How the Race Was Lost: Faux Finish

How the Race Was Lost: Faux Finish

If you’ve been following my “How the Race Was Lost” series, you know I lose a lot of races. Most of those losses are the most humbling sort, where I simply wasn’t strong enough to win. On Zwift I’m regularly reminded that there are many, many cyclists in the world who are much stronger than me!

This doesn’t discourage me though: I’m always looking for ways to race smarter, and of course I also train so I can keep getting stronger. In the end for me it’s not about winning – it’s about being fit, pushing myself to the limit, and enjoying the rush of competition.

While I typically lose because other riders were stronger, occasionally it’s due to a major mistake on my part. Today was one of those races.

I decided to jump into a Crit City race that had low signup numbers. Lately many of my races have had 100 or more B riders, and I wanted to try something different – racing against a small pack. In a low-numbers race you get to know each of the riders, and a solo attack can really make a difference. So I signed up, and headed out to warm up.

The Warm Up

I slept in a bit, but still managed to chew three pieces of caffeine gum and get PR lotion on the legs. Then it was out to Tempus Fugit for my warmup! I pulled my Specialized Epic MTB out of the garage so I could get some MTB miles logged towards completing the CeramicSpeed Mission. (Sidenote: that bike is one of the fastest MTBs on Zwift, but it sure is slow on pavement, especially if the road tilts up at all!)

After less than 15 minutes it was time to hit the pens. Let’s race!

The Start

With only 11 riders signed up for the B category, this would be (by far) the smallest pack I’d ever raced in Crit City. Amazing how Zwift has grown. When I first started in October 2015, a pack of 11 racers was pretty normal, and many races had combined fields because we just didn’t have the numbers or infrastructure to support individual categories. I remember the first time I was able to race in a pack of 30+ riders of similar ability (a TFC C race), and what a different and cool experience that was!

This was an 8-lap race around Crit City’s Bell Lap route. As soon as the clock hit zero, our pack stretched out. One zPowered “J. Munday” was on the front holding 7+ w/kg, but happily nobody chased him so he rode away, never to be seen again until the orange cone of shame showed up a few laps later.

A little helpful in-game messaging…

Before the first lap was completed, our group was reduced to just six riders: Adby (a U16 rider), Toader, Bone, Jones, Angelescu, and myself. I knew from a quick glance at the signup list on ZwiftPower that Adby and Jones were the highest-ranked riders in the group, apart from myself. But I was ranked significantly higher than anyone in the pack, so on paper, this was my race to lose.

The Middle

At the end of lap three, Jones put in a hard attack – the first real attack of the race. That showed me he had a strong sprint and was feeling good! I should have grabbed his wheel, but I responded too slowly. (I have the same problem outdoors – I struggled to jump quickly when I see an attack happening.) So I waited too long, then had to work to catch him, while the riders behind me benefited at least a bit from my draft. Dumb move – I should have sat in and let the pack catch him.

Following Jones, a bit late

We got into the typical Bell Lap rhythm, with effort ramping up on the twisty climb section each lap. Twice I pushed especially hard there, trying to drop anyone who was barely hanging on. Jones and his big avatar were struggling up the climb, but he always managed to claw his way back before we could drop him. Lightweight U16 Adby did well on the climb, which wasn’t surprising. While they were very different riders, Jones and Adby seemed to be my strongest competition. I made a mental note to follow any attacks they attempted.

Our pack of six would stay together until Toader got dropped on the 5th lap.

The Finish

I had a draft boost powerup for the final lap, which really wasn’t what I wanted – an aero helmet would have been welcome, but the powerup gods had not been helpful in this race. Why did I want the aero helmet? Because I wanted to be the aggressor in the final sprint. That sprint is short and fast, and I didn’t want to wait for someone else to jump.

I used my draft boost well before the final sprint, timing it so I could enjoy the 30 seconds of relief it gave as I sat in the wheels. Then just as it ended I shifted, got out of the saddle, and went all in for the final sprint. Glancing up at the screen mid-sprint I saw riders trying to grab my wheel, then it seemed like they gave up, dropping a couple seconds back as I crossed the line. Victory!

Except nothing happened. Where was the results list? All I saw was this:

The realization took a moment to register in my race-addled brain: I had sprinted on the penultimate lap. And there were four riders charging quickly from behind!

My heart rate was high, my legs were burning, but I knew the pack just behind would catch and drop me quickly if I didn’t keep my speed up. So I gave it all I had to keep my power high, barely grabbing onto their wheels as they flew past and we made our way up the twisties for the real final lap.

If anyone in the group had been strong enough to attack hard at this point, I wouldn’t have been able to follow. Lucky for me, nobody pushed the pace, and I tried to breathe deeply and recover as quickly as possible before my second finishing sprint.

Jones jumped hard at the end with his strong sprint, and Adby followed. I gave it all I had, but wasn’t able to beat either of them over the line. Third place! I kicked myself all the way to the shower.

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

Takeaways

My first takeaway was that this “small pack” race was a fun changeup. It really was a different race experience, competing against a small pack of riders on a small loop where you could begin to see their strengths and weaknesses. In a small pack, you can clearly see who is on the front holding higher power and who is sitting in. You can also see where riders struggle and excel, which helps you understand their strengths and how to best compete against them.

I set new critical power bests in the 2:55-6:35 range (390-346W), so that was good to see. And I broke 1000 watts on my faux finish sprint, which I was also happy about, since I’ve been training to improve my race-ending sprints. (I’ve also begun taking Beta Alanine again, which should be helping those sprint efforts.)

This is actually the second race where I’ve sprinted for the wrong line (here is the first). Clearly, my biggest takeaway needs to be a reminder that my brain, when racing, simply doesn’t function well. Because of that, I have to keep things simple and take steps to reduce mistakes wherever possible. First step: know the finish line. Racing 101!

(Looking at the screenshots, it’s interesting to note that this race didn’t have a lap counter – neither in in-game lap sign or the lap counter in the HUD were working. Not sure why, but I bet I wouldn’t have made my silly mistake if they’d been visible!)

Your Comments

Please tell me you’ve sprinted on the wrong lap. Or perhaps share other race mistakes you’ve made, so I can feel better about myself!

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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Rusty Williams
Rusty Williams
9 months ago

I’ve done the exact same thing on a crit city D race. Wondering why no one was reacting for the finish sprint and thinking I was so strong! Sad to know it may happen again at some point. 🙂

Dai Jones
Dai Jones
9 months ago

Eric, wonderful article! Whilst I enjoyed the race, I was using this as a primer for Wednesday’s race with the Army Cycling Union (British Army). Your homework was well prepared and your analysis is correct, the hill section did take it out of my legs and I had to work to make it back to the group each lap. If someone had made a break, I’m not sure if I’d have held on or made it back. On the penultimate lap when you dropped the hammer, I screamed out loud, something that shouldn’t be repeated on here, but thought you… Read more »

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

Tough result, but a great article! I love this racing series of articles.

Rob Strong
Rob Strong
9 months ago

Bugger. You would have thought they would have felt sorry for you and given you at least a feather or aero for your “last” lap but further salt into the wounds with a measily draft again!

Steve
Steve
9 months ago

Ha! Maybe your brain thought there was a good prime on lap 7…..

I’ve noticed there there are no lap counters — either on the course or in the HUD — in the Bell Lap direction. Maybe something Zwift’s programmers could fix. S

Benjamin Turner
9 months ago

Needs to be a proper, loud bell rung when you’re crossing the line for the penultimate time.

Dan Aponik
Dan Aponik
9 months ago

I had something similar back in the “old” days. When some races were done by distance, I smashed a killer sprint on a big bunch to get to the Mall banner in London. I wasn’t looking at the distance remaining counter to see that the “real” finish was still 600 meters further up the road! Now that counter is all I look at when we get close to a bunch kick.

Christopher Ives
Member
Christopher Ives (@chrisivesdesigns)
9 months ago

Right off the top I thought your mistake was going to be jumping into this race with the MTB as your choice of wheels… Unlucky with the ending, but kudos to recovering enough to keep 3rd place!

..Alien King..
..Alien King..
9 months ago

I have to say that reading your race stories make me smile. Your gift to paint a picture is truly amazing. I find myself truly cheering for you even though I know you lost by the title. Oh, I am glad u jumped on the tingle band wagon (beta alanine). Hopefully the titles become how I moved into A Cat racing and worked myself to the top. Cheers my brother and thank you for all you do in the community

Fabio
Fabio
9 months ago

We really need a big scoreboard counting down the laps at crit city, and a stopwatch for pacing, too

J Adby
J Adby
9 months ago

Good write up, the U16 enjoyed the race.

Mitchell
Mitchell (@rmpearce1964)
9 months ago

Shouldn’t need a lap counter….there is a miles to go bar ….right there in your screen shot. However, I’ve still missed the lap counter, miles to go bar and anything else they put there to help me several times. Love your articles.

naan
naan
9 months ago

Anybody else royally annoyed by the lap counter not working (when actually working) the same way as in IRL races? Now the counter in Zwift changes when you pass the finish line, in reality something like half a second after that, leaving you a fraction of a second to view the correct number until the counter is behind you. The counter is an integer and supposed to show the number of laps remaining at the finish line, which doesn’t change depending on the individual rider’s position relative to the finish line. (Ok, being able to show the correct number to… Read more »

B.bone
B.bone
9 months ago

Your faux finish cost me a few watts for the real sprint, it is also a strategy to tire the opponents.
B.bone

Tobi Zuri
Tobi Zuri
9 months ago

Hah Eric, Good to hear I’m not the only one doing silly stuff in the final of a race. I’ve sprinted once on Greater London flat track to the flame rouge banner one km before finish out of a small group. On paper I was the best sprinter out of that group so I decided to kick very hard 300m before the finish. I saw that nobody was able to follow my superhigh red numbers so that I jumped with a solid gap over the finish line, which was the Flame Rouge banner🤔it took some seconds to recognize what’s really… Read more »

Loui Desranleau
Loui Desranleau
9 months ago

It does read 1.2 miles to the finish! That is where I keep an eye on.

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