An Interview with Zwift Academy Group Ride Sweeper Matt Yankow

Sweepin’ isn’t easy, but Matt does it with a smile (I think)!

I’ve done my share of group rides on the road.  None of them had a sweeper.  At least not in the sense of bringing dropped riders back to the group to keep it together.

 

My goal for many IRL group rides was to hang on as long as I could.  For the stronger guys in the group, the goal was to ensure that it happened early and with authority.  We would drop like a stone one by one, and not even Peter Sagan could have gotten us back on terms.  

Even during tamer “no drop” rides, the sweeper was there merely to support riders who fell off the pace, had mechanicals, or weren’t clear with the route.  Never did they rally the troops and lead the chargeback to the group.

 

Add successful sweeping to the long list of the unique positive attributes of virtual cycling.  If the social community aspect is your reason for riding indoors, then being swept back to the group by a stronger rider willing to sacrifice for the common collective is the virtual “I got you.”

I marvel at what a ride sweeper can do.  Of course, a good sweeper is super strong.  But it’s more than that.  There is a skill to it.  A mindset you must have.  Matt Yankow has all of that and a great sense of humor, too!

Matt Yankow and family

First, a foreword by ride leader Keith Miller

Looking back on ZwiftPower, I have either participated or lead the DIRT Xtra Long Ride (XLR) on Zwift in its entirety a total of 57 times since July 2019.  One thing stands out about nearly every single one of those rides – Matt Yankow.  

 

He has acted as sweep nearly every week for the two-hour (and sometimes two and a half hour) ride.  For those rare occurrences (maybe twice or three times??) that Matt hasn’t been a sweep for XLR, I’ll have to admit. We missed his chatty banter, ridiculous jokes, and his huge watts.

 

I often joke that Matt is a robot – no doubt about it.  I don’t know of another human that can be so reliably consistent week-in and week-out and never once miss a beat.  

 

His style of sweeping rides is so proactive and positive.  He will notice a rider getting a gap and message the rider asking if they need help – and selflessly help riders close gaps that I would think are impossible to close!  

Even when he could encourage a rider to quit and rejoin using the ‘late-join’ feature, he’ll sacrifice himself to help the rider get back into the leading group.  A lesser sweep wouldn’t do that!

 

As a ride leader, I appreciate his witty and open communication.  His good-natured ribbing and his ability to give jokes as good as he takes them make my time leading XLR each week something I look forward to and have helped build a community amongst the riders who regularly join the ride.  

 

The constant is Matt, his jokes, and his excellent sweeping abilities – and for that, he’ll always be one of my favorite riders on Zwift (but don’t tell him that)!

 

Thank you for the opportunity,

Keith Miller.

Matt Yankow Zwift Group Ride Sweeper with his kids

An Introduction to Matt

Matt Yankow is 36 years old and lives in what he describes as “The greatest city on the planet.”  He lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife and two children.  When asked what he does, he replied, “generic middle management title here.”  (see Matt’s Strava and ZwiftPower profiles)

Matt Yankow and his wife in costume

Now, The Interview with Yankow

TheZomwithFigure

When did you start cycling?

I started off doing local triathlons because my wife wanted to do one, so I tagged along.  

I switched over to cycling because I enjoyed it more. I found out that what I really liked was the training aspect of it rather than the races. I was never really motivated to win but rather to keep pushing myself.

TheZomwithFigure

When and why did you start riding on Zwift?

I started on Zwift for a couple of reasons. Contrary to what you may have heard about Cleveland, the weather is not always perfect here, a common misconception I know. So during the winters, I wanted to keep working out, and long hours on a basic trainer were not doing it for me.

I purchased a Wahoo Kickr before I heard about Zwift. I was looking to add more realism to my ‘rides.’ Quickly after purchasing, I heard about Zwift and decided to give it a shot. I loved the community in-game and the ability to socialize while riding.

I figure if you have ever hung around Zwift from 5 am to 9 am CLEVELAND time, you have probably seen my messages at least once. You could say I talk a little bit.

Door with Zwift sticker
TheZomwithFigure

What type of rider do you consider yourself?

As far as the type of cyclist, I consider myself. I would say I lean towards an endurance cyclist with a heavy dose of base riding each week.  Someone recently brought it to my attention that most of my rides are between 2 and 3 hours.  That is hardly endurance anymore.

TheZomwithFigure

What do cycling and cycling on Zwift mean to you?

I love Zwift for the social aspect. I love getting up each morning and riding and talking with familiar names and new people each day. The community is what keeps Zwift engaging to me.

I have ridden 50,000+ miles in-game over the same roads, but what keeps me coming back every morning is getting to hang out and talk with everyone. Each time someone suggests trying a new program or app for cycling, I ask the same question, “Does it have chat?” because, for me, that is what draws me into Zwift.

TheZomwithFigure

How often do you ride?

I ride every day for at least an hour but more, usually 2 hours.

Stationary bike in front of green screen
TheZomwithFigure

What is your training plan?

I do base riding on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, in which I lead a group ride.  On Tuesday, I generally do an hour recovery ride.  Thursdays are usually the Team Time Trial races.  On Saturday, I typically ride for a couple of hours during a group ride, and if the weather is nice in Cleveland, some outdoor riding too.  Sunday is for sweeping the DIRT XLR ride and some outdoor riding afterward if I have time.

TheZomwithFigure

How many miles/hours do you train, ride, or race a week?

The goal every week is 288mi which comes out to just around 15,000 miles per year.

Editors Note: Up that goal, Yankow!

TheZomwithFigure

Do you have a coach or follow any structured training plan or routine?

Not really. I like the structure that I have worked out for me now for cycling. It feels like enough to keep me generally healthy and fit.

TheZomwithFigure

What are your goals for the year and long term?

My goals are to try and ride every day, but if for whatever reason I can’t ride that day, let’s say I break a trainer as it’s been known to happen, at least record one workout each day.

My long term goal is to keep doing that for as long as possible 🙂

TheZomwithFigure

When and why did you start as a group ride sweeper?

The first ride I ever swept was the Cyclingtips Tuesday ride. A super fun group of guys that I was riding with each week. It worked well into my work schedule at the time, back in the long, long ago when I had to commute into work and be in the office by 8 am.

 

Early on, during one of the very first group rides I had ridden on Zwift, I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew.  I entered into a group that was just at the top end of what I could maintain.  I fell out of the draft going up a climb, and as we crested the top of the climb, I saw the group start to roll away from me and felt the despair of getting dropped.

 

It was then when someone asked if I needed a wheel to get back into the draft. I accepted but did not think I would ever make it back to the group that had just dropped me. He came back, and I sat on his wheel for what felt like hours but was probably only 3 or 4 minutes until we arrived back into the group.

 

The feeling of accomplishment of making it back to the group was enormous and really what got me interested in helping sweep others back. So I started ‘unofficially’ sweeping rides where I could until my regular Tuesday group asked me if I wanted to help sweep for them.

 

I jumped at the opportunity.

TheZomwithFigure

What rides do you currently sweep?

Currently I regularly only sweep for the DIRT XLR cat C group on Sunday mornings Cleveland time. But anytime I am riding with a group that needs someone to help out sweeping, I am always ready to help out.

TheZomwithFigure

How many miles did you ride as a sweeper last year?

Looking at the numbers, I would say just shy of 5,000 miles.

TheZomwithFigure

How many more miles do you ride than the group during a typical ride?

Ahh, one of my favorite ‘features.’  By the end of a ride, I am usually at least .75 mi different than the leading group.

TheZomwithFigure

How much higher is your avg w/kg?

Now my w/kg is a different story! For a 2.5w/kg ride, I am usually in the low 3.0 as an average. Because I am a “gentleman of generous gravity” or a “man of massive mass” or “Midwest skinny,” as I like to say, I get to sit at the back of the main group when not sweeping at closer to 2.2w/kg.

TheZomwithFigure

Which is your favorite group ride to sweep and why?

I will take the cop-out answer here and say that I don’t have a favorite ride to sweep for, but it is the times when I ask someone if they need a wheel, and they say they will try but don’t think they will make it back.

Then we work hard together and slowly close the gap back to the group. I click over to fan view them and see their heart rate is 180+ and see that they gave it their all to get back when they could have just soft-pedaled to the end or given up.

 

Those are the best kinds of sweeps.

TheZomwithFigure

What strategies or tips do you follow to sweep a group ride?

When sweeping a solo rider, I usually swap over to fan view and try to ride just in front of them, watching their heart rate if they have it to make sure they are not overdoing it.

I usually let them know to push whatever they think they can maintain, and I will sit just in front of them.

It helps to know most of the courses and where the challenging portions of the courses are vs. the ones where we will make up large amounts of time.  

TheZomwithFigure

How large a gap is too large?

No gap has ever been too large. Some group rides are just too short for us to make it back in time 😀

TheZomwithFigure

How do you keep the group together?

Often, we get a group of riders who come back to help out, and we team sweep a rider or small group of riders back into the leading group. Usually, I let everyone know who the ‘prize’ is, the person we are not allowed to drop.

 

This way, everyone knows who we are working for and makes sure they are always in the bunch with our closing. Having a small group of riders helps keeps the whole sweep group moving a lot faster and makes the catch that much easier for our prizes.  

TheZomwithFigure

How do you motivate the group to keep up the chase?

I try to let the riders know how long of an effort it will be to get back and how much ground we have already made up in catching the group. Knowing we are making progress is always a big motivator for me, so I hope it is a big motivator for everyone else.

TheZomwithFigure

How important is it to you to interact with the members of the ride?

Letting the riders know you are working for them by communicating either the power they need to do or the time until we catch goes a long way to keeping them pushing and making it back to the group.  

TheZomwithFigure

How are you able to type and do your job at the same time?

I broke a lot of keyboards due to my ability to sweat and type. I had a keyboard mounted to the tray in front of my bike. It turns out that you can still move your fingers when you can’t move your mouth.

After breaking what must have been my 10th keyboard, I switched to a waterproof phone. The typing is a bit slower, but the voice-to-text works well enough to get my point across when I am not out of breath.

 

It is nice that people can’t see how hard I am working, or it would shatter the illusion of it being easy for me.

TheZomwithFigure

Zwift chose you to be a sweeper for the Zwift Academy group events. How did that come about? What was your thought when initially contacted by Zwift? Do you consider it an honor?

I started leading and sweeping the ZA rides about four years ago. Zwift was a smaller place back then, and I think I had the lead and swept a bunch of rides regularly.  ZHQ knew my name and shot me a message asking if I wanted to help them out with the social rides they were putting together.

 

I was indeed honored to be picked from the crowd of significantly better cyclists to lead the rides. Every year that ZA comes around, I look forward to that email asking for help putting these rides on. I know they are a massive driver for the community and continuously draw in many people just trying group rides for the first time.

TheZomwithFigure

Tell the story of the Zwift legend of all the Tacx Neo Bikes you have broken.

Oh, I have broken so many of them now 🙂 The most memorable one was the time I was leading a KISS AT Base B group ride. I was about 30 minutes into the ride when I started to feel the left pedal get a bit loose.

 

I did not think much of it and commented to the group about maybe needing new pedals, and as soon as I sent it, my left crank fell totally off the bike. I look down and see the crank arm dangling from my still clipped-in foot. When I looked back up the group was rapidly moving away from me through the fence.

I turned off the fence so no one would get zapped and sent a message to the group that my crank arm had fallen off! Luckily I keep my tools nearby so I attempt to make a quick fix. I find a wrench and get the crank arm secured back into place.

 

This process has taken me 2 minutes and 28 seconds, which I think is mighty fast. The only issue is that the group is all moving at 3.4w/kg over flat ground. They are now way ahead of me.

 

I am determined to make it back to the group by the end of the ride. I sent a message to the group that I was making it back to them and started pushing hard.  I settled in for what would most likely be quite an effort.

 

Luckily for me, another rider (Mike Egan) came back, and together we pushed 400w for nearly 15 minutes to close the gap to the group on what is now the longest gap closed on that ride.

 

So in actuality, my favorite sweeping story is one of me getting swept, not the other way around 🙂   https://www.strava.com/activities/3842980302

TheZomwithFigure

Why do many of the ride leaders joke with you about living in Ohio?

Jealousy mostly, I would guess. Not everyone can be lucky enough to live in the most fantastic place on Earth 😀

TheZomwithFigure

How do you keep such a great sense of humor when working so hard to bring the chase group back?

I genuinely enjoy working hard like that, so when we are pushing to close a gap, I have the most fun and think that comes across in the messages.

TheZomwithFigure

Are there any other ride sweepers that you compare yourself to or admire?

I like to jump into a ride and watch how other people sweep their rides to learn something from them. Almost all the rides have slightly different cultures in them, and even the sweeps look different.  

TheZomwithFigure

How seriously do you take the job?

As far as taking things seriously, I want to make sure people are having a good time, and part of that is giving some riders the same experience I had with working with a sweeper to catch back on.

 

I take that part seriously, but I am always okay being the butt of the joke for the rest of the game!

TheZomwithFigure

Is it a matter of pride to not let anyone get dropped?

I hate when a sweep is not successful.  I will stick with a rider for as long as they want me to. Not every sweep is successful, but if someone asks for help, I will go with them until the end of the ride if they want me to.

TheZomwithFigure

Thank-You Matt. It is obvious that you take great pride in being a trusty group ride sweeper.

Your Thoughts?

Have you ever been on a ride with Yankow, or been helped by a sweeper? Are you a sweeper yourself? Tells us your thoughts and experiences below!  Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know.

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Russ Yankow
Russ Yankow
1 month ago

That’s my bay!!!We Yankows always want to be the best at what we do. Gramps russ.

J.J.
J.J.
1 month ago

For a guy that enjoys keeping people from getting dropped from rides he sure does seem to get a kick out of riding his less fit teammates off of his wheel in the TTT. ❤️

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