Yesterday my team (the DIRT Roosters) took on 21 other teams in the second race of the ZRL Semi-Finals. This race field had some very strong riders – certainly a more competitive field than we’d seen in the regular season, and that was a tough season in EMEA W B1! On top of that, my fitness was nowhere near its peak, and the punchy course didn’t suit me well.
So I chose an unconventional approach to grabbing race points. Controversial? Perhaps. Successful? Also perhaps. Read on for the full story…
The race began at 12:30 (it had shifted an hour thanks to last weekend’s time change), so I was on the bike a little after noon to spin up the legs with Coco. I had chewed two pieces of caffeine gum and applied PR lotion to the legs… my typical race prep.
This was a points race on 10 laps of Scotland’s Glasgow Crit Circuit… which is just nuts, if you think about it. This 3km circuit has 2 segments (a short, flat sprint and a punchy, short climb) per lap, and we would be contesting those segments on every lap for first-across-the-line (FAL) and fastest-through-segment (FTS) points.
This course is punchy enough as a scratch race. But throw in points at every intermediate, and you have attacks every two minutes for 40 minutes!
So I decided I’d try something unconventional. Instead of trying to hang with the front so I could come across the finish line in the highest place possible, I decided to sit up and take it easy for the duration of the race, apart from chasing points on the Champion’s Sprint segment. This is an approach I’d never taken in a race, although I’ve seen it done by others.
My specific plan was this:
- Go all-out from the gun in an attempt to grab FAL points the first time through the sprint
- Sit up, get a good powerup, and let the pack lap me. I would then sprint with them in an attempt to grab an FTS slot.
- Repeat step 2 as many times as possible, if grabbing FTS slots seems realistic
- Bonus: consider going for Clyde Kicker FTS, if the times on the leaderboard look beatable.
I realize this sort of racing may rub you the wrong way, and to be perfectly honest, I’m not a big fan of it either. But it’s completely within the rules of ZRL and in fact, one could argue ZRL’s rules actually encourage this sort of thing.
In the end, it wasn’t hard to rationalize my decision, because I knew four things:
- I wouldn’t be able to hang with the front group for the duration of the race. The competition in these semi-finals is even stronger than in the regular season, this is a difficult circuit that doesn’t suit me, and I’m nowhere near peak form currently.
- If I was struggling to hold onto the front pack (and I knew I would be), I didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell at grabbing any segment points. I would just be trying to survive every segment.
- My sprint is not first-class, but my fresh legs vs the tired legs of better sprinters probably stood a good chance at grabbing some points.
- This wasn’t a life-or-death decision – my team is sitting mid-pack in the semi-finals results, and we probably won’t even field a full team for next week’s TTT. My paltry points, no matter how I earned them, wouldn’t matter much.
I had informed my team of my plan, and they seemed to trust that I knew what was best for me. The rest of them would be trying to hang with the front while grabbing intermediate points wherever possible.
The first step of my plan started at the gun. I had already saved a spot near the front of the start pen, and I knew I had about 40 seconds of hard effort to the first banner. My goal was to be one of the first riders across the line, thus grabbing FAL points.
I tried to sit in the wheels while staying near the front. Teammate Clem flew off the front, and another teammate (Dejan) was next to me as the sprint began and we went all-in. I was the 4th rider across the line, with a sprint time of 11.45s. A good start!
Sit Up and Sprint, #1
After the sprint, I just sat up and pedaled easy. What a strange feeling to let the race ride away! I could have stopped pedaling entirely, or pedaled super slowly, so the pack would lap me on this first lap… but that felt much too slow. So I decided I would do two laps for the front group’s three.
Even then, I didn’t time it very well. I should have worked even less! I had to stop on the side of the road and wait for the front group to catch me, then I hammered out a Champion’s Sprint attempt using my draft boost powerup.
But I held everything too late. The group caught me too close to the start line, I didn’t hit the start line fast enough, and I was off the front in the wind by the end of it, crossing the line ahead of the pack (but of course, a lap behind). My sprint time was a pathetic 12.352s… not even close to top 10 in FTS.
Eyeing the Clyde
Somewhere between my two sprints I took a look at the Clyde Kicker leaderboard, and realized I didn’t stand a chance of getting on it. I would need to improve my PR (26.57s, set in a strong race) by over 2 seconds, which just wasn’t possible.
This wasn’t particularly surprising, given the strong riders in this race.
If I wanted points today, they would be coming from the Champion’s Sprint.
Sit Up and Sprint, #2
Once again, I did two easy laps following the sprint. Well, almost 2. This time I stopped on the side of the road earlier, letting the front pack catch me sooner so I could get my position dialed in before the sprint began.
I had also burned through powerups until I got an aero, knowing it would help me more than the draft boost on the sprint.
This time around I felt I executed the sprint well – starting near the back of the pack and sprinting through, with my powerup running out as I crossed the line. But even though I had the fastest time of anyone on that lap, my time of 11.563 didn’t even beat my attempt on the lead-in!
I was frustrated. I could already see that my best time of 11.45 wasn’t even in the top 10 for FTS, and I didn’t seem to be able to improve that time.
With no better ideas, I just pedaled to the finish, coming in 103 out of 104 riders.
Watch the Race
Reviewing my race video, I realized I could have cracked the top 10 FTS if I’d just timed my sprint better. I had the power numbers, but my timing was poor. This is a good lesson for anyone chasing fast sprint segment times in any context, so I’ll unpack it here.
- I should have let the group catch me well before the sprint. Perhaps I could have waited atop the Clyde Kicker? This would let me get my legs spinning and heart rate normalized early instead of spiking it with just seconds to go before the sprint effort.
- I should have the started my sprint effort about 10 seconds earlier. I hit the start line at 54kph, but got up to 68kph on the sprint! That means I should have hit the line much faster. Doing some quick math, this change alone would have put me into around 6th overall in FTS.
- I should have started my sprint effort from further back in the pack, so I had more riders and a stronger draft for the duration of the sprint.
- I should have triggered my aero boost powerup 4-5 seconds earlier. I still had a bit of it left when I crossed the line, and it’s usually best to have these end 1-2 seconds before your sprint finishes.
- I could have stopped pedaling and done just 1 lap for the front pack’s 2, giving me 5 sprint attempts instead of the 2 I took.
In my second sprint, I did a few things right: I was in the draft the entire time, and I had the right powerup. But if I’d done the 5 things listed above, I would have earned FTS points. Probably on multiple sprints!
In the end, I earned 8 points for my team: 7 from my 4th place FAL on the first sprint, and 1 finishing point. Could I have earned more points by trying to hang with the front pack? Possibly. After the front group of 33 riders, there was a large pack representing places 39-84. I think I would have finished in this group. The question is, would I have outsprinted them and earned 15 finishing points for 39th place? Or finished in the back, with just 1 finishing point?
We’ll never know. But I won’t lose any sleep over my result, because even if I’d finished 39th, it wouldn’t have moved us up in the results. In the end, the DIRT Roosters finished 4th on the day on the back of strong performances by Clem, Arjen, and Tim, who all finished in the front pack while grabbing some FAL points.
Will I be trying this approach in future races? Meh. It’s really not a fun way to “race”, so after trying it out this time, I think I’ll only be keen to do it as a last resort in extreme situations.
Go ahead, throw your tomatoes. Let me know what you think of my approach to this race, and share if you’ve ever done something similarly unconventional.