It was a busy weekend for the Winter Is Here Zwift Tour. Saturday’s three-course meal was capped off with some kind of dessert, albeit hardly sweet; a drag race (or just a drag) up Mount Ventoux.
The WIH Tour may have made Zwift history on Saturday with what we’re almost-pretty-damn-sure was the first-ever Omnium event. Three races, three meet-ups, and all for points, it was one many of the GC riders had the option of taking a back seat on, though all of them seemed motivated to pick up points for their teams. Kicking off with the points race on Richmond, it was all about setting the best times at two sprint points and one KOM, despite the misinformed but adamant pleadings of the Trek-Segafredo team, who decided to boss the final climb…which came after the finish line.
Still, it was a sign of just how motivated the team was after an up-and-down performance thus far in Tour. Stage One left the squad scratching heads, while the individual time trial saw them take the most points for the stage. Last weekend was ridden in almost anonymity, but Stages 4 and Five turned out to be just what they needed. In fact, the Velo City Cycles guys in the team, Ted and Mark, proved themselves sprinters Saturday, picking up plenty of points. Ted took the opening sprint over Spencer Nemecek, though Spencer would get his sprint win just a few minutes later on Broad Street ahead of Ryan DeFour and Brad Hochstetler.
On the only KOM of the race, Braiden Voss and Brad Pauly powered to the top ahead of Al McWilliams and John Burmeister, giving Ineos a huge haul of points to reward their focus on the climb.
The Scratch Race ushered riders from Richmond to Yorkshire for a few hot laps around Queen’s Highway. It’s a deceptively difficult circuit, with hardly a meter of flat road. The lighter of the GC riders made the most of it, as did some of the secondary and tertiary riders who didn’t think highly of their chances in the individual time trial to follow. Some riders opted to sit up after a lap, leaving a group of about twenty up the road for the last lap. Braiden Voss took the win, with Ryan Zamzow using the slight rise to the line to his advantage to nudge out Jason Johnson, Lucas, Mike Anderson and Al McWilliams. Ineos put three rivers in the top ten, with EF slotting in two, and Trek finding Dan Madion and Ted Schneider their top finishers on the stage, too. For Zamzow, it was the lone success of the stage for Jumbo-Visma, though they always had their eyes set on Sunday.
Finally, the time trial capped off a busy Saturday, with riders taking to the Continent and a solo effort around Innsbruckring. With teams sending riders off in thirty-second intervals, it worked much like a team pursuit; chase your own rider, sure, but improve your own time in the process and, as a result, your team score.
After what was surely a sleepless night for many, the great and the good were assembled under the shadows of Ventoux’s imposing peak. They were joined by the best, with Alexey Vermeulen and Matt Acker serving as substitutes for two EF riders on holiday. It was a bit like getting Kyle Hendricks to come pitch for your beer league softball team, and finding out he brought Anthony Rizzo to DH.
For the lightweight climbers, this was what they’ve been waiting for. After eleven stages this winter, Ventoux offered a chance to really show their stuff, and they did, to a rider. There was nothing cautious about the opening kilometers of the climb. Things were lined out almost immediately, and at just 4km, Acker and Kyan went clear. The move drew a response from Alexey and Voss, and while they did get back in touch, the effort took a toll. Behind, a group containing McWilliams, Pauly, Zamzow, and Ryan Kennedy slowly fell apart. Through the debris, John Burmeister rode an incredibly well-measured pace to move into the top ten, with Sovis clinging to Pauly for half of the climb before imploding.
At 9km, Acker went for the kill. His move drew Vermeulen with him and left Voss and Olshove dangling. Each pair would eventually settle in together, though Vermeulen would break the truce up front and go clear of Acker. Both finished the climb in under an hour, something we didn’t anticipate anyone doing on this stage. Behind Olshove and Voss battled for yellow, with Voss ceding a few seconds to his fellow kindergartner.
McWilliams carried the day for EF in fifth, while Brad Pauly and John Burmeister’s steady riding gave Ineos something to get excited about. While it may not have been the result they were hoping for, having Olshove defend yellow and seeing Zamzow 8th for JV has to be called a success, though they’ll rue Drew Cummins’ laptop mechanical and his freefall out of the top ten on GC. AG2R have to be happy with Voss’ ride, and they’ll have a deceptively tough squad for the upcoming Team Time Trial, too, in an effort to clean up more points.
Finally, it was Trek-Segafredo’s day. While never a threat to win the stage, they had Sunday circled for two weeks and vowed to make something of it. Cody Sovis was aggressive early, riding much of the stage in the top ten, though he began to fade late. Behind, Doug and Andy were picking off riders left and right, while Wes and Ted, just a bit further back, were doing the same. Dan Madion, too, rode to his true ability without being hampered with WiFi trouble, and Jack Klau was in his element. All told, they put six riders in the top twenty and seven in the top twenty-one, a massive haul of points, plus moved up their riders closer to the top ten overall.
Trek’s performance over the two day points-palooza landed them second on both Stages 4 and 5. While they are still 4th overall, the margin to the top has been cut substantially. The team competition is wide open going into the final week with only 6 points separating Ineos in first and Trek in fourth. Ineos, JV and AG2R have all seen their share of bad luck over Stage 4 and 5 as technicals, absences and injuries prove fake tours are not exempt from the whims of Lady Luck. EF’s road to team glory is much tougher, but not mathematically impossible; though, expect them to take plenty of satisfaction in playing agents of chaos over the final two stages as they look to protect their GC podium hopes.
The grinding climb of Ventoux drove some serious gaps in the GC, but Kyan still wears the Yellow Jersey maintaining a 45 second lead over Voss. That will put pressure on teammates in the TTT this week to protect or claw back time for their GC hopefuls. Al sits four minutes back in the final podium spot with a comfortable 4+ minute cushion to Burmeister in fourth.
Spencer Nemecek holds on to the Green Jersey with a dominant sprint performance in the Omnium and Braiden keeps the Polka Dots giving him a perfect record on the KOM intermediates this tour.
The WIH Tour stays in France for the Stage 5 TTT on the RGV route. With a small twist in time accumulation, expect to see some FULL GAS squads gunning for aero glory.