[TLDR? Don’t worry about it. You wouldn’t get it anyway.]
I have managed to stay away from this forum for a couple of weeks. Busy riding outdoors among other things, we will come to that later. But coming back here I felt like posting something more positive for a change, because when I think of it I probably haven’t written a single positive post in this subforum for the last two years. (Well, maybe one or two half-positive ones.) So on a more positive note I wanted to make an exception, just this once, and say something about the things in Zwift that I love rather than just rehashing the things I hate. I’d like to talk about Zwift and beauty.
A cat A rider stops to chat to a cat D rider just past the arch at the top of Alpe du Zwift:
-Hah! Did you see that? I do this climb twice as fast as you, fatty!
-Yes, I saw. I am very impressed and I envy your strength. But have you considered this: I climbed all the way here without giving up, suffering just the same as you, only for twice as long.
That is the beauty of perceived effort and the threshold, as established by, among others, legendary psychophysics professor Gunnar Borg, who passed last year. He is known, above all, for the so-called Borg scale, a 20 point self-assessment scale for perceived effort during physical labor. Such as cycling. Or just getting up the stairs if you have a heart problem and are taken in for assessment and examination at a heart clinic.
Each segment of the scale corresponds to a perception of your effort - how do you feel right now? Which corresponds very closely to various behavioral signs and bodily symptoms of varying stages of exertion and fatigue. Which correspond very closely to a heart rate zone and use of certain energy systems in the body. And there is surprisingly little variation, surprisingly few differences between one individual and the next, when it comes to what a hard effort feels like or how hard an effort feels like in relation to the level of strain on the body. We all experience it surprisingly similarly in spite of our differences.
I wrote this in flight mode on the mobile to pass time on the plane back from a cycling trip to Mallorca. That’s a fantastic place for people like us. If I could choose the next world in Zwift it would be Mallorca hands down as that island has everything you could ask for in road cycling, only without ever overdoing it so to speak. Take the climbs for example. They are everything you would like a climb to be but still never too long. It would all fit nicely into Zwift and the average zwifter’s user behavior.
But when you go to Mallorca to ride a bike, or to some other sunny place, you might still get suckered in to buy a sightseeing ticket. There is nothing wrong with that. There are things to see there after all and some of them are better seen off the bike.
And so they put you on a bus together with a bunch of total strangers. The bus then stops in various places. In front of some cathedral for example. There is always a cathedral in there at some point if you are sightseeing continental Europe. All of you strangers get off and look at the cathedral. But your experiences of the cathedral won’t be the same.
The group of traveling friends are mostly focused on themselves. ”Hey, stand together now! Let me take a picture of you all in front of the portal.” The art connoisseur couple goes ooohh and aaahh at the masonry and artwork in the cathedral. The elderly history buff is swept away by the building’s context, by standing on historical ground. The pious might get a strong religious experience inside. Maybe you yourself mostly just notice how hard but still nicely cool the pews are against your sore butt. And then it’s time to get on the bus again. You all entered the cathedral different. You leave still different. You will all recollect the experience differently. There is nothing wrong in that. Just stating the facts.
You come home from your cycling vacation and sign up to a group workout in Zwift. Better keep it up now. Again you get tossed into a fruit salad of total strangers. There is the female elite triathlete, the out-of-shape newbie, the tired dad hoping the kids will let him sit through the ride, all of it this time, and so on.
And once the workout kicks off and you move into the next interval, all of you will suffer exactly the same and at exactly the same time. Perceived effort. Shared experience.
Right before the final set the 55 year old woman in the group spurs on a 25 year old male. “Come on, you can do it!” In the spindown a real-life amateur racer comments to a somewhat overweight newbie: ”Man, that was tough!” Everyone just had a truly shared experience. You all came in different but you were all in it together, experiencing it the same. Isn’t there something very serene and beautiful about it?
Is a group workout in Zwift somehow better than sightseeing a cathedral? No, of course not. They’re both alright. But the shared experience happens to be one of the most beautiful things I know in Zwift. Every spinning class in history has tried to recreate the shared experience and failed. But Zwift gets it right, just right. Every time. It’s beautiful.
Is the shared experience fair? No, you couldn’t put it that way. The group workout isn’t a competition. Fair doesn’t enter into it. But maybe you could call the group workout… egalitarian? Because the shared experience is rooted in the fact that all of us zwifters - man, woman, black, white, etc - are all limited as well as empowered by our human body. On Earth. In Watopia. We are different but still so very similar. And the group workout points that out to us and brings us together.
Now to something completely different. I am sure you have heard about the Zwift gods. No, it’s not just a rumour. It’s all true. They actually exist. There is a pantheon of Zwift gods in Watopia and they live in their mystical golden palace on a snowy peak above Epic KOM. See if you can catch a glimpse of the glinting palace roof next time you do the climb really really hard.
Up there you have the bull headed sprinter g0d, the feather footed g0d of climbing, the goddess protecting and furthering the cause of all female riders on the roads, you have the iron fisted g0d who can ride any route in Watopia at lightning speed by the sheer use of his hands and arms, and all the others. Mostly they stay up there and feast, sweet ambrosia flowing endlessly from their divine bidons, but from time to time they descend on us and sit on our wheels and watch. Sometimes they might even give us a little draft. I am sure you have felt their presence too at times.
We all pay tribute to the Zwift gods in sweat and show our devotion to them through our suffering. In their eyes we are all equal. But there is a corrupted area that does not please them. The racing. It is where brothers and sisters turn on each other. It shouldn’t be that way.
You should always do your worst in a race. Anything else would be belittling and disrespectful to your opponent. But a race has to be fair or you are not given the chance to be happy for your superiors when they beat you to the finish line. People just grow resentment instead. Fair is the same as egalitarian in a racing context. Equal opportunities. You don’t favor one in front of the other. You favor all. Or none, and then let them suffer through together. But our races are still not fair and this is a sacrilege. Zwift racing should be a temple and a sacred rite in celebration of cycling. Hence the Zwift gods are wroth. Woe unto us.
Speaking of fair and betterment, I met a guy on a mountain in Mallorca the other day. He looked awfully familiar somehow. He looked just like… an old colleague? Someone I studied together with? No, someone else. Some other context probably. And there was something familiar about how his relatively small sunglasses sat on his gaunt face. You know, a bit like how you could easily spot Geraint Thomas in a full peloton just from his glasses and how they sit on his nose bridge.
Anyway, you should greet a fellow rider, right? It’s cycling etiquette. Only it’s a tricky custom when you meet so many cyclists all day long as in Mallorca. It’s a coin toss for me. Greet when it seems appropriate? I still get it wrong half the time. So should I greet this guy? I greeted him. And he just gave me The Look…
I realized only later who that guy looked like. Or should I say who he in fact was. It was Lance! He was on the island. Later that night I happened to notice that a day or so previously he made a live podcast from Mallorca and brought another notorious cheater and, similarly, later confessor to the portside outdoor ”studio.” He had brought one of his worst former competitors, The Terminator, Jan Ullrich. It turns out, or so the story went, that Lance recently played a part in saving the life of Ullrich, who was about to kill himself through a long alcohol and drug addiction just like Pantani. Now Ullrich was clean and he was even back on the bike since a few weeks for the first time since he quit the business surrounded by the doping scandal. He was back in the saddle for fun and good health this time.
So how do you approach Lance these days? Worship him as the greatest cyclist ever, oblivious to the hard facts, blinded by his former dazzling aura? Hate him for all eternity for his past offences and all the damage he caused? Or is there a third road and a chance for redemption somehow?
I personally feel it must be possible for someone to make an honest attempt to start making good instead, at least sometimes. I find it hard to have faith at times but there has to be hope or we can all just pack up and leave.
And there has to be hope that you can wash the grime off Zwift racing and make it as shiny and beautiful as the rest of Zwift. As beautiful as it deserves to be.