Virtual Crit Power Analysis

The "decisive moment" for me at MidWeek Virtual Crit - Oct 6


Riding the Midweek Virtual Crit is expected to be part of my weekly schedule for the Fall, Winter and Spring that I'm focussing on indoor riding. It's great to have an event connected to a local club and to see Canadian cyclists you recognize from group rides and races take part. We had a good contingent of Royal City Cycling zwifters on course across different categories and I'm excited to see the team have a presence at the event.


This was my first time taking part at Midweek since March and some of the strengths and weaknesses you'd expect to be revealed when you transition from a significant period of "training" to "racing"is exactly what I got. Curious about what was working and what needed work, I decided to dig a little deeper into the power and lap time data. Luck for me I know one of the riders that influenced some key moments of the race and they were generous enough to let me check out their data as well for comparison. Let's give this rider a name and since I've been watching a number of old "The Office" episodes on Netflix lately, let's call them Dwight Schrute.


The Race: Midweek Crit is hosted on Zwift's Bell Lap course. The race is 16 x 2.0km Laps for 32km Total. The course heads through the Start and you take a quick 180 degree turn onto the pitching (max: 10%) gravel road. You continue on a low grade climb to the halfway point on the course. A quick descent and a winding flat section back to the start.


How it played out (for me): After the initial burst out of the start pen, for the next 4 Laps I settled into the middle of the pack to draft as much as I could. My power output settled at the higher end of my Functional Threshold Power (FTP). At ~Lap 4 I noticed my effort slowly creeping up but lap power output was easing back ever so slightly. It was hard work in this zone but felt I could extend the effort and I was holding in to the peloton.


Laps 5, 6 & 7 were very consistent for me and I used all my zwift tricks to ride the lap "easy": maximize draft, move up in the 180, spin-up your Kickr flywheel 2 seconds before you expect the change in resistance, etc. but I got dropped! I rode the uphill, gravel section at the same effort but I would move back a few bodies at a time through the group to the point where just over the top of the climb a small gap had formed off the back of the peloton. Realizing to late that I was getting dropped I made a last ditch effort to get back on terms. Riding this section back to the Start/Finish harder than any other lap, I made no gains on the peloton. I rode the rest of the race at my highest sustainable effort but never made it back into the group.


So, how does Dwight Schrute factor into this? Well, Dwight, decided to use a feather power-up on the Lap 8 climb and go for it, riding one of his hardest laps of the entire race. The move worked and broke a few riders off the main pack, including me. Dwight was also able to sustain the move and sprinted in out in the finale with the front group.


Analysis: First, the course, is naturally more selective on the gravel uphill than the downhill and flat paved second half. The reduced speed of the first half due to terrain reduces drafting effectiveness and makes it more possible for strong riders to escape. The opposite is true on the second half.


On Laps 5, 6 & 7, I rode the segment from the start to the top of the climb in 1:14 at 310-325W. On these same laps, Dwight also rode the first segment of the course in 1:14 and averaged 337W. Feeling close to my limit for a sustainable effort I rode the climb on Lap 8 the same way I'd been riding the previous few laps (= 1:14 & 323W). However, on that lap, Dwight used a feather power-up to launch a well timed attack and completed the first segment of the course in 1:12. Looking at the actual power and factoring in the 15 second power up I estimate the move required ~425W for the segment (=25% increase in PO compared to the previous 3 laps).


Realizing (too late) I was getting dropped I buckled down to try and rejoin the peloton. I rode the second half of the course in 1:12 at 348W. For me that was 3 seconds faster and +66W (+25%) compared to Laps 5, 6 & 7. Unfortunately, for me, Dwight was pushing on at the front of the peloton putting out 378W (+20% compared to Laps 5 ,6 & 7) and riding 3 seconds faster on the back half of the course. All this meaning, despite my efforts to rejoin I made up no ground on the group.


Starting Lap 9, I could no longer turn the cranks above FTP and rode the first segment of the course in 1:23 at 296W. I lost another 8 seconds on the group by the time I crested the hill. On the other hand, after the attack Dwight was able to ride the start of Lap 9 with the group in 1:14 again (at 326W).



Takeaways:


1. Recognition: I was way too late to respond. That's obvious because I rode the climb on Lap 8 at the same power I did on Laps 5, 6 & 7. I ignored the obvious clue that my avatar was moving back thus the group moving faster. I also missed the less obvious clue that on Laps 6 & 7 although the group "stayed together" it was becoming more strung out up the climb. That should have tipped me off to the fact that people were getting tired and/or other riders were keen to thin the group and I should focus more on my positioning. Now I consider this a possible missed opportunity because I did have more "energy to spend" so to speak. I say this because once I realized what was happening I increased my power output. The next minute was my highest 1 minute power of the mid-race laps. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to ride faster than the group and recover my losses from the climb because the group was also riding harder and faster.


2. Tolerance to Supra-Threshold Power: This being my first race I'm not surprised I didn't fair well in this domain. I find steady riding and intervals are great to improve overall fitness but they lack one key ingredient that racing provides: during races other people decide when it's time to ride hard. That's not really the case for other types of riding even intervals above your FTP. This is where racing can become a key part of training because It's nearly impossible to replicate the sensations of some other riders putting you under pressure. You'd have to come up with some pretty creative intervals to even get close. Crucially, this "type" of fitness goes a long way to race performance but it is very demanding and comes at a cost. What's important in knowing how much of it you need in the lead-up a key event so you can soak it in but not overdo it and end up cooked by time you arrive at the start line.


3. I Had Fun: I didn't have my best performance or maybe even ride as well as I could have that day but enjoyed the opportunity to take a chance and see what was possible. In that I'm able to find enjoyment and motivation to do it all over again.



FASTER: Technical Analysis is part of a series of posts I will be publishing that provide insight into my training, racing & coaching philosophy.

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