Do you ever have those days where you’re warming up for a race and thinking, “This is going to suck. Bad. My legs are no good today!”

That was me this morning. I had decided to string three events together into a sort of Saturday long ride, aiming for around 3 hours/60 miles of riding on Zwift. My first event was one I’d never done: SMITE (Saturday Morning Interval Training Exercise). It seemed like a decent way to warm up the legs for a race: 60 minutes at recovery pace, with 4-5 intervals in between. It began at 5:55am, meaning it would end 15 minutes before my next event: the Tour of Watopia, Stage 2 race.

I did my usual pre-race prep, chewing a piece of caffeine gum and putting some PR lotion on the legs. Also ate a Clif bar, because I wanted to make sure I stayed fueled up for today’s longer session.

Once the SMITE ride began, I quickly noticed I was not at my best. Whenever we did an interval, everyone rode away from me! And just spinning along my body wanted to cruise at ~150 watts, instead of closer to 200 where I’m normally at. My heart rate didn’t want to come up either, which is never a good sign.

On the plus side, the SMITE ride leaders and crew were hilarious. So that brightened my morning.

I wrapped up SMITE, hopped off to refill bottles and grab a Clif bar, then jumped into the Stage 2 race start pens. Let’s race!

The Start

The start pen was nice and chatty this morning, which was fun

Stage 2 is one lap of the Sand and Sequoias route, just over 14 miles long. Sand and Sequoias is a fun race route because it begins with a lot flat section through Fuego Flats, then takes you onto the rollercoaster that is Titans Grove. This is where the race breaks up, then you’re back onto Fuego Flats for the final flat finish.

I knew my big challenge would be Titans Grove: specifically the KOM section. Based on the SMITE ride, I honestly thought I’d get dropped from the front at that point – possibly sooner.

The race began with a hard effort, but thankfully it was short. I averaged ~370 watts for the first 70 seconds, then we settled into a more sustainable pace, flying along at 28-29mph through the desert. Our starting group of 76 was whittled down to 57 quickly, but nobody was trying any attacks – everyone knew the action would happen in Titans Grove.

Titans Grove

Soon enough we found ourselves climbing up to the redwoods of Titans Grove. This is the most twisty, rolly section of roads on Zwift – in a race you need to stay very attentive if you want to surf the wheels efficiently without getting dropped from the pack. It requires a constant modulation of your power levels to maintain a good position! And that’s all I concerned myself with as we zipped up, down, and around the redwoods – just stay in that front pack.

When the KOM began, one rider put in a hard dig and gapped the group. But no one attempted to chase him down, which was fine with me – that meant our group pace could stay more event, and I was quite sure we’d catch that rider up the road anyway. (We did, on the KOM descent.)

The Titans Grove KOM is an interesting one, because the starting line really isn’t where the climb begins. (Check out the Strava segment.) The road feels basically flat for the first 1/2 mile, then it ramps up in to a steady grade of only 3-4%. It’s a low-grade climb, and that’s important because the pack speeds will still be high, meaning drafting still plays a big part!

We averaged 21.4mph up the climb portion of the KOM, and when we arrived at the top I was amazed to see I was still with the front group which had been whittled down to just 17 riders. Excellent! As a decent sprinter, this was very good news for me.

Besides the KOM, there’s one other little climb you have to watch out for in Titans Grove – it comes just after the descent from the KOM. It’s steep and around 30 seconds long. If you’re not wanting to attack of the front, just plan to go hard here, staying out of the wind but well-positioned in the pack. That’s all I did, and the group was surprisingly tame.

The Finish

We turned onto the desert road, settling into an even pace and recovering for the final effort. And I had a decision to make. I was holding my first-ever ghost powerup, and I had to decide if and when to use it!

The ghost makes you invisible for 15 seconds, so it’s really only useful if you want to attack off the front without others following. The problem was, I knew I couldn’t attack off the front early and stay away from this fast group. So I decided I would use the ghost when I made my final sprint jump. I would begin my sprint well within the pack, without going into red numbers so as not to draw attention to myself. I would pick up speed through the pack, and activate the ghost when I hit the front of the pack so I could invisibly shoot off the front to glory.

All went according to plan, until my legs ran out of juice on that ridiculously long final sprint section. This happens on every race here – someone jumps too soon, then gets swallowed up by the pack. That someone was me today.

I finished 6th in Zwift’s results, 4th on ZwiftPower.

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

Takeaways

Two important takeaways for me today:

  1. Don’t let powerups dictate my race strategy. If I’d had an aero helmet or van or no powerup at all I would have waited to open up my sprint. The ghost pushed me to go early, and that was a mistake.
  2. I can have a good result even if my legs don’t feel great beforehand. I’m not sure what was going on during the SMITE ride, but in the race as well as the ToW group ride I did right afterward, my legs felt good. Maybe they just needed a long warmup. Between the three events I did and a bit of riding in between I ended my morning with 58 miles, feeling great.

What About You?

Have you raced stage 2 yet? How did it go? Share below!