Last week, Brad Hochstetler and his merry-band of Zwifters put in the first real fake stage race of the year. Seven stages, a dozen riders, and some seriously tough racing across the world of Zwift. It was FASCINATING to follow and a cool way to stay connected during lockdown. Relive the action, and if you’re interested in the next race, give Brad a follow on Zwift!
The prolonged time frame for STAGE 1 allowed everyone to recover a little from last week’s racing and let some new faces have enough time to read all my posts and STILL decide to join this tour. Thanks to everyone who decided to join this round.
Sixteen racers lined up for the short and brutal course in Yorkshire this week. Spencer came away with the fastest time of the stage but the pack just behind him saw only 26 seconds of separation from 2nd-7th. New to our stage racing, Drew Cummins made a statement turning the second fastest time and squeaking in JUST before the stage closed. The other youths were right on his heels with Jonah taking the KOM after a withering climb time and Luke just behind in GC time bringing some serious WATTS that will serve him well on the mixed courses to come. Dennis and Carl lit up the sprint segment in a preview of a great battle to come.
After the long window of STAGE 1, the next stages will feel compressed so buckle up. Next up is The London Loop for STAGE 2. Ride it Friday or Saturday. It’s 9.2 miles but don’t be fooled – Box Hill Climb is on the agenda for that course and it’s length may start to separate GC times already. But everyone’s ride counts this round, as your results score points for the team. So bring the heat – every time!
STAGE 2 Recap
STAGE 2 results are final. Everyone took a shot at the London Loop course, including the grueling 8+minutes of pain on Box Hill. The gaps in this stage certainly happened on that climb, but the top half of the GC times are still very tight. The team point spread opened a bit in favor of the climber-heavy BLUE team, with no sprint points on offer this stage. Carl’s GREEN team is likely to reclaim a huge chunk of that gap in the Points Race on Sunday’s Stage 3.
Spencer still holds the Yellow Jersey with a 40 second lead over Brad, who turned in the fastest time of the stage and the fastest climb — perhaps aided by a fast race field and his extensive (some might say fanatical) knowledge of Zwift courses. He is enjoying this fleeting victory as polka-dots and GC standing are likely to be whittled away tomorrow. Spencer and Brent were in a dead heat, 10 seconds behind Brad on the course. Tom, Drew, Jeff, Luke, Chad, Carl, Jonah and Andy were all within a minute behind them. And Michael, Alissa, Dennis, Brian and Tara turned in great times as well — with Alissa finishing 6th in a strong co-ed C field, Brian finishing strong enough to auto-upgrade from D to C category and Tara taking a podium at 3rd in the Women’s D Race.
Following Stage 3, things should get interesting with a Team Time Trial and Individual Time Trial both on tap for this coming week. Details to follow.
Stage Three – Preview
STAGE 3 will be a group meetup on Watopia (the advertised Yorkshire world was not available for a meetup, sorry if you were stoked about Yorkshire). We’ll ride the Watopia Figure 8 route. The ride will be about an hour. The plan is to ride easy and stay together until we hit the timed segments – then it’s Fight’s On. There will be no overall times or results for this ride, only points scored on the KOM and Sprint segments. There will be 2 KOM segments and 2 Sprint segments. The second sprint and the second KOM will be worth double points for the stage (probably, unless things start getting lopsided, then they won’t be worth double). We’ll regroup after each segment to keep everyone together. Scoring will be the total number of starters as max points descending by 1.
Riders on Brad’s team wear the Zwift Basic 4 kit (blue). Riders on Carl’s team wear the Zwift Basic 2 kit (green). Screenshots attached.
If you can’t ride the planned event time, you can still ride it on your own anytime on Sunday before 9pm. Choose the Watopia Figure 8 route. Your times for the segments will still count.
This will be a target-rich environment. These points will matter. Bring your A game. And bring your Cadbury Eggs. Seriously, I’ll take them all…
STAGE 3 Recap
The STAGE 3 Points Race Shootout turned out to be even more fun than I expected (but I may be biased). With the teams clad in respective Blue and Green kits, the racing was fierce from the beginning.
The neutral rollout continued for several seconds over the first KOM start, but then, like twitchy gunfighters, the pack exploded as soon as Brad flashed a red WKG number on the early steep pitch. Drew and Spencer rode away pretty quickly and were gone to the banner where Spencer took the line by 0.1 second. Content to watch both teammates disappear, Brad let up and traded wheels with Brent into the final stretch. But the thundering herd of Carl, Tom and Chad closed them down by the banner resulting in an unexpected furball across the line where Tom took 3rd on the KOM, but the 5 of them were separated by less than a second (thank goodness for leaderboard screenshots).
After a regroup, the pack rolled into the reverse Watopia sprint which saw Carl blaze across first, but the Blue team took the next three spots collecting a haul of points.
The Forward KOM settled out about like expected, with Spencer, Drew and Brent taking top three spots. Alissa roared across just a few seconds behind in 6th, collecting her 3rd of 4 QOM jerseys for the day (the jerseys signifying the fastest womens’ time of any rider on Zwift at the time).
In the final sprint, Spencer capitalized on a hastily formed leadout train and smoked across the line with the fastest time. Tom, Andy, Drew, Dennis and Brian were all in a fast bunch just behind.
In the multirider/one-bike households, make up sessions happened a bit later as Jonah and Luke had a mano-e-mano meetup and hammered out some impressive times even though they had no benefit of a group. Tara also arranged her own meetup, dragging an unsuspecting Sarah Mulder through more climbing than advertised.
After shamelessly fudging some numbers in the points race, the Race Administrators decided to move Drew to the Green (Carl’s) Team to better balance the points results. Drew’s performance on Zwift matches his IRL performances and he is a formidable rider (we just weren’t sure how he’d score on Zwift…). Team points are updated with Blue Team still in front.
Overall GC standings are unchanged with no time recorded for this stage. In addition to Yellow, Spencer has currently collected enough points to also be the leader for the KOM Jersey and the Sprint Jersey. So until we figure out how to handicap him for that, Brad and Carl are still default KOM and Green Jersey leaders.
Individual Time Trial and Team Time Trial this week will certainly make for some interesting results. Next weekend will be a serious rumble to the Finale, so watch this space for details.
STAGE 4 – WEDNESDAY ONLY
The Race of Truth.
No group. No team. No draft. Just the course and you and the bike (well.. The fake bike. But still…)
The individual time trial is the race of truth. This one measures only 5 miles total. But trust me, those will be some of the hardest fake miles you have ever earned. The Bologna TT course is not for the faint of heart. It is an exact replica of the individual TT course included in the real life 2019 Giro d’Italia. (So realistic in fact, there will be virtual people walking up the hill faster than you are riding…) The first half is fairly flat, even dipping downhill at times. The final half of the course slopes up at relentless grades averaging 10%, making for a tortuous 16-30 minutes.
You can ride, race or preview the course Monday or Tuesday, BUT ONLY YOUR TIME ON WEDNESDAY WILL COUNT (except for Chad, who probably has a good excuse, like flying and airliner).
You MUST ride a time trial (TT) bike for this event. On a TT bike in Zwift, you cannot draft anyone ahead of you and no one behind you can draft your rider. It will be a purely individual effort. Zwift usually captures an in-game pic of you for Strava, but if you remember, please screen shot a picture of your ride on a TT bike.
Everyone should have a TT bike in their virtual garage but you may be able to upgrade if you’ve been riding on Zwift for a while. Here’s a link to the TT bikes available in Zwift for drop-purchase and their rankings. A matter of seconds separates most of these in-game options. Your legs are likely to be the biggest difference.
If you have questions about bike choice, check with your team captain – they are such Zwift nerds, it’s ridiculous.
Focus. Turn the screw. The pain is temporary, the fake glory is forever.
STAGE 4 Recap
The TT course in Bologna is not kind to anyone. After substantial pain and suffering, everyone survived the relentless climb to the top and turned in some great times. The game setup wouldn’t let us choose TT bikes for a real iTT experience, but once everyone hit the climb segment, it was a solo effort anyway. There was nowhere to hide…
There were only finish points on the line this stage so the overall time gaps saw the biggest shake up. The GC standings are shaping up for some fine battles over the final stages. Spencer, Brad and Brent are now separated by only 6 seconds for Yellow with Spencer holding just a 2 second margin. Right behind them, in the Teen Titans Go section of the standings, only a minute separate Drew, Jonah and Luke as they all turned in stunning TT times.
The team standings widened a bit more in favor of the Blue Team, despite the departure of Drewski to the Green Team (and Green picking up Dan Madion and his busted-ass trainer on the side off the road like a hobo and telling him to “Allez, Allez!!). But there’s still plenty of racing especially with the Mystery course for Stage 7 still looming on Sunday.
The Stage 5 team time trial happens Thursday and Friday. One team. One time. And only one side will score points. The actual points are yet to be determined and are definitely probably going to be calculated in such a way to maximize the drama over the last two stages.
Congratulations to anyone completing this Bologna course for the first time. I’m sure it left an impression. And I’m sure we’ll use it again in a future Tour. A word to the wise, though: if you are running a fake race series and you are locked down inside with your wife and you choose the Bologna TT course and you recommend she ride it (even though she’s new to Zwift and has never ridden it before and had no idea what it was like and immediately tunes you out once the words “the REAL Giro d’Anything” come out of your mouth) and you say “it will be fine”… it will most definitely NOT be fine. I attached a screenshot of her Strava title. If our kids were younger it definitely would have been an “Earmuffs! The grown-ups are going to use grown-up words”-kind of moment when she was done.
The second day of Team Time Trial action saw the Green squad roll down the ramp at 520 PM. Still fighting the Covid-or-whatever-we-may-never-know aftereffects, the green captain had to scratch himself out of the event. Carl’s tank-sized draft and diesel engine power left a notable hole in the Green roster. Despite that missing piece, the green team stomped to a 17:38 course time under the calm DS instruction of a side-lined Carl. The Green wave rode strong on extensive pulls by Brent, Dennis and Chad. Drew, Dan and Jonah cranked serious watts in the pack holding the draft together for the entire course. Just losing contact at the volcano, Alissa torched the course for a 191 watt average. I don’t know what she weighs but I’d take odds that was the highest w/kg output on the team. It was impressive to watch such a cohesive team work together all the way to the finish. In the final 300m, Jonah moved up through the pack, uncorked an aero powerup and his sprint, helping surge the pack across the line with Brent, Chad, Dan, Drew and Dennis all finishing with nearly identical times.
The virtual event brought out the spectators with nearly the entire Blue team tuning into the team radio channel on Discord, posting pictures of themselves drinking while family members were on the rivet.
Missing Carl’s engine, the heroic ride by the Green team was still 19 seconds back from Blue, so the TTT points for Stage 5 go to the Blue Team (6 for the winning team each rider and 3 for the other team each rider). The previously undisclosed bonus for the smallest gap to the last rider, however, goes to Green for Alissa’s performance.
Team times were added to the GC standings, giving Brent and Drew a bit more of a gap to make up over the weekend. Stage 6 is Richmond, with lots of points on offer. Teams will be closing ranks to protect their leaders and with GC contenders looking to hold their overall positions, the door could be wide open for some serious segment hunting and point-scoring. The series of climbs in Richmond are notorious for blowing race fields apart. Minutes can be gained or lost in this race. And it all leads to the Final Showdown Sunday. It ain’t over, ‘til it’s over.
STAGE 6 Recap
Two laps on the Richmond course dished out some suffering as expected. Alissa and Brian rode alone in early stages, dialing up some great KOM and Sprint times for their teams.
The 0830 race saw the top of the GC lining up in a field of nearly 300 racers. With no categories in effect, the pace was ferocious off the line. Brent, Spencer, Drew and Tom got away with the very front out of the gate. Jeff, Chad, Brad, Andy and Dennis were quickly toward the back of the huge lead pack as it started to break up.
In the Zwift equivalent of a mechanical, Brad had a signal drop from trainer to computer less than 5 minutes into the race. This required a full stop waiting for the team car to re-pair bluetooth signals. Once back up to speed, he had lost over 30 seconds and 50 places, but most importantly, he had also lost any chance of catching back onto the lead packs.
Tom turned in the performance of the day, gradually clawing back time on the lead pack and catching Spencer, Brent and Drew. His glory was short-lived as he was dropped in the final climbs of the second lap, but this guy knows how to Zwift now.
Dennis crushed the Sprint segments each lap and brought home the largest haul of points of any rider today. Dennis now has firm control of the Green Jersey standings with Spencer likely to hold onto Yellow in the final stage. Spencer remains in Yellow after extending his lead over Brent in the final climbs; but 44 seconds is nothing on the Epic KOM in STAGE 7. Brad is the default Polka Dot jersey after rage-climbing Libby Hill in the mid-pack. The middle of the GC is wide open and Stage 7 should make for some high drama in the mid-pack.
The Blue Team now holds an insurmountable 80 point lead in the team standings. Despite attempts to best balance the teams, there was no accounting for life and the world impacting the participation and performances of every rider. Despite all the uncertainty, I hope you all have enjoyed this distraction as much as I have. Thanks for your enthusiasm. I’m bringing my mohawk and Tom’s to the Showdown tomorrow. See you then.
STAGE 7 Preview
It all comes down to this. Plenty of GC action can still happen and the race organizer tried to guarantee that by pointing us all up the EPIC KOM. We will ride MOST of the Bigger Loop route. Starting in Watopia Downtown, the Fuego Flats Sprint segment is about 3 miles in, so make sure your sprinters are warmed up.
The pain starts on the climb out of the desert, then we take the turns that will lead up the EPIC KOM. This will be a 25-30 minute climb for most of us. Out of sheer self-preservation, I chose a route that avoids the Radio Tower climb – and you can all thank me later. We’ll descend the backside of the mountain and then turn into the Jungle Loop for one lap, down and back up. If you have the guts to stop for a bike swap, make sure your teammates are aware. Otherwise I don’t recommend bike swaps in this race.
There is a SPRINT segment on offer that will only be calculated off the Strava Segment — there is NO OFFICIAL IN GAME TIMER FOR THIS SPRINT (you’ve been notified…). It is called Jungle Sprint, 0.23 miles long and ends at the Jungle Lap Arch. I don’t know exactly where it starts, but as the road comes off the Cave Boardwalk, it curves slightly to the right and through the Arch. That is the segment. So stand on it there — it’s the last Sprint segment of the Tour.
Depending on the level of carnage that has befallen the peloton by then, a lot can still be on the line as we climb out of the jungle. There is no official climb or KOM segment for this part of the ride, but it is 3.4 miles long at an average grade near 3%. So it will suck out whatever soul is left by then. The top of that grind SHOULD display the Meetup finish banner (the blue tron-gate looking thing).
Can the teams protect their leaders? Will THE MOVE happen on the Mountain? Will the shootout happen on the Jungle Climb? See you tomorrow….
STAGE 7 Recap
The final stage was not short on drama or fireworks, but the Yellow jersey and the team standings remained intact.
Brian surprised the field first, storming through the Fuego Flats sprint with the fastest time and scoring the first bucket of points on offer this stage. Just 0.3 seconds behind, Dennis took a close second and then capped off his run for the Green Jersey later winning the Jungle Sprint.
The peloton turned up the long climb of the Epic KOM after leaving the desert. Lacking any regular climbing support from Green ( with Brent a late scratch for the finale and Jonah logistically blocked from riding the same time as his dad) Drew took on the KOM like a caged honey badger as the lead Green climber.
Spencer attacked on the steep pitches at the base of the climb and established a 30 second gap in a surprising move. His teammates were happy to let him get away as Drew sat in with them, plotting a move of his own. He was content to sit in with the group of Brad, Tom, Chad, Dan and Jeff initially. Brad, Chad and Tom pushed the pace through the castle and onto the upper slopes eventually gapping Jeff and Dan. Drew continued his patient calculation as the chase group drove a steady pace, chipping away at Spencer’s lead. In the final 1.5km of the climb, as the group regained traction after the brief downhill dip, Drew exploded out of the saddle, dropped a feather and rode them off his wheel in a matter of seconds. Brad tried to match the move but it was quickly obvious he had no legs for that. Drew closed the gap to Spencer down to about 14 seconds by the KOM banner, capping off a tremendous climbing effort and a tactical attack that was made for TV and would have been an ESPN Instant Classic — but, it was a video game…
Then Spencer stretched his advantage over Drew on the downhill by virtue of winning the physics battle with more mass. Only watching from the chase group, it was difficult to tell exactly what sequence occurred, but both Spencer and Drew completed a bike swap to an MTB once they hit the gravel roads of the jungle. Spencer reported his swap went flawlessly, while Drew reported his was more like a Jiffy Lube staff trying to complete an F1 pitstop and he lost nearly a minute. Despite that setback, Drew steadily closed the gap to Spencer, eventually overtaking him on the upper slopes of the climb out of the Jungle. The battle continued up the final pavement section where Drew ultimately claimed the stage win by a 20 second margin, finishing off a brave and aggressive ride.
The remnants of the peloton filtered in with Chad and Tom battling through the entire Jungle loop, all the way to the line where Tom had the edge with a strong finishing sprint.
Jeff had swapped bikes to an MTB in the jungle, but may have regretted that choice as Dan closed down and passed him on the final pavement, opening a 30 second gap by the finish.
Alissa was next across the line, turning in another strong ride and hauling in a hefty point total for the Green team. Andy, Michael and Brian rolled through the finish not long after, with Andy having ridden most of the ride in a disconnected internet status, yet somehow keeping on track.
The final stage was grueling, especially heaped on the fatigue of the previous six stages. So a hearty congratulations to everyone who finished all of the stages.
Spencer takes the top step and Yellow Jersey for this tour, consistently dialing up strong races and times. He wore Yellow every day from stage 1 through 7 and rose to the challenge when the time margins got close.
Drew takes home the Polka Dot Jersey, and his performance today certainly proved that he earned it. His total KOM point score tied with Brad (and was helped by a late solo ride by Jonah today, who cranked out the 3rd fastest KOM time of the day, putting just enough separation between Brad and Drew’s stage point results). But a win on the Epic KOM breaks the tie, as per the Official Rules of the Giro d Lockdown…
Dennis turned in a stellar Sprint effort on every stage and showed great tenacity grinding it out on even when Sprint points weren’t on offer.
Brian takes home the Black Jersey again this tour. As still the newest rider to Zwift, he showed great determination in sticking with every stage and remaining enthusiastic about the game. His first experience up the Epic KOM today is probably one that will not soon be forgotten.
Completing this Tour was a tall order and maybe overly ambitious. I greatly appreciate everyone who participated in any or all of the stages and I have been overwhelmed by your enthusiasm. I hope you all had as much fun and distraction participating as I did putting it together.
I’m hoping we can all ride outside together soon — as fun as this has been, I really miss my Lighthouse Crew.
Until next time,
Ride Well! Ride On!