How the Race Was Lost: Death Before DNF

How the Race Was Lost: Death Before DNF

Yesterday was my 41st birthday. Fairly fresh legs and a free Saturday morning meant a Zwift race was going to happen. But which race to ride? I scanned the schedule:

  • WTRL iTT Series: ugh. A TT on my birthday? That’s no gift.
  • Tour for All Stage 2 Race: I’d be racing against the top A racers thanks to how these event categories are structured. Nope!
  • DIRT Dadurday Chase Race: not a bad option, but a bit shorter than I’m looking for.
  • OCA Indoor Race Series: never heard of it. But it’s 36 miles long, and on a challenging route. Let’s do it!

When I checked the signup list it was stuffed full of Canadians, which made me wonder: what exactly is OCA? It turns out they’re the Ontario Cycling Association and they, like many local cycling associations, are holding a race series on Zwift to help keep their members active during this time. (A note to event organizers: the Zwift world may not know who you are. Help us out and include links and other details about your organization in your event description.)

My B category would be racing 5 laps of NYC’s Astoria Line 8 route – a course I’ve found both fun and challenging in the past. Fun because it’s a rolling course where you go fast but work hard. Challenging because the various short climbs require repeated big efforts for the “overmuscled” cyclist.

The Warm Up

I got on the trainer about 45 minutes early, after my pre-race ritual of three pieces of caffeine gum and PR lotion on the legs. This time I’d be using my new Garmin Vector 3 pedals on my trusty Wahoo KICKR. I spun my way around the Tick Tock route, put in a few digs to get my heart rate up to 160, then it was time to hit the start pens.

The Start

The clock hit zero, and 80+ B’s boiled out of the start pens. But wait, what’s this? A, C, D, and E riders were merging with us from other pens! Noooooo!!

I’ve really got to start paying attention to how these races are set up. That’s two races in a row I’ve joined with combined categories, and I’m just not a fan. Maybe in certain situations I wouldn’t mind jumping in with the A’s and trying to hold on, but I’m not good at switching my race outlook in the middle of a pell-mell start. And I really dislike seeing riders up the road, but not easily knowing if they’re even in my category. In short: I like the simplicity of racing against just my category.

Note: OCA race organizers contacted me after I published this post to let me know that the combined categories were a surprise to everyone, including themselves! Apparently Zwift HQ set up this even incorrectly, and categories will be separated in the future.

This race also had an “E” category, just for the ladies. That was interesting – I’ve never done a mixed race that included a dedicated women’s category. To make it more interesting, each category was racing a different number of laps!

So the A’s were on the front of our strung-out group, pinning it at 31mph, and I just tried to hold on as long as I could. Eventually the elastic snapped, and I found myself in the second group on the road, made up most of B’s and A’s.

New Goals

There’s the front of the race, riding away!

Racing without a goal is tough for me. And I can’t just have a goal of “doing my best” or “finishing the race.” I need something more tangible.

When you’ve been dropped from the front pack of a Zwift race, what’s your goal? For me, I usually try to work with my chase group to keep the pace high and vacuum up riders who are being dropped from the front group. If I’m feeling feisty I’ll even try to attack through the riders we catch, making it hard for them to grab our wheels.

It’s fulfilling to see my ranking improve as we catch more and more riders, and setting my sights on the riders just up the road gives me something tangible to work toward.

Is this the smartest approach? Perhaps not. It’s a better workout, for sure! But if you’re just going for a top finish, you may be better served by sitting in and conserving energy for the final sprint. It really depends on the race situation – and this was a double draft race, with small packs of riders up the road. That meant our pack could catch these riders if we kept working together. The front of our chase group was 122nd place out of 386 riders. Where could we finish if we kept pushing?

The Middle

Our group worked well together, swelling as the miles piled on. The Astoria Line 8 route has a particular rhythm to it, defined by the longer inclines you encounter. First you have the northern loop, which begins with a climb, then a supertuck-able descent into the twistiest, steepest climb of the route. Despite the climb, I find this section of the route to be pretty fun – supertucking is always a hoot, and the climb afterward is short enough that I can punch it without getting dropped.

The tougher section for me comes just after that northern loop, when you turn left and begin to travel south, encountering a couple of longer rises. Not steep enough to drop me, at least not in today’s race group… but steep and long enough to hurt.

We kept catching riders, and I found myself making calculated decisions on the front of the group. Do I use my powerup to pull us to the next pack? This is a long race, do we just wait to catch them on the next rise? This is one reason I enjoy longer races – the race has more time to evolve, and every move isn’t an emergency.

Disaster Strikes

25 miles into the 36-mile race, I was near the front of our sizable chase group, in 86th place with a group to catch just up the road. And that’s when it happened: my watts suddenly dropped to zero. Nooooo!!!

The moment disaster struck

I hurriedly hit the “A” key to bring up my pairing screen, noting that my cadence (which was from the same Garmin Vector 3 pedals which were currently reading 0) was displaying properly. Very strange. But I couldn’t fiddle around with it – I needed to get moving! I swapped my power source to my KICKR, got back to the game, and assessed the situation as I pedaled up to speed.

My group was already 30 seconds up the road, and I had two riders come up from behind, with no one around me. I wasn’t going to rejoin my big group. #$%&!

The three lonely musketeers

Death before DNF

What is your DNF philosophy? I have friends who race (indoors and out) who will pull the plug as soon as they know they can’t win it. This seems silly to me. I once went to a race with a local buddy. We drove two hours to get there, and halfway through the race he got dropped from our front group, turned around, and rode back to his truck. This seems especially silly to me.

I was out of this race. But I was going to finish it! Because I don’t DNF. And certainly not on my birthday.

The Finish

The remaining miles of the race were mostly unremarkable – our small group lacked the legs or gumption to attempt any sort of bridge to the large group which was now minutes ahead. In double draft mode, large groups move so much faster than packs of 2 or 3 – it just isn’t doable without a superhuman effort. So we road together, staying away from those behind, but not working particularly hard, either. You can see in my power chart how my average wattage and speed dropped after my dropout.

Apparently we were lulled into a sense of complacency, because with 2 miles to go we hit one of the cross streets, merging with traffic coming from another section of the course. Suddenly, from behind a pack of riders flew through us! I glanced at the rider list and noticed some of those riders were B’s and A’s, with the same mileage as myself. We’d been caught by a group from behind! Game on.

I sat in with this group, holding onto my feather powerup for the final finish up Cat’s Paw Hill. I stayed within a couple wheels of the front, then gave it all I had to the line, sprinting against two others for a “far from the podium” finish. In the end, one rider from our group beat me over the line. I finished 38th in the B’s, according to Zwift’s results. 22nd according to ZwiftPower.

Without the power drop, I would have finished with the group 3 minutes up the road: somewhere between 10th-20th on ZwiftPower. C’est la vie!

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

Takeaways

I had one takeaway from this race: to figure out what the heck happened to my power pedals. And I spent the next hour fixing it.

As it turns out, the pedals had a firmware update available which I hadn’t yet applied. (I won’t go into detail about why I didn’t update the firmware when I first got these pedals a week ago – suffice it to say, Garmin’s app isn’t the best. But let’s save that for another post.)

Firmware version 3.68: “Fixed issue where power would go to 0 over BLE”. Well there you go. Hopefully this issue is resolved for good now!

I’ll be posting a review of the Garmin Vector 3’s, along with a review of the Favero Assiomas, sometime in the future here on Zwift Insider. I will, of course, include the advice to update your firmware!

Questions or Comments

Questions or comments? What’s your view of the dreaded DNF? 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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Dave Hicks
Dave Hicks (@drhmm1)
9 months ago

Feel the same way about DNFs. Finish the race sprint with whomever you are with!

Mark C
Mark C (@rdcyclist)
9 months ago

Happy Birthday Eric! I feel the same way about the combined group races. The chase races are fine and in fact a lot of fun. But not knowing who’s up the road and who’s catching you makes it very hard to ride an effective race. And don’t get me started on the Tour for All combined class structure. I rode (BTW, that’s what you’re doing with other riders. Road is what you’re on…) the A race this morning (a mistake, I wasn’t as recovered as I needed for the event and sucked for the last 20 minutes) and ended up… Read more »

Garth
Garth
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark C

I have had the opposite experience. As a bottom-of-the-barrel B racer I have enjoyed the Tour for all races so far. Having the A racers around made for better more tactical races. You said yourself that zwiftpower takes care of sandbaggers so what difference does it make that A racers were on the course at the same time? Wouldn’t some of them sandbag in a straight B race anyway? I guess it just doesn’t bother me to lose to people who are faster than me? Knowing the “category” of the riders ahead or behind seems irrelevant to your effort and… Read more »

Garth
Garth
9 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

Hi Eric, I get what you are saying but I still think it is all just a house of cards and the emperor has no clothes. The categories are completely arbitrary and have no real meaning. We all convince ourselves that we did not “lose” to the rider with a different letter next to their name, and I guess the illusion is even better if we don’t see them on the course. This is the system that motivates all the cheating regardless of zwiftpower results. That “C” rider coming up from behind is just as likely a B rider in… Read more »

Doug
Doug
9 months ago
Reply to  Garth

It’s quite simple. If they have the same letter as you, they are in the same race. If they do not, then they are in a different race.

Dont overcomplicate it but going by where people should be placed. They’ve entered the wrong category and wont be included in the results. That is on them.

ShakeNBakeUK
Member
ShakeNBakeUK (@bakeuk)
9 months ago
Reply to  Garth

as a “bottom-of-the-barrel B racer” you’re going to have a nightmare in any races with A’s, cos you’ll get dropped in the first 2mins by people pushing 5+ w/kg avg. it matters because some of the strong B’s can hang with the weak A’s, but anyone even slightly off the A’s pace gets dropped for dead.

jules
jules
9 months ago

Happy Birthday! How do you tell beforehand if a race is combined categories? In the lady-races it is usually desirable as otherwise it can be very lonely.

MacWeelz
MacWeelz (@wongsol)
9 months ago
Reply to  jules

The category start times are separated (often by a couple of minutes). This doesn’t always seem to be the case, though, so sometimes you’ll still end up racing with the other categories.

Jon Wakefield
Jon Wakefield
9 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

On Zwift Power you can tell if its combined or staggered starts … The A,B,C,D cat icons in the description will have a +1 next to it highlighting the staggered time… so for example, A,B+1,C+1,D+1 would be a 1min gap in-between cats. A,B, C+1, D+1 would mean A and B go together and C and D have 1 min gap.
There is also a filter that shows ‘only riders in your group visible’

Brenton
Brenton
9 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

The first of the series was a staggered start. I suspect future OCA races will be staggered as well.

Jonathan
Jonathan
9 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

A post on exactly this topic would be welcome!

Aaron Laing
Aaron Laing
9 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

I would love to see what you find, as I have also been frustrated in a couple of races where I have no clue who my “competition” is. I’m usually finishing in the lower percentile of my class to begin with, so I’d really like to know who I’m supposed to have a fighting chance against!

Cameron Allan
Cameron Allan (@cam_allan)
9 months ago
Reply to  jules

At zwifthacks.com/app/events you can see when you open an event. There are (at least) 3 possibilities: “See all riders”, “See only event riders”, and “See only event category riders”.
Don’t know if you can filter here though.

Davis
Davis
9 months ago

I doubt that will fix the issue with the pedals. I’m on my second pair of vector 3 pedals and have numerous issues, connectivity is probably the biggest. They frequently drop out. Garmin’s should hardware feature list is excellent, but their execution is shit.

Davis
Davis
9 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

I’ve gotten zeros while on ANT while riding outdoors, but indoors I’ve had it cut out several times mid ride. I’ve never been able to figure it out. Usually it will re-link after going back to the pairing screen.

John
John (@johnclees)
9 months ago
Reply to  Davis

I’ve just been trying my vector 3s instead of my Direto. After having power spikes and being stuck for 5 mins on 130 watts in my last race I’ve gone back to my Direto. whilst the vectors are slightly higher at 10 watts more because no drive train power sapping, and they give me the same power reading as outside, I’ve decided its not worth the hassle.

MacWeelz
MacWeelz (@wongsol)
9 months ago

Death before DNF. This is especially true if you paid to be in a race, then made the effort and expense to be there.

DFL (dead freaking last) > DNF > DNS.

Antoine Martin
Antoine Martin
9 months ago

IRL i would say DNF is a balance to find. There are also too many people trying to finish while injured or seriously exhausted.

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

Hey sorry this happened to you – It can be extremely frustrating! I actually almost joined this same event yesterday since I saw you were going to be in it, but the start time was just a few minutes earlier than I could make happen.

I’ve also been experiencing a software issue where Zwift will minimize itself at least once on every ride, forcing me to do a quick ‘Alt-Tab’ to try to get it back up…. while still riding.

Joshua Gordon
Joshua Gordon
9 months ago

Garmin vector 3 owner here. Get some electric tape and tape the two CR1 batteries together before placing them in the pedal.

Zeb
Zeb
9 months ago
Reply to  Joshua Gordon

To avoid electric circuit issues caused by the double batteries I am instead using one CR1/3N per pedal, which essentially is two LR44 stacked together.

Chan Stevens
Chan Stevens (@chanstevens)
9 months ago

+1 death before dnf, though I’ll sometimes make an exception where my race goal isn’t front group finish but 1-2 laps full gas to PR and kill myself for however long I can hang on. When I’m dropped I’m dropped and happy to just cruise along at tempo for light workout.

I’ve had ANT drops, even a total Zwift freeze 6 loops into PRL Full quest for route badge. Technology’s amazing until it isn’t 😉

Chris Pippy
Active Member
Chris Pippy (@c_pippy)
9 months ago

The OCA is the Ontario Cycling Association. There was an issue with how Zwift had originally setup the event and when they made the changes to allow the “E” women’s cat they accidentally set it to mass start apparently. Next race we should be racing just with our cats and not see the other cats. (I race “A” and M1 in Ontario). There were several pros in the race including the Canadian National Elite men’s champ (Matteo who rides with Rally) and a few others. It’s a lot of fun…Next race I believe is this coming Saturday.

Chris Van Der Veen
Chris Van Der Veen
9 months ago

You need to finish a race to win one. I was dropped once within 5kms of the start and came back to win by 2mins. You just got to hang in there

David
David
9 months ago

I’m guessing that didn’t happen on Zwift 🙂

josh
josh
9 months ago

is there any reason for the combined starts, or is it just a vestige of the early days of zwift racing? it is fundamentally unfair to the lower categories. i can’t think of any reason why races shouldn’t be staggered by category, am i missing something?

Garth
Garth
9 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

I really like the 3R races partly because they are mass start events. Often there are simply not enough people to make a decent race out of staggered starts. Also from my perspective if I am trying to follow the rules then I have to race in B because I happened to make a big effort on a couple climbs. But in any flat race I not only cannot be competitive in B but I probably cannot even stay with the pack. So how is that supposed to be any fun? I depend on the both the legitimate and cheating… Read more »

Jack Kramer
Jack Kramer
9 months ago

Happy Birthday Eric! Thanks for doing such a great job here. I love reading about your experiences.

Garmin software quality is the worst. I’ve spent my life in software development and the crap Garmin releases is unforgivable. I’ve given up on them and have moved Wahoo.

RAYE ACKERMAN
RAYE ACKERMAN
9 months ago

Eric! Great report. We’re part of the group that organized this and the mass start was a bug in the setup… You might have seen some comments about that as we were not expecting it either. We race every Saturday at 1030 EST time and as mentioned, we’re a group of road racers that can’t race right now in Ontario so our Association are running these events. We try to group as similar as possible to both Zwift standards and paired with our own outdoor Cats… (A work in progress!). We invite you to come out and try another race… Read more »

Todd
Todd
9 months ago

My only DNF was in a TT when my trainer power reading dropped out when I was in 2nd place, within sight of the leader and well ahead of the 3rd. I went into the pairing screen, unpaired the trainer, then repaired and seemed to be fine; when I closed the pairing screen and before the closing the menu screen, my avatar began moving, but as soon as I closed the menu screen, the trainer dropped out again. I kept trying as riders began flying by, but every time I closed the menu, I ground to a halt. Finally, I… Read more »

Mark de Koning
Mark de Koning
9 months ago

Great to read about your experience! I was in the B race with you and we finished very close in time. (Though I could not hold the group ahead and didn’t have a power drop out So clearly you are faster!). These races are evolving on the fly and the OCA is taking racer input to improve the set up. We are all happy to have a place to race out Ontario buddies (and nemesis’s!).

Michael Li
Michael Li
9 months ago

Happy birthday Eric! Hope the firmware updates solve the issue. You mentioned supertuck in your post: do you supertuck during race? My experience is that even low power pedal goes faster than those supertuck mode.

Luke
Luke
9 months ago

Quick question, why use the Garmin power measurement over the kickr? Is it for repeatability of power readings when not on the trainer ?

Ryan
Ryan
9 months ago
Reply to  Luke

I was wondering the same thing. It seems like you’re just setting yourself up for dropouts. As Lionel Sanders recently talked about on his YouTube channel, you could record the Garmin power using your head unit (assuming you have one) and then upload to zwiftpower afterwards to compare and verify against your kicker.

Jason M Patenaude - DIRT
Jason M Patenaude - DIRT (@jmpatenaude)
9 months ago

Happy Birthday! Just wanted to share that these articles detailing your racing are the best. I appreciate all the knowledge I’ve gotten from ZI since joining Zwift, but reading about your tactics and thoughts in race are add a great perspective. Thanks for your work and many happy returns on your birthday.

bruce Paterson
bruce Paterson (@bruce9373)
9 months ago

Bruce Paterson Just so you know, I believe Zwift messed up the start It was supposed to be all separate. But, last min changes caused this issue. I ride OCA races. Lots of fun, short compacted season. cheers

Anthony
Anthony
9 months ago

hi! Quite the opposite but parallel situation: a sudden and unexpected drop to 0W in an hot criterium with BMisuro+ sensor was the reason to switch to Assioma pedals 🙂

travels
travels
9 months ago

I will be very interested to read your Vector 3 review. I got a pair 18 months ago and, like many Vector3S early adopters, have been through the immense pain of swapping out battery covers, changing the entire set, cleaning them carefully etc. etc.They are very good for accuracy and function, but as fragile as a thoroughbred trying to win a steeplechase. They became so flaky, I got to the point I only actively use them outside. I’ve had many frustrating powerdrops on Zwift with them which ruined a ride, so I stopped having them as my power source when… Read more »

Christopher J Lamont
Christopher J Lamont
9 months ago

Hi Eric. I was in that race with you and had nearly the same experience. Although I was up around 50th and my power sensor cut, and my legs would move at that stage. Lost all motivation to go further. It’s difficult see where other b group riders are. Starting all together was not fun.

Renzo Castro
Renzo Castro (@rgcastro7)
9 months ago

I hope you enjoyed your Birthday, Eric.

Great write-up and excellent attitude.

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