by Liz Van Houweling
Zwift Grand Prix Women’s Round Five Race Report by Liz Van Houweling!
Zwift Grand Prix Women’s Round Five—Team Elimination Omniium Overview
The stakes are higher than ever for the teams and racers competing in the Zwift Grand Prix Round Five—Team Elimination Omnium. If the racers aren’t at the top of their games, they will be sitting in the infield looking out at the elite field, victims of this relentless three-race format taking place on Zwift’s Makuri Island.
The twelve teams will throw their five best riders into the ring for race one. The points race on the 14.5km Bridges and Boardwalks course will reduce the field to 30, entering race two.
Race two, another points race, will be contested on the 15.7km Island Hopper course, awarding points to riders at three intermediate sprints and the finish.
Twelve racers advance to the third and final contest, another slugfest up the Innsbruck Continental Hill Climb. Only the strongest climbers will survive and earn max points; the accumulated tally for the three races will determine the overall standings.
Race Prep—Zwift Grand Prix Women’s Round Five
Five weeks into this new racing format, we’re becoming more accustomed to the innovative rules and unique challenges of each week.
With the world championships being a three-race elimination style race, this week, in particular, was essential preparation for that. I want to do well as an individual and a team in these Grand Prix races, but I mostly want to use them as excellent training tools to test myself against the best esports women.
The men experienced some problems with people missing from results in the first two races last week. Zwift believed this was due to them occurring on the new roads of Yumezi. Therefore, we received last-minute notice that the courses for races 1 and 2 would change to Yorkshire and Richmond. I had done my recon on one of the previous Yumezi courses. Still, I certainly wasn’t going to complain about the more rolling courses that should theoretically suit a punchy rider like me.
My Saris NoPinz team thought the new courses should also help us since we don’t have a lot of pure sprinters. We’re fighting for 5th place on the season, knowing only the top 5 move through to the finals in March. With only two races left, we knew this would be important!
Unfortunately, we lost some firepower with Morgan Uceny and Anna Russell being unavailable to race this week. Thank goodness we got two strong riders, Em Nyquist and Georgeta Ungureanu, to fill in! We didn’t come in with a ton of strategy, but we all knew it would be crucial to advance as many riders to race two as possible.
My goal was to conserve as much as possible in races 1 and 2 and then see what I had left for a final giant climb in race 3.
Pre-Race—Zwift Grand Prix Women’s Round Five
I did a real warm-up before this race (not something I usually do) because I knew the Yorkshire course starts with a sustained, gradual climb, and I’d need to be ready to put in a significant effort early potentially. The constant rolling nature of Yorkshire means you must be prepared physically for work and remain constantly attentive.
We got on our team Discord about 10 min before the race and shared some light-hearted chit-chat. Our focus is primarily on having fun and enjoying these races, which helps relieve the pressure for me! Once in the pens, I just tried to stay relaxed despite the high level of competition surrounding me.
I felt I was in a good place mentally and physically and was ready for some excitement!
Here's My Pre-Race Schedule
- 4:45 am: wake up
- 5-9:30 am: Work
- 9:45 am: Breakfast Oatmeal and berries
- 10-11 am: Read books and play UNO with the kiddos
- 11:15 am: Weigh In
- 11:30 am: Eat lunch (Turkey sandwich, banana, peanut butter biscuit), drink coffee, prepare bottles and food for on the bike, play with the kids
- 12:30-1 pm: Warm up and eat a stroopwaffel (because they are so darn good)
- 1-1:15 pm: Call into Zoom/Discord, enter pens, start dual recording, breathe!!
- 1:15 pm: RACE TIME
Pre-Race—Zwift Grand Prix Women’s Round Five
The race started off fairly mellow until Toyoto-Cryo’s Louise Gamst made a strong move off the front on the first uphill drag. The rest of the field stayed together, and we made the catch shortly before the QOM.
Then it was an all-out push up the 2-ish minute hill with Wahoo Le Col’s Zoe Langham taking top points over the top. I tried to conserve as much as possible while remaining somewhat close. After a slightly longer push on the downhill to regain contact, I was again safely in the front group, now reduced to about 22.
At this point, I knew that if no one else caught on, I was safely through to the next race. I rolled through the finish line in 19th with Aeonian’s world champion Loes Adegeest showing her form is returning and taking the win.
Unfortunately, the rest of my Saris NoPinz teammates could not stay in touch on the brutal forward QOM, and we failed to qualify anyone else through to race 2.
I could have been more aggressive going for segment and finish line points, but I was happy with my decision to attempt to save energy. I had one of the lowest w/kg in the entire field.
Yorkshire KOM Forward- 2:08, 381 watts, 6.8w/kg
Entire Race- 20:27, 250 watts normalized power, 209 watts average power 3.7w/kg
This race started more aggressively than race 1. With two flat sprints coming first, I knew that some girls would attempt to draw out these efforts. Wahoo’s constantly attacking Lyndsey Cassie shot out hard at the start, with some other aggressors following, so I put in some effort to move to the front and help close down the gap. No one seemed willing to let a break go that early and long.
Monument Ave Sprint
Everything settled for the next few kilometers until it was Wahoo on the attack again. They put Cassie, Langham, and Lizi Brooke in a move off the front with only Aeonian’s Arielle Verhaaren able to latch on.
I saw the move and recognized it as very dangerous, so I attempted to bridge with Twenty 24’s Kristen Kulchinsky on my wheel. Eventually, the peloton caught us, so I resigned to let the first sprint attempt go with four up the road.
Broad St Sprint
I again sat in the field and tried to recover before the Broad St. sprint. Cassie lost out on a qualifying spot in the first sprint (only the top 3 go through), but she managed to maintain her strong effort, and it became apparent she was going to make it through on the next one. That left only two spots for the remaining riders in the peloton.
I’m not even exactly sure what happened, but everybody started jumping very early for this sprint. I quickly decided to wait again and hoped the pure power test up Libby, and 23rd St. would be better for me.
I put in a decent effort to stay close and had to keep pushing through the banner but again regained contact to the front. Riders continued to rejoin as we all recovered and prepared for an assault on Libby and 23rd St. hills.
We took it pretty easy until we hit the real pitches of this climb. I focused on staying in the draft in the lower, less severe grades and hoped to make my move closer to the top. Kulchinsky set a strong pace on the front with everyone else right behind. I was maybe slightly too far back when we hit the cobbled section, but I continued to move through the field as we climbed the steeper bits.
Adegeest put in a massive move near the top to easily take down the top spot. I continued to push, but only managed 5th over the top. The field was completely shattered so I knew I had a good chance to make it if I kept pushing.
I recovered in a small group as best I could on the downhill after Libby. Kulchinsky and I rode up the next hill together, passing her teammate Emily Ehrlich. That put us in the top 2 positions, which led me to believe I was safely through to the final race.
At the last second, Movistar’s Sonie Ciecel came flying through to pass us both on the line (I still have no idea where she came from!)
Kulchinsky and I rolled through in 2nd and 3rd to secure our spot. Phew, that was close!
Libby Hill- 1:16, 390 watts
23rd St- 34 sec, 424 watts
Entire Race- 20:55, 274 normalized power, 207 average power, 3.7 w/kg
Race Three and the Finish—Zwift Grand Prix Women’s Round Five
I had accomplished my goal of making it to the final race. At times I questioned my sanity in having such a strong desire to put myself through this miserable climb, which is NOT my strength. But I was happy to have made the selection in the top 12 and be able to test myself against the best esports racers.
Wahoo had managed to qualify all five riders through to the finals. A truly remarkable feat! It was no surprise they attacked again early, even before we got to the climb. Brooke ended up with over a minute before we even hit the base of the official climb. I was not worried about her and wanted to focus on staying with the group as long as possible.
I sat “comfortably” in the group for a couple of kilometers, but it eventually became too much. The front pushed 6w/kg up an extended steep section, and I watched them slowly ride away. I tried to keep the pressure on and use it as a good training session. My less-than-ideal gearing and shattered legs saw me laboring slowly up the mountain.
I ended up in 11th, over 2 minutes behind Brooke, who took the win, and 1.5 minutes behind the group winners with whom I had started the climb.
I was initially a bit disheartened to have not had the desired result. I was quickly able to change my mindset, though. I made it to race three and gave my best effort. I will never be a pure climber, but I know I have a lot of room to improve in this area. I’m excited to focus more of my training on this aspect and see what I can do.
Zwift Worlds KOM reverse-20:10, 241 watts 4.3w/kg
Entire Race-32:31, 230 watts normalized power, 212 watts average power, 3.8w/kg
Results—Zwift Grand Prix Women’s Round Five
Saris NoPinz ended up in 8th for this week’s race. We could not qualify multiple riders out of race 1, which significantly hurt us. However, we are still 6th in the series, with 5th place only 6 points ahead. There is still hope that with a strong showing in the final race, we can bump ourselves up to 5th and qualify for the team finals.
Post Race—Impressions and Takeaways
I am still adapting to the three-race elimination style format. I have some work to do to improve for these attritional races, especially with the world championships being in the same form. Overall I was happy to have made it into the final 12 and ride as efficiently as I did.
1.5 hours of actual racing and 2.5 hours on the bike is a lot! One of the things that drew me to esports was the short nature of the races. I understand the attempt to make esports a unique discipline. These races genuinely bring out the most well-rounded riders. But as a mother of two young kids and a husband who works full time, it can be challenging to dedicate a large chunk of focused time to these races.
I understand not everyone is in this position, but that’s my opinion. Overall I did enjoy the racing and am happy with my progression. Our team is still fighting for 5th to make the team finals, so there is much to look forward to in the last race in January!
Special Thank You
To my husband, Ryan, for continually supporting my riding nowhere dreams and helping wrangle the monsters—I mean children!
To my coach, Alex Coh, for preparing me mentally and physically for these tough challenges. (https://endurancesport.fi)
And to my Saris NoPinz team for sharing in the pain and making it seem almost fun.
Whats Next- Round 6 Individual Relay
Men's Race- January 13th 2023
Women's Race- January 20th 2023
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.
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!