I’ll be honest: I hadn’t been looking forward to racing the final stage of Tour de Zwift 2020. While I think Yorkshire is a wonderful race course, I’ve never had a good race result there. It’s much too lumpy! But I had decided to race every stage of the Tour, so here I was. One lap of the 2019 UCI Worlds Harrogate Circuit. At least it would be short!
Let me begin by admitting that I didn’t exactly set myself up for success in Harrogate. Mentally I had already convinced myself that I wouldn’t be anywhere near the podium, because even on a good day I’ve never been able to hang with the front up the climbs. On top of this, my legs needed more recovery than they’d been given. It was going to be a rough day!
So I figured this race would be sort of like Bologna (stage 4), where I would be pushing myself hard without expecting great results. It’s not how I prefer to race, but one of the beauties of Zwift is you can treat races as workouts, because they don’t carry the time/money investment of outdoor races.
The race was at 6:10am, so I woke up at 5:15am and went through my pre-race ritual. A piece of caffeine gum, some PR lotion on the legs, then it was onto Tempus Fugit for a nice warmup. It was during my warmup that I confirmed my suspicions: my legs were no good today. I needed more recovery. How did I know? Because I was having a hard time getting my heart rate up to typical warmup levels. And because holding tempo wattage was a real chore.
Like Bologna, today’s course didn’t suit me well. But unlike Bologna, my legs weren’t feeling good. This was gonna hurt!
PR Lotion: It’s No Miracle Cure
A few of you have asked about my using PR Lotion. “Does it really work?” is the most common question, and I don’t blame you for asking. If you’re anything like me, you’ve tried various supplements, looking for something safe, affordable, and effective to give you a bit of an edge or boost. I can honestly say that PR Lotion is the first supplement I’ve tried that really delivers results – that’s why I still use it for my hard rides.
But here’s the thing: PR Lotion won’t fix tired legs. Sure, tired legs will feel a bit better thanks to the reduced burn from the bicarb in the lotion – but they’ll still be tired. Trust me, I’ve confirmed this over and over again! And it would be confirmed in today’s race: there’s simply so substitute for good recovery.
Bike Frame and Wheel Choice
I’ve been getting this question a lot during TdZ: what frame and wheels should I use for this race? It’s a simple question on some routes, but a tougher one on others. Yorkshire is one of those courses where the right answer isn’t obvious, because it’s got those key climbs where the action really happens.
And yet, portions of the course are quite fast, and you don’t want your bike scrubbing any of your speed on these sections, either.
After some thought, I decided to treat the course more like a climbing route, pulling the Specialized Tarmac Pro out of my garage and putting the light ENVE SES 3.4 wheels on it. (I skipped the Lightweight Meilenstein wheels because the ENVEs are a bit more aero.)
In the end, just like Bologna, my bike choice wasn’t going to be the deciding factor on this route. And chances are very good that’s also the case for you! So don’t stress about it too much.
We had over 60 riders in the B pen, including a DIRT teammate or two. The banter was good – I think folks were happy to be wrapping up the Tour. We started off at a tame pace, but everyone knew that just around the first corner our first climb began.
The Otley Road climb is a long, straight drag, and it begins just 45 seconds into the race. Pure suffering! Every Yorkshire race I’ve ever done has split up on Otley Road, and I’ve never been able to hang with the front up this first climb.
Today was no different. Well, perhaps it was a bit different: it was worse! I was dropped quickly, finding myself in 46th place with a widening gap ahead. My apologies to any riders who were sitting on my wheel waiting for an easy tow to the group: that wasn’t going to happen.
By the time we had descended Otley Road and turned right onto Pot Bank the front of the race was way ahead. I was with just one other rider, with a group of three several seconds up the road, and another group of three 10 seconds back. I decided to hit it hard on the steep, twisting Pot Bank descent to see if we could bridge up to the group ahead – but apparently they had the same idea! By the time I finished hammering they were even further ahead. This just wasn’t my day.
We descended to the start of the KOM, grabbing a quick supertuck before crossing the stone bridge and heading up, up, up! Normally for me this climb is a hard V02 effort around 3 minutes flat, but today I turned in a blazing time of 3:44. Pathetic!
An Italian rider named Decimo caught me near the top. We would ride together for the rest of the race.
We descended from the KOM (which is just a bit too shallow/short for a good supertuck) then turned the sharp left onto Millionaires Row. A climb up to the sprint point, a descent down, then a few lumps and turns found us back in downtown Harrogate for the finish.
I had no powerup for the finish, having received just one useful powerup (the van) out of three arches! Decimo deployed the van as we started our kick up to the line, so I eased up, making him go ahead of me so his powerup wasn’t any help. I had to laugh at myself, playing cat and mouse in a battle for 46th place. But a racer’s gotta race!
It didn’t do any good anyway. Decimo stood up after a bit and put in a strong sprint to finish me off. 47th out of 62. My worst stage result of TdZ 2020, by far! But that’s ok. Because even a bad day on a bike is still a good day!
Just one takeaway for me on this race: recovery is key. I had raced hard in Crit City two days before, then followed that up with a decent gym session (and no easy recovery ride) the next day. Add some poor sleep into the mix and I was nowhere near fresh for this effort.
For a race of this length, my average heart rate is usually in the mid-low 170s, with my power around 300-305 watts. Today my heart rate averaged 163 and my power was 272 watts.
Of course, this didn’t come as a surprise to me. Normally I wouldn’t have raced on a day like this, but my schedule was such that it was the only time I’d be able to race stage 7. Plus I knew that my legs would get some rest over the weekend as we’ll be out of town for a couple of days, so I didn’t feel too bad digging myself into a bit of a hole.
Thinning the Herd
I’ve never finished with the front in Harrogate, but if you’re strong enough to do so, keep in mind this course lends itself to small group and solo breakaways much more than most Zwift race routes. The field usually gets thinned to just a handful of riders by the end (our group of 62 was whittled down to just 7 battling it out in the final seconds.)
It’s a punishing course with lots of opportunities to put in digs and open up gaps in the final few minutes following the KOM. So stay heads up, attack if you can, and save a little for that final sprint – it’s a butt kicker!
First place usually goes to the rider who shows the best sense of timing in the difficult final sprint. A useful powerup and a bit of a strong kick don’t hurt your chances, either.
What About You?
I’m curious: how much recovery do you need between races, and what does it feel like if you race without being recovered? Also: how did your Yorkshire race go? Share below!