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Just over one year ago, Primož Roglič (Team Jumbo-Visma) dominated stage 1 of the 2019 Giro d’Italia. It was a fast day under the Italian sun, and Roglič blitzed the 8-kilometer time trial course, in Bologna, in a time of 12:54, a full 19 seconds ahead of second-place Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), and 23 seconds up on Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-McLaren).
The Bologna course was both unique and challenging, culminating in the ascent of the Colle della Guardia, a 2.1km climb averaging 9.4 percent with a maximum of 16 percent grade. And on May 11th, 2019 – the same day that Roglič stamped his early authority on the Giro – Zwift revealed an exact replica of the Bologna TT course available in their virtual world.
When Eric Hill – co-founder and director of Project Echelon, and director of the Virtual Joe Martin Stage Race – went searching for a time trial course resembling the steep switchbacks of Devil’s Den State Park, the Bologna TT stood out. The 8km course would set the tone for three sensational days of racing which included real-world leaders’ jerseys on offer for the winners of the Sprint, QOM/KOM, and Overall classifications.
In this column, we dive into the world-class power numbers behind the women’s Virtual Joe Martin Stage Race.
Stage 1: Bologna TT (8km)
Held as a mass-start race but with drafting disabled, stage 1 of the virtual Joe Martin Stage Race was a unique opportunity for both riders and spectators to see intermediate splits in real-time. During the flat opening kilometers, many riders went out hard, including UCI time trial world champion Chloe Dygert (TWENTY20), who was pushing ~5.5w/kg to the base of the climb.
Pacing would prove to be crucial to Bolognese success, and those who saved their matches on the flat would come to the fore on the climb. As the road pitched up to 8 percent, through 10 percent, and then 13 percent, TIBCO-SVB teammates Sarah Gigante and Lauren Stephens began making their way to the front. Gigante had been down near 40th place in the first 5km of the time trial, but at the crux of the course where the gradient hit 16 percent, the 19-year-old Australian moved into the lead.
Sarah Gigante (TIBCO-SVB) – Colle della Guardia
Average Power: 303w (6.4w/kg)
Average Heart Rate: 179 bpm
Max Heart Rate: 183 bpm
Stephens dug deep to stay with Gigante, but the American never quite caught her teammate’s wheel in the final push to the line. Gigante took the win in a time of 15:14 with Stephens crossing the line three seconds later, and Courtney Nelson (TWENTY20) rounding out the podium in third.
After the race, Gigante said, “As soon as the gradients hit upwards of 10 percent, I went absolutely flat out, trying to keep the watts close-to or above 300, knowing that I was still relatively fresh and only had about six minutes to go. Even though I managed to pace the time trial well, I was certainly counting down in those last few hundred meters and even recorded a few heart rate records in the process!”
Gigante (TIBCO-SVB) – Stage 1 ITT
Average Power: 276w (5.8w/kg)
Average Heart Rate: 170 bpm
Max Heart Rate: 183 bpm
Stage 2: Sand and Sequoias Road Race (78km)
Confusion put a bit of a dent in Stage 2 of the women’s Joe Martin Stage Race, but the day was thrilling nonetheless. Three and a half laps of the Sand and Sequoias course which included the Titans Grove QOM would leave just 18 of the original 82 riders sprinting for victory at the end of the day.
Following the opening flats, the peloton hit the Titans Grove QOM with some 60km to go. Stephens stayed towards the front as the group whittled down behind her, and more than 40 riders were dropped by the QOM’s crest.
Stephens (TIBCO-SVB) – Lap 1 Titans Grove QOM
Average Power: 274w (5w/kg)
Final 1k of climb: 302w (5.4w/kg)
With Laps 2 and 3 coming at almost the exact same pace, it was clear that everyone was saving their matches for the final climb. Riders would be watching their ticker carefully, as the finish line was located not at the QOM line, but about 700m after it.
As the front group began the final QOM, attacks refrained, and with less than 1km to go, the stage win was up for grabs. Stephens opened up her sprint just after the QOM, saying afterward, “I definitely opened up my sprint too early. Even had Mat telling me ‘wait, wait, wait’ but I just went with probably 400 meters to go and got passed right at the line.”
Jacquie Godbe (Vision) – a fourth-year medical student currently working nights on the emergency medicine rotation – timed her sprint to perfection, coming around Stephens in the dying moments and winning by just five-hundredths of a second.
Stephens (TIBCO-SVB) – Lap 4 Titans Grove QOM and Final Sprint
Average Power: 315w (5.6w/kg)
Peak 2min: 375w (6.7w/kg)
Peak 20sec: 583w (10.4w/kg)
Godbe (Vision) – Lap 4 Titans Grove QOM and Final Sprint
Average Power: 371w (5.3w/kg)
Peak 2min: 421w (6w/kg)
Peak 20sec: 525w (7.5w/kg)
How did Godbe win this sprint? The shallow gradients of the Titans Grove QOM (two to four percent) allowed her to sit-in and save a few watts. In the final downhill sprint, timing is everything, and Godbe has Stephens to thank for a perfect lead-out.
Stage 3: Richmond Worlds Road Race (64km)
Four laps around the 2015 UCI Worlds Course in Richmond would set the stage for a thrilling finale to the women’s Virtual Joe Martin Stage Race. Each lap riders faced the Cobbled climbs of Libby Hill and 23rd Street, as well as the decisive Governor Street climb, where Sagan put it in the big ring en route to winning his first of three consecutive road world championships, in 2015.
After a relatively calm start apart from two intermediate sprints, the majority of the women’s field arrived at the bottom of Libby Hill and the first QOM of the day. By the top, less than half the field remained, with Christie Tracy (Infinite p/b Saris) earning the fastest time and taking full points in the intermediate QOM competition. Stephens (TIBCO-SVB), in the leader’s jersey, stayed near the front and crested the climb just a few wheels back.
Stephens (TIBCO-SVB) – Lap 1 Libby Hill QOM
Average Power: 335w (6w/kg)
By the end of Lap 1, less than 25 women remained in the front group, but the best was yet to come. Stage 2 winner and QOM-contender Jacquie Godbe put in a massive dig the second time up Libby Hill at over 9w/kg, earning her the QOM points and a small solo lead.
Godbe (Vision) – Lap 2 Libby Hill QOM
Average Power: 520w (7w/kg)
Peak 30-sec: 686w (9.8w/kg)
After Godbe was swallowed up by the pack, the race calmed down – for about five minutes. Attacks flew again the third time up the trio of climbs. Stephens was at the front, watching, waiting…when Andrea Ramirez (Agolico) attacked on Governor Street. The American hit a peak of 11w/kg as she bridged up to Ramirez’s wheel, and the leading pair crossed the finish line with a five-second lead. With the peloton crumbling behind, it is clear that Stephens and Ramirez will be fighting it out for the stage win.
As the GC leader, Stephens had no obligation to work and chose to sit on Ramirez from the top of Governor Street to the bottom of Libby Hill in order to protect her overall lead. With the pack less than a minute behind and under 5km to go, Stephens went full gas from the bottom, dropping Ramirez and setting the road on fire as she climbed her way to the finish.
Stephens (TIBCO-SVB) – Lap 4 Solo Attack
Average Power: 315w (5.7w/kg)
Normalized Power: 350w (6.3w/kg)
Average Heart Rate: 173 bpm
Max Heart Rate: 181 bpm
Peak 1min Power: 431w (7.7w/kg)
Peak 30sec Power: 500w (8.9w/kg)
Stephens turned onto Broad Street with a 20-second gap over Ramirez, and plenty of time to celebrate both the stage win and overall victory – a virtual victory to add to her real-world triumph at the 2015 UCI 2.2 Joe Martin Stage Race p/b Nature Valley where she took home the yellow jersey.
**Zwift and Zwift Power helped organize and police the Virtual Joe Martin Stage Race, ensuring that rider data and subsequent results are as accurate as possible. Special thanks for all of their hard work.