Updated: Apr 7, 2021
A planned reduction in Training Stress Score (TSS) was the order of this week as I was undertaking some power/cadence drills and the coach decided it would be good to reduce the overall strain to better absorb these sessions. As such, I was looking for a race that would not be full on the whole way around. An ideal race at 0915 on Sunday morning presented itself in the "Nutrinovex Open Rice by PETA-Z" race on France's Petit Boucle circuit.
The reason I feel this race was a good pick, was that in the past when I've raced on this course it tends to be raced fairly conservatively on the flats, in preparation for the reverse and then forward ascents of Le Petit KoM climb (around 5 minutes each). It's definitely a polarised training session in that regard, and although it still typically finishes in some kind of sprint, it is a diminished field by that point courtesy of the final climb coming only a few kilometres from the finish line.
The total race distance is around 63km, with the two ascents of the climb providing most of the elevation.
I got up around 2.5 hours before the race and had a breakfast consisting of the usual oats mixture (which I had as overnight oats having prepared them the night before - this makes them a little more digestible and means I don't waste any "digestion time" whilst actually preparing them in the morning too!). A couple of cups of coffee and a few admin tasks ticked off and we were ready to warm up. The usual 25 minute warm up was ticked off (no special warm up required as such, especially as the first 20km or so were likely going to be relatively sedate).
A quick check of the start roster showed there were 6 other A+ riders and around 40 or so A riders. One rider in particular was pretty light and boasted a 5.9W/kg 20 minute power, so would be one to look out for.
The race kicked out of the pens with the usual gusto for the first minutes, but then settled into a low tempo pace for the most part until we got to the foot of the reverse KoM at 25km. The only exception to this was a couple of riders who were intent on "going for" the intermediate sprints (although no primes/bonuses were available in this race). It did have the effect of causing a few splits and caught some riders out. The small ascent up and over the aqueduct also caused a few splits, but in general, nothing crazy to report.
As we approached the reverse Petit KoM, I knew from the recent Zwift Racing League race (race 7 in the series), that this climb is a bit more of a series of "steps" than a consistent climb, so readied myself to punch above VO2max and recover a few times. As it turned out, the pace up this ascent was not too challenging compared to what was likely going to be a more aggressive climb in the other direction so close to the finish. It did however make a selection of the top 20 riders who took to the descent and readied themselves for around 20km of flat before the decisive climb.
A few little surges here and there on the next 20km, but again, not too much to report and I was mostly able to maintain low tempo / high endurance zone and keep the heart rate under control.
At 56km we hit the foot of the forward Petit KoM climb. This climb starts off steadily and then progressively steepens as you get into the switch backs. I aimed to "draft" the lower slopes as much as possible and see what happened as we entered the switch backs.
The group was all together as we entered the second hairpin, but as we exited, it was clear a couple of riders had really upped the pace around this corner and got a gap. I elected to try and keep a steady, but ramping pace up the climb and not surge to try and latch on to these two riders (I was in a decent group of around 8 anyway, and knew we had a descent to come). This worked fairly well, and we caught a few riders on the way up who did decide to give chase to the front two. However, the front two put on an extremely strong pace and crested the climb with a decent gap.
Heading down the descent, our group of 6 or so hovered up two more lone riders as we got close to the final kilometre. This meant that 9 of us would be vying for the final podium place (as the two leaders still had around 15s at this point). I had been saving an aero power up for the second half of the race in anticipation of a sprint of sorts occurring, so had high hopes of a solid attempt here!
From previous sprint finishes on this course, I remembered that it's important to "recalibrate" the distance at which you open up the sprint, as you're typically carrying around 55kph from the descent before you enter the marina. So I elected to open up a little earlier than usual. I popped my power up at around 325m to the line and made my sprint from around 4 riders back. With 175m to go I hit the front and although my numbers weren't massively high, I was holding on fairly well. With 50m to go I was second in our group (4th overall in the race), however with my power dropping off a little, I was swamped by a handful of riders who timed things a little better!
8th in cat A (out of 39 on Zwift Power). A solid result, but tinged with a little disappointment at perhaps mistiming the sprint a touch. Only 300ms from a podium position, but these are the margins!
Pleased with my performance overall in the race, and particularly how well I "saved Watts" by drafting well with my pack positioning. I certainly put out less Watts than many other riders around me, which is always the aim.
With some more power/cadence work to come in the next couple of weeks (with the aim of improving my short term power and sprints) I'm hoping to get to the pointy end of some more races to test myself.
Until next time... Ride On!