The Inside View of the Zwift Grand Prix Women’s Round Three—Through the Racer’s Eyes

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Liz Van Houweling

Zwift Grand Prix Round Three Race Report by Saris-NoPinz eracer and Zwift Academy Finalist, Liz Van Houweling!

Pre-Race—Zwift Grand Prix Women’s Round Three

My Saris NoPinz team and I watched the men’s race in this format last week and based on that, made final decisions about who would do each race. Originally, we planned for me to do the short, 300-meter sprint race. However, this race would favor those with very high pure-power sprints with a slight downhill finish and no draft. I didn’t think this was my biggest strength, so it was decided that I would do the final hill climb race with Anna on a course that suited our strong 1 minute powers. 

 

Jenn would do the sprint race and largely focus on saving her legs for when we (hopefully) made the finals. Morgan and Eleanor would do the second race and be open to trying some breakaway tactics. 

 

With such short races and small fields, we came in with a plan for each race but knew we’d need to quickly adapt as each race unfolded. 

 

Squad Squirmish is a series of rapid-fire all-out slugfests. The races range from the 300-meter Downtown Short Sprint, where racers attack the segment four times, to the 1.9km Hilly Loop Hill Climb, where racers tackle the 57m ascent twice. 

 

What team will be left standing on the podium’s top step when the donnybrook is over, and all body blows have been thrown?

Race Prep—Zwift Grand Prix Women’s Round Three

    • 4:15 am: Wake up to my son whining “Mommm” in the hallway
    • 5:00 am: Work
    • 8:30 am: Breakfast for the family (oatmeal and berries) 
    • 9:30 am: Doctor Appointment
    • 10:30 am: Grocery Shopping
    • 11:15 am: Weigh In
    • 11:30 am: Lunch-(turkey sandwich, banana), and then prepare lunches for the rest of the family while I drink coffee, fill water bottles (one water, one Skratch Hydration mix) and play Yahtzee with the kids while I wait for the pens to open
    • 1:10 pm: Load Zwift, call into Zoom, try to figure out what exact time I race
    • 1:20 pm: Warm up, calibrate, cheer on teammates on Discord while I fan view
    • 1:30 pm: Race

Zwift Grand Prix Women’s Round Three—Squad Squirmish Format Overview

The qualification round is three different races that racers will run multiple times. The teams will divide their riders between races 1, 2, and 3. No more than two racers per team are permitted in each race, making the field sizes range from 12 to 24 riders. 

 

The racers will be waiting in the pens before the race starts, and only the racers chosen will leave so that racers won’t know their competition ahead of time. Racers must compete in the same race for the entire round.  

 

The top five teams progress to the final stage, where they begin the racer selection process again. A maximum of two riders per team compete in races 4, 5, and 6, and the races ride them once.

Zwift Grand Prix Women's qualifying races and routes

Qualifiers

Total Teams: 12 (12 X teams of 5)

● Race 1: Short Sprint ~300m – Repeated x 4 raced by Jenn Real

● Race 2: Medium Sprint 2.2km – Repeated x 2 raced by Morgan Uceny and Eleanor Wiseman

● Race 3Hill Climb 1.9km – Repeated x 2 raced by Anna Russell and myself

Zwift Grand Prix Women's race and routes

Finals

Total Teams: 5 (5 X teams of 5)

● Race 4: Long Sprint 9.4km raced by Eleanor Wiseman

● Race 5: Medium Sprint 2.7km raced by Anna Russell and Jenn Real

● Race 6Hill Climb 5.1km raced by Morgan Uceny and myself

Zwift Grand Prix Women's squad squeamish scoring

The Race—Zwift Grand Prix Women’s Round Three

Looking around in the pens, I saw it was full of some of the most elite women Zwifters, and I knew it was going to be a tough race. The roll off the start line was quite gentle by Zwift standards. But just a short bit later, Wahoo’s Lyndsey Cassie shot off the front. No one seemed too keen to chase hard, but I immediately knew that she was a legitimate threat to stay away solo to the finish.

 

Cassie had about 7 seconds at the base of the climb, so I knew it’d be tight to make the catch. No one seemed overly enthusiastic about pushing the pace at the front, so with about 350 meters to go, I decided to give it a go. Socks4 Watts’ Lou Bates blew by me and just barely caught Cassie on the line to take the win. I followed up in 3rd, about a second behind.

Zwift Grand Prix Women's Zwift avatar at finish line

After what seemed like a very long time later, it was time to go again. Cassie again tried to go early, but a couple of others and I quickly covered the move. Then Twenty 24’s Elena Wu-Yan got off the front momentarily before getting caught, and it was one big group when we hit the base of the climb.

 

We all stayed together for most of the climb until it was yet again Lou Bates who had a better kick than me to the line. I barely hung on for second with Twenty 24’s Kristin Kulchinsky just behind me. My teammate Anna Russell rode to an impressive 8th which did just enough to secure our spot in the final by 1 point!


After an excruciating long 45+ minute wait, it was my turn to race again. This time we’d roll out of the pens in Watopia through the rollers of Titans Grove before finishing up the Titans Grove Reverse climb.

 

It was Lyndsey Cassie who again went with an early attack, and Kulchinsky and Alice Lethbridge soon countered her. I hesitated, momentarily gave chase, and then backed off when the group was on me because I believed we’d make the catch as a pack.

 

This was a big mistake! I didn’t properly consider that there were now three teams with riders off the front. We also only started nine riders in total, so there was little incentive to push the pace in my group. My teammate Morgan Uceny did for a while, but it soon became clear that the front three would stay away to the finish.

 

Kulchinsky took the win with Cassie right behind her, and Lethbridge followed up in 3rd.

Zwift Grand Prix Women's race avatars on Zwift

Back in my group, yet again, no one seemed keen to push the pace on the lower slopes of the kom. Near the finish, it was a similar situation to the earlier races, with Bates narrowingly outkicking me at the line. I barely held off Wahoo’s Zoe Langham with my teammate Morgan Uceny not too far behind.

Results—Zwift Grand Prix Women’s Round Three

Zwift Grand Prix Women's final points

We didn’t have the greatest final 3 races, but it was a success for our team to make it into the finals. We were proud to come away with 5th place on the day!

Zwift Grand Prix Women's overall standings

After 3 weeks, we are also 5th in the series standings. The points are still tight, so we’re optimistic we can keep moving up the leaderboard!

Check out Liz’s Strava for the qualifying races here, and here, and the final can be found here.

Liz’s ZwiftPower is here.

A replay of the Race Stream can be found here.

Post Race—Impressions and Takeaways

I was fairly pleased with both my personal and our team performance this week. We made a pretty big comeback in the second set of races to make it into the finals. That was a huge accomplishment! 

I did decently well in the first two races up the Hilly KOM forward and just got out-punched by Lou Bates each time. That came down to me not having the legs to overcome her.  

The finals race was a huge tactical blunder in my failure to commit to following the breakaway. I would make a much different decision next time. Perhaps my chasing would have brought the whole field back together again, but I know that came down to poor judgment, not a lack of power. So we will learn from that and move on!

My overwhelming feeling after this race was that it was far too long of a time period to keep the entertainment value high for fans and to keep the hype level high for the racers. The entire broadcast was over 2 hours, but I personally raced for less than 15 minutes. This is absolutely absurd, in my opinion. 

I had no idea when each of my individual races was, and it was challenging to watch my teammates in between each of mine. Then I had to wait over 45 minutes from my last race in the first round to the finals race. 

This whole series has been marketed as a team event, where every person matters and counts towards the overall score. And while I understand this, and it does indeed play out in that fashion, the actual racing feels the furthest thing from a team effort. We are largely racing on our own, and I wish we could actually use the strength of a team to race as a team.

Maybe we should have done the first rounds only once instead of multiple times? Then all of the teams that made it into the finals just do one race with everybody racing together to determine the final placings? I’m not sure what the perfect answer is, but I know that the format, as it was raced, was far from ideal.

What’s Next—Round 4 Points Elimination Reverse Date men: 18th November Date women: 25th November

Did you enjoy the race and the report?

What did you think of the new format? There’s a lot to unravel. Comment below. Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know.

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