Round 2 of the Zwift Grand Prix was one of the most feared and hyped rounds in the history of Zwift racing. Both the women’s and men’s Grand Prix fields were set to climb the Alpe du Zwift, a brutal 12.2km climb with an average gradient of 8.5%.
Among the climb’s 21 hairpin turns, there were three intermediate sprints, which awarded the first five riders over the line with extra points. The majority of the points were up for grabs on the finish line atop the Alpe, but there was a twist.
A time cut-off of seven minutes for the women and five minutes for the men eliminated nearly half of each field. Having a superstar climber could change the game in the Zwift Grand Prix, and that’s exactly what unfolded on Thursday.
The women took off from the start pens just outside the jungle in Watopia, with 17.1km of road in front of them. There was plenty of tension but no attacks before the start of the Alpe, but it only took a few meters for Aeonian to start pushing the pace.
Just four minutes into the Alpe, only 11 riders were left in the front group, and that number shrunk again when Maria Holdcroft (NeXT eSports pb Enshored) accelerated for the first intermediate sprint. A counterattack followed, and suddenly, there were four riders left in front. Get used to these names, because these four riders would take this breakaway all the way to the finish: S. Etienne (Hexagone), Kristen Kulchinsky (Virginia’s Blue Ridge Twenty24), Katie Hill (Aeonian), L. Harris (Toyota Elite ECycling), and Gabriela Guerra (Saris | Nopinz).
Less than 3 km into the climb, Etienna went off the front, and she was never seen again. The Frenchwoman powered to a triumphant victory and a blitzing time up the Alpe that struck fear into all those riders trying to make the time cut. Guerra sprinted for second place atop the Alpe, while Hill came across the line in third.
The seconds ticked by as the 7-minute cutoff approached, and only half the field would make it to the finish in time. Once the points were tallied up, it was Hexagone who took top honors with 1052 points, with Aeonian in second with 917 points, and Coalition Alpha with 780 points in third.
After a short intermission, the men’s race kicked off from the start of the Road to Sky, and it didn’t take long for a breakaway to form. Multiple riders attacked on the dirt in an attempt to break away before the Alpe, but it all came back together before the road tipped up.
Matt Gardiner (Saris | Nopinz) kicked off the climb with a 10w/kg attack, and the front group exploded in the first kilometer of climbing. Andy Nichols (BL13 p/b Level Velo) came from behind to win the first intermediate sprint ahead of Chris Dawson (Wahoo Le Col) and Gardiner.
Just behind the first few riders, Lennert Teugels (ABUS – Synergy) was already starting to make his move, which was being closely marked by Lionel Vujasin (Coalition Alpha), Martin Maertens (Toyota Elite ECycling), and David Talbott (Saris | Nopinz).
As the dust began to settle, the aforementioned trio caught Teugels, but there was still one rider to add to the front group. Dan Turek (NeXT eSports pb Enshored) bridged across solo from the chase group, making it five riders at the front with 10.5km still to climb.
At the second intermediate sprint, Maertens began to show his strength by beating Turek to the banner, while Vujasin caught Teugels just before the line to take third.
With 6km to go, Turek was distanced from the front group, whereas Talbott had fallen almost a minute behind. Maertens continued pushing the pace so much so that Vujasin started drifting backward with 1.8km to go, and then there were two. Maertens and Teugels came around the final bend of Alpe du Zwift side-by-side, but then the German made his move. Dropping the pre-race favorite with just a few hundred meters to go, Maertens took a dominant win atop Alpe du Zwift and started the five-minute countdown for everyone else.
As the five-minute marker came and went, three riders heart-breakingly missed the time by a single second. Then, it was time to add up all the points.
After one of the hardest races in Zwift Grand Prix history, ABUS–Synergy took the win ahead of Coalition Alpha, Toyota Elite ECycling, and NeXT eSports pb Enshored. While each of these teams placed a rider in the top four on the stage, it was ABUS–Synergy’s overall strength that propelled them to victory in Round 2 of the Zwift Grand Prix.
Round 3 of the 2023/2024 Zwift Grand Prix features the first split race schedule of the season. Both races will integrate with the Zwift Racing League, with the Grand Prix races occurring on Thursday before the ZRL takes on the same exact course the following Tuesday.
First, the men’s race kicks off on Thursday, November 9th, with a 29.3km scratch race around the London Loop Reverse. The following week, the women race 15.3km around the Glasgow Crit Circuit, featuring a total of 11 intermediate sprints during what promises to be an explosive points race.