ODZ SkillZ and DrillZ Ride: Chasing the Break – Despite a technical difficulty, we had a successful SkillZ and DrillZ Ride on 2 November. Due to an oversight, we didn’t get the SDR for today in the group module. However, we did have a small group on Discord, so we went ahead with the training anyway. Today’s lesson was about working as a group to chase down a break.
As usual, we started our ride as a group, practicing staying tight by making small changes to power. Despite our best efforts, keeping the draft or not shooting past the group remains a challenge even for some of our most experienced Zwifters. With practice, everyone will continue to get better, but it definitely takes consistency to fine tune that skill.
After our brief warm-up and group dynamics practice, we began working on the skill of the day, chasing down the break. Like IRL racing, Zwift races often have a break get away from the gun. If the race is long enough, you may decide to let a small group of riders burn some matches trying to get away early and remain with a much larger group of strong riders. Over time, the larger group, if it works together, will often be able to go faster at an easier effort than the smaller breakaway group. Like outdoors, the drafting effect greatly impacts the speed of the group, and the bigger the group, the bigger the draft.
For our purposes, we conducted the drills at less than race pace to ensure that everyone could stay with the group and learn. For the first set, two riders went up the road for 20 seconds as hard as they could while remaining together. They then backed it down to 2.0 w/kg, and the rest of the group chased at 2.5-3.0 w/kg, using a rotating paceline, sharing the workload. After about one minute, the chasers shut down the break, barely raising their heart rates above what we had been riding during warm-up.
We repeated the drill a few more times using a number a variations in the number of riders in the breakaway and chase groups, also changing the composition of the strength of the groups. Two key learning points were emphasized in the latter part of the class. First, the chase group has to be organized. In one instance, we sent a weaker rider solo up the road, but the chase group took a while to get organized. The lack of organization was actually due to power drop issues and traffic on the course rather than planned. However, those disruptions created a great opportunity to learn. Despite the fact that the breakaway rider was not going much harder than our regroup pace, the chasers couldn’t get a consistent paceline, leaving the gap yo-yoing between 5 and 20 seconds for a couple of minutes. Finally, the chasers got sorted out and shut down the breakaway in short order. Second, stronger riders can allow a larger group of weaker riders to get a fairly good lead, as it can be shut down in quick order with a well-coordinated effort from the group of stronger riders.
Why does this matter? Well, in many Zwift races, the breakaway is the winning move because the race is less than 30 kilometers. But, in longer races like the upcoming Team Worlds on 19 November or the staggered start races like the ODZ Cat & Mouse races, the breakaway and chase group scenarios often play out. In those cases, the battlefield calculus or cycling math needs to be done quickly to determine which group to join and how much of a leash to give. Sometimes, a Zwift teammate may serve as the Director Sportiff and do the math for you, but it is usually left to the individual rider. If you are able to play the part and get the other temporary allies to work together, you may be able to pull back a group while saving energy for a late-race attack.
Next week, we hope to be back in the event module and to finalize the recording of the event complete with the Discord discussion. I thought I had it today, but my microphone failed me. That’s it for this week. For the next ODZ SkillZ and DrillZ, we will be riding on Richmond. We’ll take advantage of the course and practice two skills, climbing and taking a sprint victory. We won’t focus on the Zwift jerseys, but we will go over some tactics and techniques to give you that edge. Hope to see you all out there next Wednesday and on Discord.