Last weekend I took part in the first couple of Zwift Insider Tiny Race series events. I’ve always liked short races, but these are a particular favourite as they are both brutally intense and very well attended. Usually there’s lots of top-ranked riders racing. The idea of the series is that you do four short races back-to-back. They’re usually about 5-7km long and the whole lot is done in an hour – at 15-minute intervals.
Pack Dynamics 4
This week things were a bit different because it was being used as a test event for “Pack Dynamics 4”. Zwift has made some tweaks to try and reduce the “large pack advantage” that currently exists which pretty much kills any chance of breakaways. The other new thing is, on race 2, there’s a long gravel section and an uphill finish of 400m at 10%.
There’s been a few tweaks to the rules, but this week’s tweak allowed you to race fewer than four as long as you don’t have a gap. So I decided to race 1 and 2 and go absolutely all-out to try and get a top-10 finish and some good ZP ranking points. Knowing this 400m 10% climb would likely take 1-2 minutes – which is my sweet spot (6-7 W/kg) – race 2 was always going to be a possible top-10 finish. But with the new “breakaway” pack dynamics AND the potential advantage of using a gravel bike made it an attractive experiment.
Experimentation AND a sprinty, climby finish? I’M IN!
Race 1 was on Seaside Sprint – an event-only course, this week shortened to end at the arch at the start of Volcano Loop at 5.6km. It was a blobby, rolling smashfest with a slightly uphill sprinty finish. I stayed pretty near the front, trying to be a couple of rows back and it worked out pretty well. I made up about 20 places in the last couple of hundred metres and just managed my top-10 position. #10. I was quite pleased about that, but even more pleased, later when I saw the 196.41 Zwift Power ranking points it got me. Previous best result was 231.67. (Lower is better.)
Pack dynamics 4 seemed OK. There was noticeably less churning at the front. I didn’t really notice huge differences here, but that may well be because there really wasn’t an opportunity to “sit in” on such a short, punchy race.
Race 2 was the first 5.6km of Road to Sky, finishing after the first 400m of the Alpe (at 10%). So an uphill sprinty finish. I guessed most people would opt for the Tron. Better the devil you know. The middle bit is gravel. The start and finish are tarmac. The Tron has a 3% advantage over gravel bikes on tarmac on the Alpe. Over 400m, that’s not much – a couple of seconds. The climb wasn’t the unknown or the scary bit. At 67kg, the fact that it was a downhill start on tarmac would put me at an instant disadvantage, but would I overcome that when we got to the gravel? Would I be able to get in a break and get a few seconds off the front to snatch a good finish position? It certainly seemed possible in my head BEFORE the race.
During the race, the start was quite discouraging. I wasn’t sure why I was slipping further and further back for the first 2km – even when it seemed the gravel had started. Where was my gravel bike advantage? I was actually considering quitting the race. But then, the dirt road flattened to just -1% and I decided to put the hammer down and give it one last shot. In so doing, something came good. Between 2km and 3km I went from 98th to the front. I don’t know if it was a magic combination of gravel bike on gravel, plus the new PD4 “slingshot” enhancement, but it was amazing. It felt like I had a superpower (although I was still working hard). I hoped I’d have something left for the finish.
Anyway – just as I got to the front, someone was breaking away, so I joined him, passed him and then three or four of us played tag up to the electronic “blue barrier” guarding the entrance to the Alpe. We buzzed through that and a few more riders joined and passed us. Very soon we hit the start of the Alpe climb and it was smashy, smashy 400W+ for a minute. I think I got as far back as 12th, before re-passing some of them as they flagged on the final climb to snatch 7th overall. I dug very deep, but it was worth it. 194.68 ZP ranking points another record!
I was glad I’d decided to only race 2, as there’s no way I would have continued. Having got 10th and 7th, these results really improved my cat-C Zwift Power ranking from 181st to 89th in the world, which was unexpected. I have been aiming to get there but expected it to take a while longer. Very happy with that set of results. So now I’m in the top 100 cat-C racers in the world on Zwift Power! 😃
A lot of people hated the new PD4 and it will no doubt be tweaked, but at least two other people reported similar experiences to mine on race 2 – going from the back to the front in that manner, having had a hard time on the downhill start. All three on gravel bikes.
As regards bike selection, three people ahead of me were on Tron bikes and three weren’t. So it looks very much as if the jury is still out on which is best for this course. I plan to do some testing of my own to establish what may have been going on. I don’t know if it was a gravel bike thing or a pack dynamics thing, or a combination of the two. But it’ll be good to find out for future reference.
I found PD4 different, but I don’t think they’ve quite got the recipe yet. A lot more testing is needed, probably under more controlled conditions, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen. 👍🏻