how did it go? Share below!

About The Author

Eric Schlange

Eric runs Zwift Insider in his spare time when he isn't on the bike or managing various business interests. He lives in Northern California with his beautiful wife, two kids and dog. Follow on Strava

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Thorsten
Thorsten
11 months ago

I am faced with the opposite challenge and did it the opposite way. I am a lighter guy and choosed the most aero bike and wheelset that I could find in my garage. My goal was to stay in the leading group till we reach the first climb. Unfortunately I was droped and though I gained several positions on the climb I found myself after the climb 0:45 behind the leading group and 0:45 in front of the chasing group. I decided to ease as alone on the flat I did not see any chance. At the end after the… Read more »

Tyler James
Active Member
Tyler James (@mrtyside)
11 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

That’s interesting I haven’t been able to decide if helping my weaknesses with the bike or strengths has been more beneficial (I also have less bikes available because I only ride inside during the week). For this race I went with more of a climbing set up, (I’m a pretty small rider) and basically just told myself to suck it up and stay in the pack even though it will hurt more. Once I hit the climb it actually felt easier as physics kicked in and we were able to shed riders fairly easily. I’m not sure if it would… Read more »

James Engelsma
James Engelsma
11 months ago

I used the tarmac pro with zipp 404 wheelset, thinking along the sames lines as you, that being light is more important than being aero in this race due to drafting.
What I didn’t know (should have done my research) is that you have to do the climb twice! I torched my legs going up in the first time, and almost cried when I realized I had to go up it again. Oh well, I learned my lesson, race recon is important!
strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/3039750277
zwift power: https://zwiftpower.com/events.php?zid=313432

Aaron Doucett
Active Member
Aaron Doucett (@aaron)
11 months ago

Thanks for the shoutout… Seeing you coming up from behind actually gave me a ton of motivation to keep pushing up the climb. Been looking forward to your write up ever since. I think the tricky thing about this 15 mile course is the race is essentially over after the very first summit, if you aren’t in that lead group of STRONG climbers heading down from the top, you’re unlikely to catch them if you miss the draft pack on the way back to the start. The draft-legal version of the short course is interesting because it really is an… Read more »

John Bytheway
John Bytheway
11 months ago

Cannondale Supersix with Zip 808’s .. i thought it was a TT, so thought with the extended flat i would make use of the 808’s… i was a little surprised when it was a group start and then realised there was draft.. 44.28, 33/850 busy group 🙂

Daniel Pearson
Daniel Pearson (@dpearson)
11 months ago

But what about the water leak? How did that part of the story finish?

Snappy Little
Snappy Little
11 months ago

Tron all the way. At my weight (108kg) And height (198cm) I don’t worry about bikes. Easy to hang with front on the flats then just parked it at 350w up the climbs while everyone flew by. 91/550. 50:51. Always amazes me how lightweights like you can fly up hills for such low watts. I’m so jealous!

Andy Medhurst
Member
Andy Medhurst (@andy_medhurst)
11 months ago

By coincidence I picked the same setup for the same reason ‘that climb’, worked out ok as according to ZP I am first in the C cat. Did a PB up the climb in 10:10 as compared to yesterday’s group ride in 10:27 on the Cervelo S5 with Enve 3.4.

Marcus Haughton
Marcus Haughton (@haughton-marcus)
11 months ago

Hello Eric
Love your posts 👍
I notice you always say about putting on some PR lotion before a race, do you believe this makes a noticeable difference? I’m considering getting some my self.
Also would it work with hairy legs!?! I’m just a summertime shaver 😅
Thanks

Kevin
Kevin
11 months ago

Similar approach to you Eric – Tarmac Pro and ENVE SES 3.4 (haven’t got the Lightweight wheels, but I have 200 pairs of gloves!). Although, unlike you, I was actually looking forward to this one. I’m at the upper end of Cat B, not because of my monstrous power output, but my relative lack of mass. Time to shine! My main objective for the first climb was to make sure I was with other people for the descent. I’ve been stung before, losing a bucket-load of time by descending solo. Safely down, we then also experienced the lull in the… Read more »

Matthew Davidge
Matthew Davidge
11 months ago

I accidentally picked a TT bike thinking it was a solo TT, I had even watched gp lama’s pacing strategy and had target powers in front of me, not a nice surprise to see everyone disappear when I started at a steady 220w as per my plan! It defaulted me onto the zwift carbon frame :shutmouth: no way to catch the front group before the first climb but had fun with some similar w/kg cat B’s, first time I’ve ridden bologna, that climb is hard!

Steve Reynolds
Steve Reynolds
11 months ago

Thanks for all of your great articles on Zwifting. Before the first TDZ 2020 race, I read a couple of your articles about getting started in racing (I haven’t raced very much). My results in the first 3 races while not very good, were consistent. I finished 6th from the bottom in two of them and 4th from the bottom in the other (ZwiftPower). I had high hopes for Stage 4 but I saved myself too much for the climb and again finished 6th from the bottom (ZwiftPower). I also used the Spec Tarmac Pro but didn’t have your choice… Read more »

Ward Brady
Ward Brady
11 months ago

makes me wonder how an aero frame like a madone with climbing wheels like the enve 3.4 would compare to a climbing frame like the tarmac with aero wheels like the 808’s

I’m a bigger guy too and I wanted to get a bike to help with the climb, but I didn’t want to fully sell out to the climbing setup

Chad Quadhamer
Chad Quadhamer
11 months ago
Reply to  Ward Brady

Being a bigger guy myself, 87 kg, I always get dropped on the climbs. I chose the madone w/ the 808s. I kept my power pretty steady, gaining time and positions until the second climb. I went on the attack with 1.5k left. when it flattens out at the tip top the aero bike shot me forward. Definitely has been my go to bike on races like this.

Robert
Robert
11 months ago

Not even sure what bike I picked. Whatever I last used. Went hard at the start, kept my energy in the herd on the first out, just dialed in 105-110% FTP for the climb and hanged on. Super tuck down, unfortunately all alone at the bottom, time-trialed it back, then got caught up on the second out and just let myself be towed to the second climb. Did it within seconds of the first one, same tactic. Ended up approx 30th of 90 (actually 70 something finishers) – and 2nd of 16 on ZwiftPower, must have been 20-25 riders ahead… Read more »

Ron Gallo
Ron Gallo (@rgallo1964)
11 months ago

I thought about pulling out my Specialized Tarmac Pro with the Lightweight Meilenstein but knew I would have the descents and flats. I ended up parking my Tron and equipping myself with the Specialized Venge and Roval CLX64 wheelset. I have been losing some of the excess weight around the mid section but am still sitting at 88 kgs. I struggle with the climbs but there’s no avoiding them, especially in this Stage. I had set myself a goal time and I, like you, try to shoot for a percentage finish. In the end I hit that goal despite losing… Read more »

M Honor
M Honor
11 months ago

I was in the second group on that race, and ended up riding with some of the people listed in that screenshot. This is what I’m loving about Zwift – people thousands of miles away in completely different time zones with their own real life issues like flooded closets sharing the same experience. This was my first Zwift race, so my takeaways are a fair bit more elementary than most. Understanding the course first is the most obvious. Thinking that going hard with only 1.2 miles to go might involve only 3 minutes of suffering is a mistake I won’t… Read more »

olivier
olivier (@wanna_b_ironman)
11 months ago

I’ve used the bike I’m always using, didn’t try to gain speed by changing the wheels or frame … I don’t think it would make much differences at my level anyway 🙂

Oliver Radermacher
Oliver Radermacher
11 months ago

Great fight Eric :-). Especially with what happened before, life sometimes throws “something” into our plans :-). I did not the “race” but the Stage 4 yesterday 7pm CET. I really like the “Bologna course”, cause I am more “on the lighter side”, and climbing twice is nice. But as I learned yesterday, the climb is not long enough, so the strong guys could keep away (but I am more than happy with my 50th. place from 138 according to ZP). I choosed the Canyon Aeroad with ZIP 404 (Meilenstein still missing), and I am happy with this performance. Let’s… Read more »

Oliver Radermacher
Oliver Radermacher
11 months ago

Enter your comment……was 6:30pm CET

Tim Clark
Member
Tim Clark (@cl0wn)
11 months ago

My first thought when I saw the photo of the leak was, “Wow! Eric really raced hard… Just look at all that sweat!”.

Kristian Y.
Kristian Y.
11 months ago

Hi Eric Great content as ever! I struggle to find the logic in your strategy here. For lighter riders it makes sense to hide on the flats, and attack on the climb where there is a power-to-weight advantage. You mention that the climbs are not your strong side, so why try to beat the lighter riders on their home turf? I am a lighter rider myself, and here is what would have killed me: My experience on this course was similar to yours, which was an unusually low pace on the flats and smashfest on the climb. Had the pace… Read more »

Kristian Y
Kristian Y
11 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

True, the flat section is likely too short in Bologna to succesfully employ this strategy. The only way i see it working is if (and only if) a group of stronger riders gets away, who is able to keep a high wattage in absolute terms, while the lighter riders get left behind at a similar w/kg but lower absolute watts, since w/kg does not matter a lot on the flat. I read the Bologna pacing article with great interest, and deployed it with amazing results in the long group ride. I am normally a group C rider, but finished in… Read more »

Will Horrocks
Will Horrocks
11 months ago

I had similar issues to you compared to the other TdZ races. 95kg in CatC was always going to be a challenge! I made use of the extra weight and an aero powerup for the descent though and picked up a load of places. Finished around 20th on Zwift Power but had pretty much the highest watts of the field. Need to join you in losing a few Kg!

Bobby Mac
Bobby Mac (@rmacdowell1)
11 months ago

Plumbing catastrophe right before the race! Gotta luv it. I did the Bologna race on Saturday and I’m a 83kg BOP B rider, used my Tron Bike and I got dropped within a few minutes of the first climb. It was super lonely the rest of the climb and on the flats. There was one rider in last so I waited for him on the flats and we did have the climb together. My best time up the 1.1 mile climb segment was 11:15 @ 259W. It was a lonely, tough, not-so-fun race for this bigger Zwifter. Yesterday I wanted… Read more »

Hybrid Noob
Hybrid Noob
11 months ago

All about the climb so Tarmac Pro and Meilenstein’s for me too. Marginally harder to sit in the draft up to the climb (but only doing tempo-sweetspot sitting in anyway) but then way more important as things break up immediately on that steep climb. It was interesting to compare my drafting ride versus a previous flat out TT on the Felt TT bike. Lap one in the group ride was 35 seconds quicker with lap two 24 seconds quicker, when compared to my single TT lap. Most of the gain came in the draft on the flat, as you’d expect,… Read more »

Michael S.
Michael S.
11 months ago

As a skinny runner in the B’s, I was looking for a top 10 (hopefully top 5). I went with light bike and wheels as the first miles were so flat. I have to push more watt then I would like on the flats to keep up. We lost 45 of 90 by the bottom of the first hill. I pushed hard to keep the front group up the hill the first time which fried me a little. Good recovery on the downhill and flats. I hit the final climb in the lead pack of 15. I did not have… Read more »

Shawn McAfee
Member
Shawn McAfee (@smcafee)
11 months ago

I am really enjoying these race recaps. Great storytelling Eric!

Redaan
Redaan (@adams_redaan)
11 months ago

Thank you for sharing ur experience during the Bologna TT.
Personal I found it painful on the climbs ,but I also learned a valuable lesson going forward with my Zwift racing. Thank you for sharing ur tips and time Zwift Insider.

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