Slowtwitch's Pinball Wizard

Just when I scratched out a mental toehold on Zwift I find out there’s a whole world of racing unknown to me. One such event – a World Cup no less – took place at the L.A. this weekend, featuring well north of $100,000 in prizes, mostly cash.

Slowtwitch favorite Lionel Sanders was there, in town for weekend-after-next's Oceanside 70.3, and he took part because, well, that’s Lionel. He likes to have fun, and doesn’t take schedules and taper routines over-seriously.

The race was at the L.A. Velodrome but I doubt Lionel ever circled it once. In fact, for his several races over 2 days he never dismounted his trainer.

Lionel (below left) found out about this event through Slowtwitcher Matt Gardiner, (below right) who is TriowaCPA on our reader forum. He's another of the 20 men (along with 20 women) entered in the event.

Matt is a full time CPA by trade, and a 70.3 racer by hobby. He isn’t a bike racer. What does he do well? Two things: first, your taxes; second, put him on a trainer, in front of a computer, and he’s a pinball wizard.

"Zwift isn’t the same as racing outdoors,” Matt said. Pure power can win races in this game unlike outside where some skills and tactics matter much more."

In fact, let me stop here. Just watch a few seconds of video below.

This race was disorienting to “spectate” because I’m watching a race on the screen. A real race. Well, a real virtual race. And then the camera would pan out to the actual action, that is, the riders on their trainers. It felt very… Matrix. Or, Pacific Rim. Which was real? The avatars on the computer were real. The actual people pedaling in place were not as real. That was my takeaway, from in front of my computer, in my peejays.

One very real thing that was the check Matt was handed. Okay, that check wasn’t real, but was a proxy for one that was. What a world!

This event was put on by Cycligent and everyone is allowed to race who has a bike, a trainer, a power meter, and Zwift. Cycligent has – what? leveraged? appropriated? hijacked? – the Zwift racing platform and calendar for its own overlay. It’s the ASO of Zwift. Riders must register for the CVR League and connect to Strava for race results.

Once registered and connected, riders select one of 8 time zones to race in on Tuesdays, and are assigned to a bracket based on ability. The brackets are based on race history in Zwift, but if you’re an “A” rider (FTP of 4+ w/kg) you can be asked to be assigned to that bracket. Other brackets compete just the same, but winning in the B, C, or D bracket won’t earn you a place in the live event—just bragging rights.

For Matt to get to the Los Angeles event he had to accumulate the most points in his Zone (8 tota races, 6 highest count). Each Zone winner was invited to race in the live event. Cycligent offered guest slots, Lionel Sanders getting one.

Grand prize for men and women was $7,500 base but was increased by crowdfunding. Minimum prize was a base of $1,250. Online spectators could “cheer” for their racers by sending them money. It would show up in real time on the racer’s screen. Take that, Peter Sagan! Fifty-percent went straight to the racer, 25% to the prize pool, and 25% to Cycligent.

"It was absolutely incredible to see the support from my family and friends during the race,” Matt said. “Overwhelming!”

Lional Sanders and Matt Gardiner went swimming Sunday before the event. "He did 4K of drills and form work,” said Matt, "I did 1.8k to stretch out the body – I’m not stupid enough to try to keep up with him in the pool or swim a full hour before the hardest bike race of my life!” Here’s another great video of Lionel’s weekend:

After the “optional” morning swim there were 4 heats to decide who would race in the Elite bracket and who would race in the Performance bracket on Sunday. The top 4 racers from each heat of 10 qualified for Elite bracket, then the next 2 fastest times also qualified, rounding out 10 Elites and 10 Performance riders.

Matt was pitted against Lionel in the qualifier and they split the pack with one other very strong rider over the top of the first climb. The three gapped the field by 3 minutes, and Matt soloed to take the overall win in that race.

On Sunday, there were 3 races: Mountain Climb, Hilly Road Race, and Criterium. Matt placed 2nd on the mountain climb behind Lionel, then he placed 5th and 9th in the Road Race and Criterium respectively. Both of those ended in bunch sprints, "which are not my cup of tea.”

Matt ended weekend in 6th overall, "which far exceeded my expectations. What an incredible experience.” Signing up for the CVR League was, "seriously the best decision I’ve made in sport."

Lionel then ran 5 x 2k after Sunday’s event. One hell of a training day. He and Matt swam again on Monday for a half hour. "Sanders is world class in attitude and performance,” said Matt.

I watched the women’s Elite Final. The races were short, 20 or 30 minutes, and were incredibly high intensity. And just when one was over, after barely time to stretch one’s legs, another “stage” began.

The race was won by Carey Conabeare, a horticulturist from the UK. Is she that good on the road? Who knows? Not me! Virtual bike racing is its own sport.

Lionel Sanders, as noted, is racing in the Ironman 70.3 Oceanside 2 weeks after his weekend of Zwift racing. Oceanside has a $50,000 prize purse. His race is anticipated by his sponsors, HED, Louis Garneau, Infinit Nutritional and others. He did the CVR World Cup race as an interesting distraction.

On the other hand Powertap, another Sanders sponsor, was heavily involved with this past weekend’s race, along with its CycleOps sister brand. Garneau was a prime sponsor of the CVR World Cup. And, the prize money here was twice the money up for grabs next week. So, which in the end will have earned Lionel the greater reward? We will see. What a world!

Meanwhile, TriowaCPA sure… plays… a mean… pin… ball!