It's Tuesday afternoon, the messages in club's Whatsapp group are starting to roll in. It's one excuse after another, "I have bad legs today but will be there later", "I worked hard today, am tired. I'll see if I'm there later", "I didn't feel so good yesterday but will try today". It's just like at the start of a real race, the excuses for a possible bad performance fly around your ears. A smile appears on my face, I love the chatter of real cyclists. Soon at 19:15 it's off, a club race as Zwift-meetup with my cycling comrades of my club, GWC De Adelaar.
A year or so ago I became a member of GWC De Adelaar. First as a casual rider, so I didn't have to ride my training laps alone in preparation for a granfondo. But soon I was persuaded to race. Every spring a club competition is organized on the Tuesday evening, from mid-April to mid-June. There are 10 races at the cutting edge on a closed course on an industrial estate, in 3 categories with a final ranking.
There have been Tuesdays that I rode reluctantly to the course. Hoping that this time they would really take it easy for the first few laps so that the acid would not shoot out of my ears immediately after the first 10 minutes. Usually this was wishful thinking and my motto was to follow as possible in order to ride a decent race with other released B-riders. But I never came home disappointed, the adrenaline, the endorphins of the effort and the tall tales after the race of my cycling buddies always put me in a super good mood. Wonderful, the feeling of cycling in optima forma, shoulder to shoulder with other passionate cyclists cycling as fast as possible, that real club race feeling.
How different is it now during the lockdown. Of course I'm riding my own laps outside, but that ultimate feeling of racing as fast as possible in a peloton together with a couple of other cycling freaks is a completely different experience.
Happily there's Zwift. In Zwift you can ride indoor races on your smart trainer at any time of the day with and against thousands of other cyclists from all over the world. But how about that club feeling? The makers of Zwift have found a solution: the 'meetup'. With this functionality you can ride your own race in Zwift together with your friends, buddies, club mates, without other participants. It's very cozy and you know who you will win or lose against. We started doing this at the end of February. So it's back to the old days on Tuesday afternoons, quickly eating a sandwich at work at 5 o'clock. Then rapidly heading home, get dressed and warm up on the smart trainer.
Today we will ride 2 laps of the '2019 UCI Worlds Harrogate Circuit'. It is a hilly course of 13.8 km with 1 climb of 1.2 km with an average gradient of 5.5%, the Yorkshire KOM. That doesn't seem so difficult but in between it is never flat. And since we're doing the round trip twice, we have to go up that climb twice as well.
I open my attic window wide, the fans on position 3 and in Spotify I put on my Rammstein playlist. I climb on my bike and 15 minutes before the start I do a calibration of my Kickr.
From the start it goes straight to hell, after a few hundred meters there is a section of one and a half kilometers that runs very sneaky false flat with gradients between 2 and 4%. The first 3 minutes I have to ride well above my threshold to be able to keep up with the front men. After 4 minutes I have to let go to avoid blowing myself up, I end up in a group of 6 men with my direct competitors in the classification of the B-category. The pace drops a little and I catch my breath. After 7.5 km the climb starts, I'm giving full throttle to climb at the front of the group. This is to prevent me from dropping through and missing the connection at the top. With 3 men we reach the top, the other 3 follow at a few seconds behind. To my satisfaction I see that Daniel is 9 seconds behind me after the climb. I am happy to continue but I notice that the speed is going down and they let me ride in front too often. To my disappointment Daniel joined me again after 3 km just before we started the second lap. Daniel is 1 point behind me in the general classification of the B category. He is a heavier rider and strong in the sprint. Hopefully I can drop him on the 2nd climb..In the meantime I try to hide in the group of 5. Gerjan got away on his own, I think we can catch him but he stays ahead until the finish. At the foot of the 2nd climb I take a deep breath and start again. I want to be the first to reach the top but Thijs has that idea too. The climb takes about 3 minutes and Thijs has a 10 second lead after 1 minute. I climb full speed to get back on his wheel. My legs are on fire. After 2 minutes Daniel passes me on the climb, my morale is down but I can't give up now. At the top I see that I am 7 seconds behind Thijs and Daniel. I throw myself into the descent in a last desperate attempt to catch up with them. It seems to be in vain and despite my full speed ahead the gap remains 7 seconds.
Then in the left corner of my screen I see an aero helmet. This is the powerup icon for the 'Aero boost'. This gives me an aerodynamic advantage of 25% for 15 seconds when I activate it. I press the space bar and once more I give it everything l I have in my legs. It works, at 3.5 km from the finish I'm back in the wheel of Thijs and Daniel. But I fear the worst. This last effort cost me a lot of strength and I know that both Daniel and Thijs are better sprinters. I try to stay positive, the three of us continue to ride and I catch my breath a little bit.
At 900 meters before the finish Thijs takes off again, I sigh, support and creak, this will be a long sprint. I push but Daniel passes me like a rock. All the power has gone out of my legs. After the finish I see that Daniel has won the sprint from Thijs. Too bad, because of that he gets 2 points more than I do and he overtakes me again in the general classification. I ride on for a while, the sweat is pouring off my body and the ventilators are running at full speed. Meanwhile I look at the group app on my phone where people give each other compliments. At the front, the A-riders have again ridden extremely fast. With a big smile on my face and a satisfied feeling I get off my bike and into the shower.