How the Race Was Lost: Zwift Classics Seaside Sprint Banter Bus

How the Race Was Lost: Zwift Classics Seaside Sprint Banter Bus

This week’s Zwift Classics race saw a controversial route change at the last minute, with the planned route (Muir and the Mountain) being swapped out for Seaside Sprint.

I gotta admit, this change made me happy. For three reasons:

  1. There was no way I was going to come close to winning a race up the Epic KOM (with bonus climb). A race on Muir and the Mountain would be nothing more than a challenging workout from my standpoint.
  2. The Seaside Sprint route has a special place in my heart, because I created it. That’s right – it began as a Rebel Route back in August of 2019, then Zwift made it an official (albeit event-only) route in its February 2020 update.
  3. It’s a fun route that suites my strengths. Fairly flat, a few spots for cheeky attacks if I’m feeling good, and a short descent into the flat finishing sprint.

Autocat Development

I was placed in C3 this week, which seemed a little odd given my C2 placement in last week’s hillier race. But again, I’m not paying much attention to the numbers these days. So far every autocat race I’ve done has been competitive and fun, so I just go with whatever WTRL assigns. (Not that I have a choice anyway.)

C3 meant we had a 5-lap race of around 34.5km.

Bike Choice

Last week I went with a pure climber, but this week that would be silly since the race had no significant climbs, and it would be won and lost on the fast sprint sections.

I thought about going with the Tron bike, since it would perform well up the little kickers as well as on the flats. But everyone rides the Tron bike. I thought about going with the S-Works Venge + disc wheels… but I can’t stand running disc wheels in a road race, even if it’s virtual.

In the end, I settled on the S-Works Venge + Zipp 858’s. A proper road racing setup, albeit a bit slower than the two options above.

Warmup

Another standard warmup this week. First a couple of pieces of caffeine gum one hour before the race. Then PR lotion on my legs before kitting up, to reduce the burn.

Then I hopped into the pens as soon as I was allowed, saving my place at the front before popping back out to join the C. Cadence group and spin my legs for a while, putting in a few hard digs to get my heart rate up and break the ice.

After around 30 minutes of warmup I headed to the pens. Let’s race!

Lead-In

We blasted out of the pens with 95 riders. I had already done a bit of homework and knew that my predicted finish was around 10th-15th place. That meant I should be able to stick with the front group, but it would be a long shot to get on the podium.

I had decided that I wouldn’t be chasing points for this race, but rather just working to win overall. (Probably not the best choice in hindsight.) Even though I wasn’t chasing the sprint points, I knew the pack would stretch out at every sprint, so I’d need to push on the sprints to stay in touch with the front.

Sure enough, we stretched over the pre-sprint kicker, and that elastic broke as we descended and hit the sprint. By the time we hit the cobbles of the Italian Villas a front group of ~30 riders had formed. This was the key first selection of the race, and if you missed it, you were done.

Solidifying the gap on our first run down the Dirty Sorpresa

Lap 1: the Banter Begins

Once the selection was made, things settled down a bit. And that’s when the banter began. Johnny Rocket complained about the “fn burritos” (they were flying everywhere). He also complained that he was “too fat for this crap”. Ha! Johnny’s a fun personality who has been racing on Zwift for a long time.

Then Smed started chatting with me, asking “Where u at, Eric?” Smed, I knew, was one of the top-ranked riders in this race. “Living the dream!” I wrote back. I followed up with “Working for Charlie” (Issendorf, Zwift’s Director of Events, who was in the race as well).

As we made our way up the kicker into the Volcano, messages kept flying. This was a fun bunch.

A Marked Man

It’s interesting being in a race where people know who you are. Lots of racers recognize my name from these Zwift Insider posts, plus I’ve got the Zwift verified check next to my name and [ZwftInsdr] in there too. Racers will greet me in the pens, say it’s a privilege to race with me, etc. Super cool, and I enjoy all that.

But what I’ve found is that some Zwifters seem to think I’m a really strong racer, despite the fact that I have literally written the book on how to lose a Zwift race. So I end up being a marked man, where riders watch what I do and sit on my wheel if I ride off the front. Don’t tell anyone, but the truth is, even if I had the legs to attempt a breakaway, I don’t think I could do it in most races.

Speaking of breakaways: at some point in today’s race one of the 3R riders messaged that I was riding near the front because I was concerned about being “Danno’d” – a reference to last week’s Classics race, where 3R rider Danno broke away and never came back. While I wasn’t thinking specifically about Danno, it’s true that I do prefer to ride within a few bike lengths of the front, to avoid getting gapped off the back. (As a bonus, if there is a decent attack I want to follow, I’m close enough to be able to do so.)

So yes – I suppose I was afraid of being Danno’d. Once bitten, twice shy.

Another Lap, Another Sprint

Our front pack settled into a pattern as we pounded through the laps. A hard sprint across the bridge, regroup and descend the Dirty Sorpresa, easy across the land bridge, a dig into the Volcano all the way across the line, then more sitting in until the next sprint.

Powerup Possibilities

Along the way we had two opportunities each lap for a powerup, so there were plenty of them flying. I tried to use my aero helmets and drafting vans at the spots where I’d be working hardest between now and the next powerup banner – which basically meant I used them near the banners for sprinting or reducing my workload in a strung-out pack.

The burrito is always dicey, though. And I had several of those. If you use it in a strung-out pack you can hurt those around you – but it’ll require you to do extra work as well. Instead, I would sometimes take my burrito close to the front of the pack, when everyone was pushing somewhat hard, and drop it there. Make the strong riders suffer a bit more.

Using my burrito on the front riders

Scheming

In lap 4, Smed messaged everyone: “Pst… Eric. After next sprint we attack. Ready?”

He followed it up with, “We just need a couple more.”

“Sounds good,” I wrote. “Just don’t tell anyone else!”

“Can I join?” Johnny Rocket said. “I’ll suck wheels for our attack.”

“No Johnny. You’re too fat,” I wrote.

“:(” says Johnny.

“We still have 1 slot,” comes Smed’s reply.

Let me be clear here: I had no idea if Smed was serious or not. What I did know was I didn’t have the legs to stay away from a pack of ~25 riders if I was in a small breakaway where I would need to take pulls. So I had no intention of actually trying to make a breakaway happen.

But whether Smed was serious or not, everyone knew what was going to happen after the next sprint. Even if Smed didn’t attack, even if I didn’t attack, heck, even if Johnny didn’t attack… the pack would surge. Because riders were expecting an attack. And other riders (like myself) were expecting that riders would surge, expecting an attack.

It’s a vicious cycle.

To his credit, Smed did attack. He was riding on the front through the Italian Villas. We reached the bottom of the Sorpresa and he messaged “go eric”.

But I wasn’t going anywhere.

The pack wasn’t even strung out, and my legs were already hurting from the previous minute’s effort. I didn’t foresee anyone getting away here.

“Well, that didn’t work!” Mark Suret wrote.

“Eric… you let us down…” Smed said.

“Story of my racing life,” I replied, with just the tiniest twinge of guilt.

The Final Bit

I got a burrito through the final banner. Booooo! As we hit the glass bridge to The Esses one rider jumped off the front, but our pack was flying along and I figured their solo attack wouldn’t stick.

With 1.2km to go Haber jumped off the front. He’d done the same repeatedly throughout the race, and I thought for a moment, “He may have what it takes to stay away.” I put in a little dig to chase him, then realized our pack was surging hard, and I could just sit in for the catch.

1km to go and it was getting wild near the front. Riders were flying off the front, but I was unable to grab their wheels, which left me just sitting in the wind. I drifted from 7th to 12th as we hit the pre-sprint kicker, and I was still holding onto my burrito, unable to figure out a good place to use it.

We begin the descent and I’m in 15th. I hit the burrito, hoping to slow those ahead of me and anyone coming through. I’m hammering away, but where are my watts? I’ve got nothing left. A pack of riders flies past. I cross the line in 25th, decidedly outgunned. That final minute was tough.

TeamNL’s “Harm Verhoeven” took the win. Well done, sir.

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

Watch the Race Recording

Takeaways

This was a fun race, even if I blew up at the end. The banter was on point, and the course kept things interesting with plenty of spots to rest, attack, and grab powerups.

Could I have raced it better? I’m not sure. I’ve won races on this course before where I contested every sprint – but those races were against a less competitive B field. It would be really interesting to attempt the same race, but just go for FAL sprint points instead of the overall.

I could have ridden the last minute or two more efficiently, staying out of the wind and saving a few watts instead of thinking I was going to grab someone’s wheel and attack off the front. But without a useful powerup I was never going to get close to the podium, no matter what I did. (I did get a “Breakthrough” performance on XERT, so at least I know I went deep!)

In the end, this event embodied a lot of what I love about Zwift races: being pushed to my limits, enjoying fun banter with other riders, and having a bit of “Insider knowledge” that maybe, just maybe, gives me a slight edge.

Racing with a BMX Beast

Here’s a fun side-note: this was the first week where the women’s race (B category) started at the same time as the A’s, so we effectively raced together, with separate results.

I noticed just one B who was able to stay with the front group of A’s for the duration of the race: “A Verhaaren”. Not a familiar name to me, but it turns out Arielle Verhaaren hails from Williamsburg, Virginia and was selected to compete at the 2012 Olympic games until a crash during a training run hospitalized her and left her out of the team. She’s obviously still got it, finishing 9th overall!

Your Comments

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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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David
David (@d-hubster)
1 month ago

Nice one Eric. I raced this one with you and came 7th on Zwift Power but didn’t contest the Primes. However, I raced it earlier that day In Australia East, came 7th again on Zwift power but contested all the prime points and won on points on the WTRL results. It would just be a lot nicer if the results would show on Zwift Power taking the Prime points into consideration, the same as the “Herd summer racing league”

Josh Haber
Josh Haber
1 month ago

I finally got to race with you! I was in C1 last week and got my ass kicked…this course was certainly better suited for my strengths. I still can’t figure out how people are able to chat during these races! I need to figure that out to do that without losing focus and getting dropped. Anyway, I probably worked too much during the race…and didn’t have the kick I needed at the end. I was hoping to ware the group down…but it didn’t work out…as usual! Ended up finishing 9th…but it definitely was a ton of fun and a great… Read more »

Duncan
Duncan
1 month ago

They showed some of this race in the live Zwift coverage, swapping between this and the C1 race. We saw most of the ‘let’s make a break’ conversation which was fun to watch. Enjoyed both this and the C1 race, really fun stuff. My C5 race later in the day… less exciting.

Mark B
Mark B
1 month ago

Eric I really enjoy your race reviews. I always learn something for next time. I did the same thing you did, hung with the front group, sprinted over the bridge, talked crap all the way from the Italian village to the volcano. Then I made the grave error of “thinking” I would rest a bit on the fourth sprint. I say “thinking” because I wasn’t thinking clearly, which is something that happens to me when I start to get fatigued. I make bad choices. In my banter and my racing. You can imagine how my “rest” turned out. I was… Read more »

Mark B
Mark B
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark B

Me again. I forgot to say I really like that route.

Paul
Paul
1 month ago

I found this a killer, I was ranked to finish close to the back in C2, and being a 60kg weakling was struggling to hold on when everyone’s figures were turning orange. I managed to just about stay attached to the front pack for the first 3 laps, then on the 4th got dropped and ended up riding solo to the end. On the plus side I did manage to increase my ftp from 226 to 231.

Kevin Osborne
Kevin Osborne (@osbornek5629)
1 month ago

Nice one Eric, I was also in this race and the previous one with you in Richmond, not saying we are the same level but the autocat seems to be some consistency, we will see next Tuesday I suppose! I was one that really wanted some sprint points which I’ve never had, this time I grabbed two on the first two laps. But this would also be my downfall, I was dropped after the second sprint. Had no matches left 🤣. But you was right the banter was on point, though don’t know how some people can message so easily.… Read more »

Jon Steadman
Jon Steadman
1 month ago

At the beginning of the post you say “glad was this route as muir and mountain would have been a workout” always a flip side – for me this was a workout. As a 62kg rider with no sprint/punch this race was a killer – no way was I ever going to have a chance if staying in front group beyond the selection at the 1st sprint whereas last weeks Richmond and (if we were racing muir) I could come back. That’s why there was the backlash on the route change by racers of a similar profile to me

Garth
Garth
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon Steadman

Same situation for me, except that since the autocat keeps wanting to put me in C2, I am not bothering to try it. I cannot understand how it is placing someone like Eric in C3 and someone like me in C2, it just makes no sense at all.

Garth
Garth
1 month ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

Sure, https://zwiftpower.com/profile.php?z=1547277

Prepare to be underwhelmed, especially by my results in Crit City 😂

Nate
Nate
1 month ago

Love your race reports, Eric! Would you mind explaining how you “jump in the pen,” then go do a warm up in a separate place?

David Husband
David Husband (@d-hubster)
1 month ago
Reply to  Nate

Jump in the pen 30 minutes before the gate drops and you’ll be at the front of the pen, then Just end the ride as normal. No need to save it. Jump in on another ride and do your warm up. With 3 minutes to go, hit the join event button, and voila, you’ll be back in the pen in the same place you joined before.

Max T
Max T
1 month ago

Legit question: does anyone actually like the burrito? I hate using it and find races frustrating when trying to get out of the way of it. Negative power ups make races less enjoyable, for me. Classics this year have a lot of burrito, any idea why?

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