How the Race Was Lost: A Strong TTT On R.G.V.

How the Race Was Lost: A Strong TTT On R.G.V.

Team time trials aren’t something I write about often, for two reasons:

  1. I don’t do them very often
  2. They’re usually not very interesting to read about

But yesterday I raced a TTT with my DIRT Hellhounds team, and it turned out to be the best TTT I’ve ever been a part of. And thus I’ve decided to write about: because I think you’ll find this post both interesting and helpful. Onward!

The Warmup

Zwift Racing League‘s Tuesday events are my priority races each week, so normally I do everything I can to be ready heading into race day. But this week I rode with a couple of buddies on Monday – one of those outdoor rides you just can’t say “No” to. After going a bit harder and further than I typically would on the day before a race, there was a bit of nagging worry in the back of my head that tired legs might impact Tuesday’s effort.

Tuesday I planned a solid warmup routine, coupled with my three favorite race-day products:

  1. Caffeine gum – two pieces (200mg), 1 hour before the race.
  2. PR lotion on my legs about 45 minutes before the race. More bicarb=less burning.
  3. The Nopinz Subzero kit, with freezer packs ready to insert when I had 20 minutes left.

This would also be my first day riding a new rocker plate I’m testing out from KOM Cycling. I had done a bit of setup to dial it in a few days earlier, but I was crossing my fingers and hoping there wouldn’t be any problems I would need to fix during today’s efforts!

The DIRT Hellhounds joined a private Meetup around 35 minutes before the race start time, and as we made our way around France’s R.G.V. route we chatted on Discord, rehearsed some rotations, and made sure our in-game setups were optimized. That meant three things for us:

  1. Having the fastest bike possible (most of us were on the Specialized S-Works Venge + Disc wheel)
  2. Changing our names in-game to use a number at the start, indicating our rotation order
  3. Making sure we each had different headwear, making it easy to spot each rider in-game

Soon enough it was time to hit the start pens. Let’s race!

The Start

It seems a bit silly, given how many thousands of riders participate in TTT’s every week on Zwift – but Team Time Trials are still a “hack” on Zwift. You’ll have a pile of teams in one start pen, but each team has been given a particular time delay by the race organizers. When the event clock hits zero, nobody leaves the pens. Instead, each team’s timekeeper begins counting down, so they can tell their team when to leave the pens.

Zwift really needs to improve this. But before that can happen, riders would need to be lumped together into teams – something which isn’t yet in place. It’ll happen… eventually.

The clock hit zero, and our timekeeper began his 7-minute countdown. We sat and spun our wheels, taking nervous pee breaks, making sure our towels and water were within reach, and chatting on Discord to pass the time.

We each had our Zwift pairing screens up so we could ride without moving out of the pens – then when the countdown hit 1 second we hit the Escape key, leaving the pairing screen and jumping out of the pens at a high wattage. This is the commonly-used “Pairing Screen Jump” used in TTT’s.

Dan, the #1 rider in our rotation, was set to take a 1-minute pull to start. I expected him to sprint hard and be the first from our team out of the pens, but as we exited I was in front! I didn’t ease up much, though – the TTT is all about speed, and if I was ahead of the team they could use my draft to join me as we got into our initial formation.

Soon enough we were flying in fine formation.

A DS and a Plan

Our team actually has 8 riders, giving us two substitutes in case of illness or injury. One of the strongest racers on our team is Tim Hanson, but unfortunately he couldn’t race this week since he’s recovering from injury. fortunately he makes a great DS! He was on Discord calling the rotations for us, and it worked really well.

The basic plan was single-file formation with 30-second pulls. As we neared the switch every 30 seconds Tim would give a 5-second warning to the rider who was about to start his pull, then let the rider know his pull had begun, and tell us who was on deck.

It may seem like a minor thing, but I found it super-relieving to have Tim giving us instructions. I didn’t have to think about my timings with Tim on the horn! Instead, my job was to sit on Dan’s wheel (I was #2 in the rotation), and when Tim said Dan had 5 seconds left I would up my watts to come around Dan, shooting to get my nose into the wind just as Dan’s pull ended. Then I just went hard until the #3 rider (Phil) came around me 30 seconds later.

Sink and Sprint + Slingshot

This 5-second “slingshot” was a new tactic for us. And it seemed to be working really well. Remember, the big goal is to keep the speed high, and that speed is determined by the front rider.

We didn’t want the 2nd rider slowed by the sticky draft if the front rider easedup before the 2nd rider came around for his pull. So the front rider’s job was to keep their power/speed up while the 2nd rider hit the watts hard to come around, benefiting from a bit of a slingshot. Once the 2nd rider had come around, the front rider would ease up dramatically to “sink” to the back of the line, putting in a quick sprint once they reached the back so they could grab onto the wheels again.

We caught our first team – the Vegans – just over halfway through the race as we hit the Aqueduc KOM. It always feels good to catch another team in a TTT! The pass was clean, and as we descended and took a bit of a recovery we all knew this race was going really well.

Far From Perfect

Still, our team formation was far from perfect. Generally the problems occurred when a rider would be sinking from the front to the back, and some teammates would get stuck behind that rider. It’s really a tough balance to strike, because as the sinking rider you can’t just stop pedaling – you would get dropped from the pack with no chance to get back on. So you have to ease up on your power just enough to sink back but not so much that you are dramatically dropped.

It’s easy to “overpower” your sink, which causes riders behind to get stuck on your wheel instead of coming around. It’s also easy to “underpower” your sink, so you can dropped off the back and have to sprint extra hard to catch back on.

It’s a team effort, really: every time the rotation changes, the back 4 riders need to be paying attention so they don’t get stuck behind the sinking rider. That means bumping up your wattage a bit just before encountering the sinker, so the sticky draft doesn’t grab you.

It’s fair to say each of the Hellhounds probably messed up a rotation here and there, but we recovered well. This was feeling good, and we were almost done.

The Finish

The R.G.V. finish is always tough, because you’re on the curvy rollers of Les Intestins, which make it impossible to hold a single file formation. Still, Tim was calling out the rotations, and I think this was good – it meant there was always at least one rider pushing hard to be on the front, even if they weren’t on the front. This meant the overall group speed stayed high.

As we began Les Intestins we passed a second team, DZR. Our #4 (Roger) had been struggling to hold on, and our acceleration through DZR was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He let us know on Discord that he was off the back, and we pressed on. 5 riders left.

Over the top of the climb portion of Les Intestins, Scott (or resident climber) pushed hard, keeping our speed up in that crucial section. It was too much for our #3 (Phil) though, and he announced he was dropping off. 4 riders left, with just 1.8km to go. This was it! DS Tim took it all in stride, calmly calling out the rotations.

With 1km left our #1 man (Dan) just in front of me was struggling to hold high power in the wind. Hard to blame him – we were all on the rivet! But I rolled past him on the slight descent, and decided to just keep the power high. I’ve learned from other TTT’s that I seem to often have a bit more in the tank for the final minute than other riders, and if I could stay on the front and lend a draft to the other three I wanted to do that.

800 meters left, and I was all in. But the watts were far from impressive! The other three came around me as we turned onto the main road before the start of the Marina Sprint, and I shifted, stood up, and began the final effort. I couldn’t even break 600 watts, but I was able to get back in the front and pull the team over the line. That always feels good!

Our final time: 33:24.313. This was the 4th fastest time of any B team in ZRL! Unfortunately, our division is super-strong, and that time got us 3rd place. Still, we were very happy with the result. In season 1, our team finished this same race in 34:28.375!

As I saved the ride, I was greeted with an FTP increase popup:

Woohoo! It’s been a long time since I got one of these.

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

Watch My Race Video:

(Sorry the Discord audio is too quiet, but at least you can hear my heavy breathing loud and clear!)

Watch the Race from DS Tim’s Point of View:

Takeaways

Two big takeaways from this race:

  • A good DS is a big help. Having Tim calling the shots allowed us to focus on holding formation and keeping our power up. For me, at least, this narrowing of focus helped me perform better.
  • The 5-second slingshot works well. We’ll be doing more of this.

Oh, and if you’re wondering: the rocker plate worked great. Good feel. More on this in an upcoming post where I’ll write a full review!

Your Thoughts

Did you race in yesterday’s TTT? Got any rotation, DS, or other tips to share? Comment 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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Tim Perkin
Tim Perkin (@tperkin)
1 month ago

Team Time Trials are certainly a skill. It is actually really difficult to all be in sync and it sounds like you nailed it. I raced it yesterday in APAC, Division 1, with Cat A’s and you beat us by 30 seconds, so that was a solid ride. A few good tips, I think one which is good is the “different head gear” – you can lose track of who is where so I like that, and it is the little details that count. I certainly agree that Zwift needs to look at a solution for Team Time Trials. It… Read more »

Ben P
Ben P
1 month ago

Dan was spent at the end of that, then he ate all my eggs…..

Kieren
Kieren
1 month ago

Great write up and a great ride. I love the fact the TTT tactics seem to evolve every season. The blob, the single file, now the slingshot approach. Might have steak that one and give it a go.

Mark Murawski
Mark Murawski
1 month ago

Good write up. We’ll have to try the sling shot. My DIRTy Ducks finished with the second fastest DIRT B time – 33:31. Luckily we won our division to make two weeks in a row. There is so much skill to these TTT’s. I act as our DS as I ride our plan is always as little more complicated and variable in terms of pull times and target wattages.

Neal Fleenor
Neal Fleenor
1 month ago

Listening to your DS makes it sound like y’all were just CRUISIN’! In the meantime, when we got to the serpentine section before the finish, we were going nuts, crying, yelling, trying not to vomit, and stick to our blob. LOL!

And the DS does make a positive difference. Highly recommended.

bolanbiker
bolanbiker (@bolanbiker)
1 month ago

A good DS is good for a few seconds for sure. Ours was fabulous last night.

David Rowbotham
David Rowbotham
1 month ago

What are your thoughts on a reverse rotation… benefiting from the draft to come around from the back , pulling the whole team… as well as it combats the sticky sink problem as you never sink through the team disrupting the line.. all switches are at high power so the new rider coming to the front shouldn’t have sticky problems

Chris Ovenden (Vegan Bobcats)
1 month ago

We tried this, the carousel or ‘infinite slingshot’ but it got very messy very quick. I think if you were on dead flat road with very similar weighted and powered riders all perfectly coordinated it would absolutely be the best. Pushing your bigger watts in the draft will get more speed after all. But in reality it is super hard to pull off.

Chris Ovenden
Chris Ovenden (@cdovenden)
1 month ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

The idea of the carousel is that you ONLY push in the draft. so you work it like a chain gang: as soon as you hit the back of the group you start pushing, once you reach the front you drop the watts to make a constant rotation. You would likely need to not do such drastically different power on when pushing and recovering as in normal TTT formation. The idea is to push more watts in the draft and less into the air. In theory it should work, but it was messy when we tried it. Maybe a job… Read more »

Chris Ovenden (Vegan Bobcats)
1 month ago

Great write up, Eric. And nice clean pass. We were in trouble almost immediately unfortunately with two mechanicals leaving us with a team of 4 from less than a 5th into the race. Happy with 10th considering! You guys stormed it!

Rob B
Rob B
1 month ago

Hey Eric – great job on the FTP bump, pretty impressive in a TTT! With the slingshot, I guess it’s a fine line between getting a decent boost AND slingshotting 2nd place forwards so much that the rider flowing has a problem managing the gap. Sounds like there is reward for practicing. As a question, have you done any benchmarking of W vs Kg vs Height on the flat? Whilst that could be secret sauce for your team performance, would you be willing to share any indicators? As a small club, we often have wildly different physiologies in our teams.… Read more »

Rob B
Rob B
1 month ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

I think I garbled my question. Have you ever compared 5wkg from a 60, 70, 80, 90kg rider on the flat? I’m thinking more about the speed rather than the effect of the draft.

I understand that CdA is a function of height/weight – so there’s the three variables height, weight, watts to get to speed (assuming equal equipment / gradient)

To simplify:

How many watts would “Michael Literider” need to throw down to do an equivalent speed on the front to “Sally Watts” who just averaged 435w for her 30s turn?

Rob B
Rob B
1 month ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

Thanks Eric – apologies for overlooking the relevant section and asking a needless question. Mentally, I’d always noted that post about climbing.

Good luck on the KOM after party on Tuesday

@realjlo
@realjlo
1 month ago

Nice work! Congrats on the FTP increase! I think 30 second pulls is just too long. I imagine the lead person is toast and has to really struggle to catch back on and have to stay in the red too long. When I was doing TTTs during my collegiate racing years (too long ago now) we’d be rotating almost constantly With maybe 15 seconds at the front at the most. That always seemed fastest. That would change if someone was super strong or someone was just trying to hang on. I’m a DIRT rider. How do you get into this?… Read more »

C Flan
C Flan
1 month ago

I think the lead rider has to literally stop pedaling for a second – then the second rider should have no problem getting to the front. Second rider shouldn’t have to sprint – this only wears him out. Dropping rider should go to zero watts and the get back on medium power – with a light surge when parallel to 2nd last rider to jump onto the end. Done dozens of TTTs and it’s annoying to have to sprint to get to the front and then often worse for the second or third rider who gets stuck behind dropping rider… Read more »

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