Continuing my theme of racing each stage of Tour de Zwift, this morning I tackled stage 5: 2 laps of New York’s Gotham Grind.

According to ZwiftPower, this was my 300th Zwift race. Thinking back, I’ve found many ways to lose races over the years: lack of course knowledge, poor fitness, strategic mistakes, getting dropped on climbs. It’s fair to say the vast majority of my losses can be pinned on myself!

Today’s loss, though, was of a different sort. A bit like suffering a mechanical in an outdoor race. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

The Warmup

The race began at 6:11am, so I set my alarm for 5:10. Rolled out of bed, grabbed my kit, then headed upstairs for my typical pre-race ritual: a piece of caffeine gum and some PR lotion on the legs. Hopped on early and got a nice 30-minute, ~10-mile warmup in on Tempus Fugit.

My buddy Alan Dempsey (a pro triathlete and coach from Canada) dropped in and rode with me a bit. He was beginning a 3-hour effort at 55% of FTP. I was about to do an 11-mile race! Two very different training plans.

The Start

The race started hard and fast, and I averaged 340 watts for the first 2 minutes to stay with the front group. There were definitely some strong riders pushing the pace! We flew around Central Park, barely slowing up the rises. And there are lots of rises on this course. Gotham Grind has no long or steep climbs, but it’s full of 1-3% ups and downs. This makes for a tough race, since you’re never able to rest for any significant amount of time.

Holding on for the fast start

I knew at this pace no breakaway was going to get away early and stick, so I just sat in the draft and made sure no gaps opened up ahead when the group strung out up the inclines. The effort was hard, but doable: I knew I could hang with the front until the finish. But I still had to do the work to get there.

The Middle

After the first lap, our starting group of 84 was down to 36. And while there were definitely a few sandbaggers in the mix who were pushing the group’s speeds a bit, it wasn’t anything like stage 1 where I couldn’t even hold on to the “Super B” efforts of the Zinners.

The Dreaded Drop

With 3.2 miles to go, we were pinning it up a 3% drag on the back half of the main loop. I was already rehearsing in my head how I was going to work the finish without a powerup. Then disaster struck!

Here’s a screenshot from the precise moment I realized my race was over:

Coasting to a stop

The wireless ANT+ connection to my power source (Garmin Vector pedals) had dropped, and it wasn’t just a quick blip: it was gone for several seconds. My rider stopped pedaling and coasted to a stop. By the time the connection returned, the front of the race was 30 seconds up the road.

I’m not sure there’s anything more mentally debilitating than a connection drop in a Zwift race. I’ve only had this happen in one other race, as far as I can recall. And it’s just so hard to keep pushing when you know your race is lost and your connection may very well drop again.

The next group was a minute back, and I thought perhaps I’d be able to stay ahead of them to the finish. So I buckled down and tried to push, but now the same wattage I’d been holding in the front group seemed impossibly high! Isn’t the brain and its connection to our body such a crazy thing?

The Finish

The group behind caught me with .7 miles left, and I grabbed onto their wheels. 63rd place! I hoped I could just hang with the group, maybe get a decent powerup through the sprint banner just up the road, then gain a few places in the final sprint.

Unfortunately, the anger of the Zwift gods hadn’t been satiated by my power drop. Once again I received an XP bonus through the arch – that’s all I’d received this entire race! Then as we turned right onto the road which connects us to the other side of the loop, I saw something really strange – a finish line, in the wrong place!

Did someone lose a finish banner? It didn’t belong to this race!

We flew through this banner and kept charging toward the real finish. I couldn’t even hold onto the group with my paltry weak-willed wattage, finishing 61st overall, 44th on ZwiftPower.

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

Watch the Race

Magnus B is a German rider with the Kirchmair e-Cycling team. He was in my race and recorded the whole event, including his win in the final sprint! If you’re curious what it takes to come out on top in a race of this sort, watch his stream below. You’ll even see my power drop at 20:20:

Takeaways

My only takeaway from this race is that I need to get this ANT+ issue sorted. I hate the idea of going into a race unsure of whether my power will drop at some random point.

You would think, of all people, the guy who runs Zwift Insider should be able to get his Zwift setup sorted. But nope! Ever since we moved house in late summer, I’ve had ANT+ issues here and there. Some have been my own doing, like my ANT+ drop during the Le Col metric century caused by having two ANT+ dongles plugged in. But mostly, what happens is I’ll get a complete ANT+ signal drop for a few seconds, as shown by uploading my log file to Zwiftalizer. Here’s what today’s drop looks like:

My current theory is 2.4gHz wifi interference from neighbors, so I’m going to give Bluetooth connections a go and see how that works. I’m also in the market for a new set of power pedals, as I think my Garmin’s are perhaps on their way out.

If you’re having ANT+ dropout issues, check out this post for tips.

What About You?

Have you ever lost a race due to a signal drop or some other “Zwift mechanical”? Have you raced stage 5 yet? Share your experiences below!