Today was another edition in our “Race Smarter not Harder” series where we practiced the art of bridging. And, yes, it is an art.
Before we get into the ride, let’s talk about racing smarter. As new racers, just as in rock climbing, we tend to rely on our perceived superiority in terms of fitness or strength, and that works until you move out of the CAT 5 ranks or up to the Cs or Bs in Zwift. Suddenly, riders who clearly can’t match your strength or fitness level hang with you and then beat you in the last 200 meters. Soon, you start getting really aggravated and begin launching multiple attacks well above your FTP, yet that same rider just sits there in sixth wheel until the end of the race, where he/she pips you at the line… again. You get more aggressive, and then you suddenly are getting dropped from the lead bunch because you are out of gas from the constant attacks.
What went wrong? Your FTP is higher than ever. Your body fat is in the single digits. Your leg muscles ripple like Peter Sagan’s. Yet that chubby old guy keeps linking you.
That’s because the chubby, old guy races with his brain and not his ego.
This leads us directly into a discussing of bridging. Last week we worked on responding to attacks by playing the crack the whip game. Responding to attacks is an important skill, but do you need to respond to every attack? How many of those efforts do you have in your legs, and will you be able to finish the race off if you cover every move? The answer is no–you probably do not have to respond to every attack.
So what happens if we don’t follow an attack, and a break forms or we lose a small group off of the front? That’s where the ability to bridge comes into play. The reason I call bridging an art is because you need to combine a feel for the race, knowledge of the course and other riders, and rolling calculus into your decision-making process. On the fly, you have to determine how hard you need to go for how long to cross a fluctuating gap. Oh, by the way, you have to ensure that you don’t gas yourself so much that you reach your target group too tired to hang with them or respond to any accelerations. It is demoralizing to bridge to a group only to get dropped immediately.
For today’s SkillZ and DrillZ, we practiced crossing gaps of various distances to a rider holding a variety of power levels. Like responding to attacks, it is important to not overshoot your target unless you plan on attacking immediately. For our purposes, though, we wanted to bridge and then sit on the group to recover.
With the help of TeamODZ member Justin L., we set up the exercise. Justin launched a ten second hard attack, dropped to 3.0 w/kg for 30 seconds, and settled at 2.0 w/kg until a group formed on him. During the first iteration, the group was slow to respond when given the green light to bridge. That made for a much longer effort than was planned, but it worked out. After a regrouping, we repeated the exercise but with Justin getting a bigger gap. This time it worked much better, with the biggest improvement being the reduction in the number of riders going into the orange during the bridge.
As we talked about earlier, bridging is about managing your effort. Going into the orange (referring to your w/kg numbers going orange in Zwift) means that you just lit a match. How long you hold that effort determines how many matches you burned from your finite book of matches. Therefore, you only want to go as hard as needed to cross the gap.
IRL racing is a little harder to judge, but Zwift gives you near perfect information regarding the gap to cross and the effort of the riders you are chasing. I say “near perfect” because you cannot see how much they are suffering or if they have a Black & Decker hooked up to the trainer.
The final bridging exercise was an individual effort. Judging how people were responding on previous efforts, I decided to not send everyone all at once to bridge the gap. Instead, I made the riders wait until I called their respective names or messaged them. I sent the riders who were not as high on the power scale first, and the hammerheads last. What that did was create a much bigger gap for the stronger riders to cover than the other riders. During the previous exercises, the time gap was rarely over 20 seconds, so the bridge was not substantial. However, in the last iteration, the gap got to well over a minute for the later bridgers. By the time we all got back together, some of the later riders really understood the importance of dosing out the effort rather than going orange early.
After about 45 minutes, while we were wrapping up, one of the riders asked if we could go for the forward sprint. Being the gracious host that I am, I gave my consent… with a caveat. We would start our sprint from inside the village, rather than at the sprint line. Besides just enjoying adding a little torture to the mix, I wanted to reiterate a point from an SDR a few weeks ago: starting the sprint early can be a very bad thing. That nice long sprint put some pain in peoples’ legs, and the lactic acid caused many to sit up well before the sprint banner. Lesson learned.
Next week, we will have something special for the group, so make sure you attend. Until then, Ride On!