Last week we took a deep dive into power data from the men’s Virtual Tour of the Gila, a three-day Zwift stage race presented by Project Echelon won by Gavin Dempster (Saris + The Pro’s Closet). Occurring simultaneously was the women’s Virtual Tour of the Gila, a race that was even more explosive and exciting than the men’s.
73 riders made up a star-studded field of nine teams including Team TIBCO-SVB, Team Infinite p/b Saris, TWENTY20 Pro Cycling, and the USA National Team.
Stage 1 kicked off with a 22.5km Team Time Trial around the Sand and Sequoias course, while Stage 2 headed into the hills for a 70km Circuit Race, and Stage 3 finished atop the Epic KOM of Watopia.
In this column, we dive into the numbers behind the stage and GC podium finishers of the women’s Virtual Tour of the Gila.
Stage 1: Sand and Sequoias team time trial (22.5km)
The Virtual Tour of the Gila began with one lap around Watopia’s Sand and Sequoias loop – 10km of flat roads followed by the Titans Grove climb, then a quick series of rollers before descending towards a fast finish. Zwift physics is often criticized for being unrealistic, but the TTT dispels such myths. The fastest teams are those whose riders take short, monster pulls (~7-7.5w/kg for the men; ~6-6.5w/kg for the women) to keep their team’s speed around 31 mph (50 kph), and then slot back into a single-file line AKA The Pain Train.
Teams who distribute the workload evenly and follow a tight formation are rewarded for their efforts, as we can see in the final results from Stage 1.
TIBCO-SVB won Stage 1 in a time of 30:34, nearly 30 seconds clear of second-place Team Infinite p/b Saris, and 45 seconds ahead of bronze medalists TWENTY20 Pro Cycling. A quick look at the numbers tells only part of the story – TIBCO-SVB were the strongest and therefore deserving winners – while a closer look reveals the value of practice and technique when it comes to the Zwift team time trials.
Sarah Gigante (TIBCO-SVB) – stage 1 team time trial:
Average power: 252w (5.3w/kg)
Peak 5 min power: 5.8w/kg
19-year-old Gigante threw down some massive watts in the TTT, which should be no surprise coming from the 2020 Elite Australian National Time Trial Champion. Her teammates, Kristen Faulkner and Lauren Stephens (TIBCO-SVB), put in big performances as well, averaging 290 W (4.7w/kg) and 274 (4.9w/kg), respectively. As seen in last week’s power analysis, you can clearly see when Gigante hits the front, holding around 300w (6.4w/kg) for up to a minute at a time. As TIBCO-SVB approaches the final kilometers, Gigante spends even more time on the front, averaging an incredible 5.9w/kg for the last three minutes.
Gigante – final 2.3km of team time trial:
Average power: 276w (5.8w/kg)
The second place on the day was Team Infinite p/b Saris. Only one rider on the indoor specialist squad, Canadian Megan Rathwell, averaged over 4.6w/kg, in stark contrast to teams who finished far below them – Katheryn Curi, Cara O’Neill, and Maddy Ward (Amy D Foundation), for example, averaged 5.0w/kg, 4.8w/kg, and 4.6w/kg respectively, yet finished nearly a minute behind Team Infinite p/b Saris. So how did the indoor specialists do it?
Rathwell – stage 1 team time trial:
Average power: 239w (4.9w/kg)
Jenn Real, rider and manager of Team Infinite p/b Saris, said that prior to the race, the team researched the most efficient method for drafting and the fastest bikes, raced a Zwift team time trial for practice, and even did a full course recon. Their attention to detail certainly paid off, giving Team Infinite p/b Saris the second spot on the podium.
Third across the line was TWENTY20 Pro Cycling, 16 seconds behind Team Infinite p/b Saris. When recounting her first-ever team time trial, real or virtual, Shayna Powless (TWENTY20 Pro Cycling) stressed communication as another key to team time trial success, saying, “We made sure to communicate with each other on when each of us decided to take 30-second, 1-minute, or 0-second pulls depending on how we were feeling. The person at the front would also give a ten-second count down for the person behind them so that we each knew when the next person’s turn to pull was coming up.” TWENTY20 Pro Cycling’s smooth strategy and constant communication was the glue that held them together en route to a third-place in stage 1.
Powless – stage 1 team time trial:
Average power: 264w (4.2w/kg)
Stage 2: Big Foot Hills Circuit Race (70km)
Five climbs would decimate the field on stage 2 of the women’s Virtual Tour of the Gila, and it was the first climb of the day, Titans Grove, that would do the most damage. TIBCO-SVB went over the top of TWENTY20 Pro Cycling just before the QOM, and launched a coordinated team attack which split the field with over 57km to go. Stephens was instrumental in the effort, hitting her peak five-minute power of the race on the climb, and leaving less than 20 riders left in contention at the front of the race.
Stephens – Titans Grove stage 2:
Average power: 298w (5.3w/kg)
Final 1km of climb: 366 (6.6w/kg)
Next up was the Watopia KOM where Faulkner and TIBCO-SVB continued to drive the pace as chase groups scrambled to get back on terms.
Faulkner – Watopia KOM stage 2:
Average power: 405w (6.5w/kg)
The front group split in two as the riders crested the Watopia KOM, and TWENTY20 missed the split, leaving just 12 riders left – including most of TIBCO-SVB – at the front of the race. Both the leaders and chase groups continued to press on as they approached the third climb of the day, the Volcano Climb. But up the climb and for the next 40km, attacks came few and far between. A few riders attempted solo moves but they were short-lived. The next serious attacks came on the final climb of the day: the Watopia Reverse KOM.
Anna Russell (Team Infinite p/b Saris) took the lead as the road pitched up, but as the gradient hit its 10 percent peak, it is Stephens who came over the top and put in a huge dig to split the group with 5km to go.
Stephens– Watopia Reverse KOM stage 2:
Average power: 306w (5.5w/kg)
Peak 1-minute power: 402 (7.2w/kg)
Just seven riders were left at the front of the race, but as the cat-and-mouse games continued into the final kilometers, a small chase group caught back on and went straight over the top of the leaders. Chaos ensued, and suddenly, there was only 1km to go. The group reshuffled as riders approached the final sprint, Andrea Ramirez (Agolico-BMC) jumps early, catching everyone off-guard and immediately opened up a gap. But out of the field came Stephens, shot out of a cannon with less than 200m to go. Stephens blows by Ramirez at 12w/kg and took Stage 2 after a thrilling final sprint.
Stephens – Final sprint stage 2:
Average power: 643w (11.5w/kg)
Max power: 745w (13.4w/kg)
Stage 3: Medio Fondo Road Race (73.5km)
The Epic KOM of Watopia beckoned as riders began the final stage of the Virtual Tour of the Gila. At 9.5km long, the Epic KOM would decide both the stage and final GC, but there was plenty of climbing to tackle before the snow-capped climb. First was the Reverse Watopia KOM, which split the field down to 40 or so riders with over 60km still to go.
The lead group stayed mostly intact over the course of the next 45km, with the major players choosing to save their matches until the final climb. Now comprised of 28 riders, the lead group hit the lower slopes of the Epic KOM, and it was Gigante who was the first to attack. Hitting out at 6w/kg, the young Australian immediately built up a 15-second lead over the chasers behind. After the race, Gigante said, “I attacked on the steepest section, right at the start of the climb. From then on, it was a matter of embracing the pain and trying to keep the watts up as high as possible.”
Gigante – Epic KOM initial attack stage 2
Average power: 281w (5.9w/kg)
As Gigante extended her lead to over 30 seconds, Ramirez shot out of the field with Gigante’s teammate, Lauren Stephens, on her wheel. Stephens sat on the Mexican rider’s wheel, but it was no easy feat. The American produced her best five-minute power of the race here, at 5.5w/kg. Gigante, Ramirez, and Stephens continued to plow ahead at 5.5-6w/kg as the chase group faded into the background.
Gigante hit the final 1km kick to the line with 22 seconds over the Ramirez-Stephens duo. After saving energy in the draft for the last 7km, Stephens attacked Ramirez at over 10w/kg and immediately opened a gap. While devastating to the Agolico-BMC rider, Stephen’s attack wasn’t quite enough to catch Gigante, who finished off an incredible solo performance by winning atop the Epic KOM. TIBCO-SVB managed a GC podium sweep with Kristen Faulkner taking fourth on the final stage, and third on the final GC podium.
Gigante – Epic KOM stage 3
Peak 20 minutes power: 269w (5.6w/kg)
Final 2 minutes: 295w (6.1w/kg)
Stephens – Epic KOM stage 3
Average power: 282w (5.1w/kg)
Final 1 minute: 440w (7.9w/kg)
Gigante’s eye-popping performance is further confirmation that the 2020 Australian Elite Time Trial Champion is a special talent. Whether the road is real or virtual, Sarah Gigante is one to watch.
Zwift, Zwift Power, and World Tactical Racing Leagues (WTRL) helped organize and police the Virtual Tour of the Gila, ensuring that rider data and subsequent results are as accurate as possible. Special thanks for all of their hard work.