It doesn't seem that long ago since we were celebrating the men's victory in the inaugural Zwift Grand Prix. But a lot can happen in 10 months. Whilst the men's team finished on a high – perfectly executing an astonishingly bold and ballsy plan of attack in the final race of the season, the women's team was experiencing the exact opposite. The women had fought valiantly, but the squad had been decimated – languishing in 10th place. It was time to rebuild.
When the second season of the Zwift Grand Prix was introduced to team managers, it was outlined as being a co-ed competition (i.e. mixed teams of men and women). Around this time, some team riders were out in Singapore to race at the Olympic showcase event. Our men's team captain, Lionel Vujasin, was on a team with Alice Lethbridge, and here, the seed was planted to work together. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if we took the best of what was left of the Coalition Alpha women's team and Alice's riders, we would have a team that could beat the best in the world.
Ultimately, Zwift changed their minds about the co-ed racing, but the stage was set, and the plan was to try to win the double. No team has ever won both the men's and women's leagues simultaneously (Except when we won both editions of the Zwift Community League way back in 2019). We've come close several times, but this year, we felt we could do it.
In addition to the new elite women who joined the team, we invited several Beta riders from the Coalition Community to join us. They represent some of the most promising A riders in the community but need to be tested at the elite level. We decided to bring on five riders on the men's side, and on the women's side, we brought on one. This was the first time the men's team had decided to fill all 10 available squad places. Ultimately, this would prove to be a wise decision, as this year, it was the men's squad that would be suffering from availability issues.
The virtual peloton took to the start line on 19th October 2023 for a "Points Hunter" race around Richmond. The race did not go as planned for our men's team, although Michał was only inches away from winning in a daring break to the line. This would also be the first race for the women racing together, and as expected, it didn't go to plan either – with the squad provisionally finishing in 8th. Early signs did not look promising for the double win, and we were only one race in.
However, Zwift had accidentally enabled steering during the events, and they decided to annul the results and offered double points in the season's final race. While it's always frustrating to plan and race, ultimately, for nothing, this was somehow a blessing for a team still finding its feet.
Apart from a few eye-opening performances and a bizarre TTT course chosen by WTRL, the season would luckily see no more significant issues, and the attention was solely on the racing.
After 3 months of racing and 7 rounds, the season came to a close with a final race around Yorkshire. The points hunter format is a game of jeopardy whereby you have to gamble as to when to make your effort. But both our squads planned to be aggressive and try to get points at every intermediate. For the women, it was about securing the season win and for the men to reclaim a spot on the podium, which they had only lost the previous race.
The women were off first and executed the plan almost perfectly, picking up points at every opportunity. It was then up to Stefanie Sydlik to get the points at the finish line. However, she was up against some of the strongest riders in the race who hadn't yet made a move. The first attack happened 7km before the finish, and Stef was dropped. But was Stef done? Hell no. Stef pulled out an awe-inspiring ITT effort away from the cameras that was undoubtedly more enthralling than what was happening at the front of the race. She made contact, lost contact, and slowly edged her way closer to a position of scoring points. With a few hundred meters before the finish, she caught the two riders in front of her and blasted straight past, catching them off-guard and going all the way to score the last point in the race. The screaming on the race radio was deafening and a fantastic way to finish the season.
If there had been any doubt, the women's team was back and everyone was fighting for every point. A beautiful thing to have witnessed – and the women's squad's first elite series win.
The men's race was almost identical, except we had a plan for Arne to attack from the gun. But the pace and almost immediate descent muted that idea very quickly. Both Lionel Vujasin and Michał Kamiñski scored points at the intermediates as per the plan. But we didn't have the numbers to keep the scoreboard ticking off – especially with most teams playing it safe and sitting in until the final sprint. Just like Stef, Arne was forced to do a solo time trial to try to bridge to the front group. Despite a gallant effort, there was just too much firepower ahead to make it across in time.
The guys may not have gotten the result they were after, but they can be proud of their attacking style that animated every race.
Indeed, the team is happy for a small break before the Zwift Games kicks off – which most of our riders are attending. There is also the UCI World Championships on MyWhoosh later in the year, and many of the riders are training and racing on the platform to get used to the mechanics.
In February, we will re-open the Beta pathway for new applicants. All successful applicants will be eligible to be picked for the Alpha team in future races. You can read the latest news about that
Seeing the women's squad back to their best has been a joy. The energy and positivity is infectious. As a team that has always had equal men's and women's squads – it's so important to have both of them firing on all cylinders. We didn't get the double win, but we've shown why we are the most successful eracing team in history.
Rhys Howell, Team Manager
It is interesting to see how things might develop for the next edition of the Grand Prix. Whether Zwift implements their idea of co-ed racing – or not, we will be ready! We would like to see Zwift-approved lab testing by the autumn and, finally, the introduction of both in-game and IRL rewards for winning teams. Both of these things have been sorely lacking and something we have been asking for for years. It also makes sense to bring the number of teams down to 10, which was also due this season.
If you're interested in how the series scoring looks with combined women's and men's scoring, we've compiled it below. Kudos to Aeonian for making it into the Top 10 with just a women's squad!
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