Allow me to opine for a moment about the execution of stage 4 of ToW. First, let’s spill my bias… I absolutely loathe all things gravel on Zwift. For those who didn’t quite catch that in the back, I would typically rather crank my weight up to 200 kg and Everest Alpe du Zwift than ride gravel routes. Yes, I understand that eliminates a sizeable portion of the routes on Watopia and Makuri, but I have reconciled with that, and I am content to ignore those parts of the worlds.
Now, despite my visceral repugnance, I decided to temporarily cast aside my exceptionally rational hatred for this week, to embrace the ToW Stage 4. After all, it’s hard to argue against Zwift series group rides for their ample availability and the convenience of being able to jump on a group ride nearly any time I please and ride whatever pace I want while stealing a little free speed. To make the best of it, I thought I would add a little more intrigue, by using a portion of my obnoxious quantity of drops, to play with some of the newer off-road equipment. So, Sunday I visited the Drop Shop, and spent in excess of one million drops on the Specialized Crux and Cadex wheels knowing I would use them for the whole week and can have them at hand for any future campaigns/events. It’s not like I’ll ever run out at this point…
Fast forward to this evening, I was ready to go. I figured I may as well see how the equipment fared on multiple terrains, so I cued up my Crux in the pen and proceeded to choke on humble pie for 18 km taking a 55 watt penalty (~1 W/KG). Such is life, at least I know now that the thing is an absolute dog on the tarmac and in the future I would leverage bike swaps on the A rides. I dragged that heavy thing, with the rolling resistance of a go kart with square wheels, for what seemed like a lifetime to finally round the bend approaching the entrance to the Jungle Loop. I accepted my less than optimal position in the group, and figured I would make it a challenge to use the reversal of advantage of the gravel rig to pick off as many people as I could. Then… I saw that green arch… and through it, every single rider being flipped to the same mountain bike… suffice it to say I was annoyed… It honestly spoiled the ride for me. Yes, it’s a game, and it’s certainly not that serious, but after a long, frustrating day at work, the annoyance just left a lousy taste in my mouth.
I’m more than happy to take the personal responsibility if I missed something in the instructions about the auto-swap. I’ll be the first to call myself an idiot for not reading and adding self-inflicted insult to injury by wasting drops on equipment I will use maybe once. But, if that instruction was somewhere, it was not obvious. I am probably one of the minority who bothers to read the ride notes and I saw nothing about equipment changes called out.
But, let’s ignore for one moment, the high probability that I am, in fact, a moron. I question Zwift’s strategy here. Why auto-swap everyone to the same bike? Why not invite people to leverage different equipment they have available at different levels and different costs to add some dimensionality to the same old routes that we see year over year? Why not let people experiment with bike swaps or trade-offs that they might endure in a race while being able to use the size of these events to not be left behind? What value is there in letting people select their own equipment on the tarmac but insist the playing field is uniform on the gravel?
I can see the argument from riders that don’t want to faff about with bike changes, and this is the easier option, but that execution completely overrode the strategically selected equipment of many riders. I would like to see Zwift turn off auto-swap and let people use the tour to better learn the equipment trade-offs/strategy required for gravel.