Relegation.

I've been knocked down a few notches. My very core has been shaken by these revelations. At first, I looked for excuses for this unexpected turn of events, some reason to explain why I could no longer claim to be a special snowflake. Then I just had to accept the new reality.
 
It's much harder to take jerseys on Zwift these days.
 
Part of it is there are exponentially more people on the system at any given time. When I first started on Zwift, anything above 50 riders was a cause for celebration. We had a lot of "ghosts" on course, translucent blue "bot" riders to not make the course seem so empty and to provide motivation. Last spring, a good-sized group of virtual floggers was in the low hundreds and the ghosts didn't make any appearances. This winter, it's rare for me to see below a couple thousand Zwift users. More riders means a greater chance for faster riders- at least far faster than I am. More riders means there are more than a few virtual dopers riding around at twice Chris Froome's w/kg and double-digit heart rates.
 
Another part of it is all of the group rides and races going on at any given time. A big group of riders pulling a respectable amount of wattage can launch several guys into the top spots on the leaderboard, especially if the riders are well-placed and used the draft to move forward. The first guy across the line doesn't necessarily win the green jersey. The fastest guy from point A to point B does. You can start at the back of a pack and hammer through the draft to mid-pack, and still take the jersey. It's simply the right tactic for the environment.
 
All of my Zwift sprint efforts are solo on a TT bike. You may think it would be an unfair advantage, but there are handicaps. The draft effect is severely cut down. You can't use "power-ups" to modify any of your in-game characteristics. These, more than the virtual aerodynamic advantages, are actually why I chose the bike. My time is less likely to be influenced by other riders or skillful use of magic mushrooms. I can look at my recent list of personal bests for a given segment and know exactly what I'm shooting for. I also know what I'm capable of, and how that matches up when I roll up on a current leaderboard.
 
I'm getting crushed a lot lately.
 
I can accept that. Usually when I take a stab at a hotly-contested sprint leaderboard I can at least make the top 10. That isn't bad. If the majority of riders are going one direction, I can usually do pretty well in the reverse sprint, often taking the jersey for a while.
 
That's really not the point, though. The point (for me) early in the season is to fill my PR board with decent times. After that, I start trying to stack the board with progressively faster times, which would indicate improvement (at least within the parameters of Zwift). It's just a mental to spur my normally lazy ass into action. Otherwise I would just cruise around at the same mediocre power. That, or I would kit up just to sit downstairs at my computer, browsing Facespace. I'm sure there's some marginal gains to be had there, but they mostly center around my midsection.
 
So, with the cruel realization that there are faster cyclists out there (who knew?), I log on each time, throw whatever I have in the tank at it, and see where I stack up with the current lot. Sometimes it's favorable, mostly it's not. That's fine. The best way to improve is to ride with people that are better than you. 
 
Even special little snowflakes need to remember that there are a lot of other snowflakes out there. If there isn't one more special than you, you're in the wrong pile of snow.

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