The Pretzel - Cycling Aviator

16th Jan 2017

It was my standby week for work again this week, damn that comes around quick, and what with the weather being cold, icy and generally icky I was more than happy to play the ‘structured training’ card and remain the relative comfort of the pain cave. With that in mind I set myself a challenge of completing the Watopia Pretzel course on Sunday. Watopia being the fictional island on which a lot of my virtual riding takes place and The Pretzel being the toughest course it has to offer. Simply put, it covers every part of the island in both directions meaning that you climb the main mountain, twice, once from each direction. It’s 45 miles and a good portion of that is considerably uphill to achieve a total climb of around 4500ft. Now although in reality I wont have moved an inch, the way the technology works on my trainer set up means the resistance alters depending on gradient so you know you’ve gone up that mountain. The ascent to the tower is particularly tough, fortunately it’s only done on the forward lap.

During the week I just did some short structured workouts and a couple of social rides as I didn’t want to be starting off with heavy legs. I even shifted my gym schedule around so I wouldn’t be ‘doing legs’ at the weekend. Not that I’ve been bitten by the Zwift bug and taking it at all seriously!

The Shed of Sweat and Pain has had it’s new foam floor fitted now and the air conditioner rigged up in anticipation of warmer spring weather as I foresee the trainer having year round use, i.e. it still rains in the summer and it’s a lot easier to fit a worthwhile training session in an hour on the turbo than going for a ride outside where traffic lights, and traffic for that matter, get in the way of any set intervals.

Water bottles filled, fan powered up and decent bib shorts worn I set off on my journey to nowhere. I expected to stop at some point as there was no way I’d do the whole course without a bladder comfort break and that has to be done in the real world rather than Watopia.

As you’ll see from the profile above, the first climb comes pretty quick into the ride and as I’ve only ever been to the summit of the Watopia mountain once, I didn’t have much to go on as to pacing myself. I just tried to keep a steady pace and not get sucked into chasing someone overtaking me. I’ve noticed even on the lesser gradients that the difference in effort required to increase your speed by one or two mph is noticeable, and certainly not sustainable by me over 8 miles of constantly defying gravity. This holds true in the real world also. That said, I bettered my previous time to the top by nearly 10 minutes, albeit my previous time was on a group ride designed for mountain novices.

Feeling I’d probably over done it too early on, the doubt was already creeping in as I slowly ground up to the tower, where the actual summit is as opposed to the mountain climb segment that ends near the tower turn off. This bit was seriously hard work and it was easy to ignore people passing as half the time my eyes were shut. It took just over an hour to get to the very top and a little under ten minutes to descend to other side. Unlike the real world where you would be free from peddling and feathering the brakes to a speed you were comfortable with, you have to still pedal, albeit with little power. You do have the luxury of making turns at speed that defy physics and it is a testament to the immersive nature of Zwift that you find yourself trying to lean the bike or going for a brake when neither has any effect. Unsurprisingly it’s also odd when you ride through someone.

Back down at virtual sea level it was a matter of keeping a nice easy going pace for a bit of recovery as I was still a little doubtful of my ability to get back up that mountain a second time, especially as the descent had shown that the gradients were steeper. After a while though, my strength returned and I found myself having to hold back on the lower hills and sprints. Soon enough a couple of hours after I had started and 30 miles to the good I found myself at the bottom of Watopia peak once again. This seemed as good a time as any to stop and take a comfort break, which turned into a coffee stop. One of the pleasures of cycling is stopping for coffee so once again the virtual and real world collided with good effect. One americano and flapjack later I set off for the final assault. I’m not sure how much help the caffeine and sugar gave on the final 15 miles but the climb was tough, really tough, and thankfully the Pretzel course doesn’t revisit the tower on the return leg. Good job as I’m really not sure I’d have made it. Once again, just like the real world, the descent was over way too quickly and the lower hills that previously felt quite easy after the the initial mountain climb were a struggle this time around. And the less said about the sprint, the better.

Three hours and eight minutes of riding, plus twenty minutes spent in Cafe Casa, I crossed the line to complete the Watopia Pretzel to a fanfare of, well, nothing really. I’m not sure what I was expecting but underwhelming barely covers it. There was a sense of achievement though, as there was a couple of weeks back when I clocked up a 100 miles of sit bone torture, but at least you got a congratulations banner and unlocked another in game reward for that.

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