I’m happy to have a discussion in here too, And I agree, there is too little discussion and also, if I may, critical thinking in this and other Zwift forums. Often people strike me as overly conservative and complacent. You get used to something and you stop questioning and reflecting.
Someone had a great idea on the fence yesterday (don’t make the fence drop people, just increase the air resistance in front of it instead) but it was somewhat shot down by others saying it would be better if the fence as is was fixed instead. I don’t like that approach. Just because I’m used to something being this or that way doesn’t mean it’s the best way. If something isn’t working well, then maybe it can’t realistically be fixed or it just isn’t worth the hassle it would mean. Maybe take a fundamentally different approach instead. With the fence. Or the W/kg categories.
I’ll reply to your points:
- You seem to make the assumption that someone who chooses to sit in the draft and rides tactically is a less worthy winner than someone who rides flat out. I disagree. Sport, and cycling in particular has always been about tactics. You aren’t suggesting are you that Mark Cavendish sitting in the draft for 99% of a Tour stage and then being led out over the last 1k “goes against our intuition and sport ideals”? Because on your definition he appears to be a “cruiser” doesnt he?
Hmm… how long should I make the counter-argument? I’ll do the full monty.
Regarding “cruising” in RL events, I was thinking the same when watching Tour of Flanders yesterday. Well, Cavendish didn’t do too well, but there were other sprinters who were carried all the way to the finish. And no, their HR profiles will not look the same as the chain gang’s or the breakaways’. But two things are missing here.
First, IRL racing is not like Zwift racing, something I discuss at some point in the blog regarding VTdF. Zwift races are very short compared to outdoor continental events. They should tend to lead to increasingly hard efforts. Because you can. And because it will pay off (in cat A). And I do believe we have seen just that in Zwift events with RL pros lately. In Tour for All I got the impression many riders brought the RL pace into Zwift and didn’t quite “get it”. In VTdF, the racing was mostly much harder. They finally got it. There was little saving energy mid-stage. And you don’t have to save energy mid-stage. You can go flat out from start to finish. I’d even like to argue that given equal fitness, someone willing to go flat out is at an advantage. Not so much so, though, if you go flat out up the leg snapper in Innsbruckring in cat B-D, and someone is glued to your wheel, still at tempo pace… Doesn’t that happen IRL too? Yes, it does. But nobody will get a DQ for going too hard there, that’s the difference.
Secondly, as for Zwift and my little study specifically, my assumption is that I know nothing of the 100 x 2 races. Couldn’t, like you say, someone with a lower HR just have been smarter and drafted more efficiently? Someone getting caught in splits time and again and who has to chase back will neither be riding very efficiently or be saving energy. But since we know nothing of each of the particular races, couldn’t also the opposite be true? That one guy in high Zone 4 is actually very efficient at drafting, but he still has to work harder than the next guy to hang in there? My point is that any such differences in efficient tactics will likely even out on average between riders at different effort levels over a large number of races. So a rider showing high effort isn’t necessarily a good and efficient rider, but neither can we assume that he is bad. All we can say is he does work harder. And all we can say is that working hard does seem to pay off in cat A but not in cat C, and then we have to find an explanation. And the explanation can’t be drafting, because, if any, the cat A riders, riding in a category where effort pays off better, would surely know how to draft efficiently compared to the C riders.
- I think you might be guilty of conflating your “cruisers” with sandbaggers. A sandbagger deliberately rides in races below their category. IN my race tonight there were 17 B riders signed up to a C race. ZP deals with them - they are DQ-ed (I know there are other important arguments about spoiling races etc, but let’s not repeat that here).
A sandbagger is a different beast. A much more stupid or careless cheater than a cruiser. Are there cruisers? Yes, there are. If you start looking at HR graphs in races, you will find them. And I’m pretty convinced some of them know full well what they are up to. To prove this point and draw attention to it, I have started to cruise myself. I hate it, it’s dirty work, but someone’s gotta do it. As I haven’t had a lot of time with Zwift this summer, being “stuck” outdoors, I haven’t perfected it yet. But I aim to downgrade legitimately to cat D during the upcoming fall and start cruising seriously and give the full inside view on the blog. Just to show it can be done, just like the cruisers I come across time and again.
Then there is a huge grey area where people’s efforts differ but it likely is not a question of deliberate cruising. More a question of preferences or random events in races. It just so happens that people show different levels of effort when racing and that the race results reflect that, only not in the way you would think. It comes with the system.
And really, it’s pointless going after individual subscribers, like ZP does with the sandbaggers, even when discussing deliberate cruisers. I’d like to argue that it is the W/kg system that creates these evil miscreants, sandbaggers included. Like some famous sociologist once said (I remember this vaguely from Uni), something along the lines of “Every society gets the kind of criminals it deserves”. So we should go after the system instead, not the criminals here. With a results-based categorization, both sandbaggers and deliberate (and even unknowing) cruisers will cease to exist by definition. They will no longer be an issue. It is really that simple.
- As I read your argument, you seem to be suggesting that some people keep deliberately below the threshold to avoid being DQ-ed on the ZP system. Two problems with that argument as I see it:
(a) Riders are either categorised as, say a C rider on ZP, or they’re not (see 2 above)
It’s easy to downgrade. It just takes time. I will do this next. For others, with some precautions you can avoid getting the “rightful” (according to ZP) upgrade by making sure you don’t go over limits, even though you could if you raced harder. So shouldn’t you be allowed to choose your level of efforts in races just like in workouts? Of course! Not everyone enjoys a near-death experience. I just don’t think you should be consistently rewarded with wins for going less hard than others, not all the time. But are you? Yes, there is this counter-intuitive tendency, like I have just shown in data. It can’t be denied, it’s there, in our faces, once we actually start looking.
What separates the lower categories is not how well you have done in the past, like in RL sports. It’s not your perceived effort either. It’s a raw power number and a raw weight number. Which is completely absurd, when you think about it. If you’re in cat B and you really want to win a race, then what your category says is “Go hard! But not too hard! If you don’t go hard you will lose. But if you go too hard, I will DQ you!”
You absolutely cannot put a perfomance ceiling in a sport. Imagine the qualifiers in the Olympics. To make it to the finals in the high jump you need to go over certain heights in the trial heats. Now imagine you could get a DQ if you went too high in the qualifiers. It’s absurd. Imagine some division 2 football team getting DQ’d for scoring too many goals during a game (“Sorry, you were too good, you don’t belong in this division!”). You can’t govern categorization during a game or a race. You have to do that between races. And you should do it based on results, not on some physics metrics.
(b) If you are suggesting people who could ride harder and be recategorised as a B are “cruising”, where is your evidence for that? How can we know without asking them, whether their intention was to stay below the limits? How can we know they are not moving up on purpose, to stay at the front of their category?
I could show you cases of obvious cruising. And they are not just of the sandbagger type, guys with initials and a number for in-game name, or named Spacefrog or whatever. There are even rather high profile riders cruising. And then they brag about their results. I just don’t want to point fingers. Or you can just watch me. I will be the spokesperson for the cruisers. And I will start with 3 underperformance races in C in late August. Then we just wait for the cooldown and recategorization.
But it doesn’t really matter whether someone holds back on purpose or not. We should go after the system, not the individuals. Put a people into poverty and starvation and you will see a lot of new petty thieves, it goes without saying. Forbid locks and you will see a surge in burglary. Put a performance ceiling in a sport and you will have sandbaggers and cruisers. Introduce a results-based categorization and we no longer have sandbaggers and cruisers. We will still have dopers and hackers, but not the cheaters unique to Zwift. And we will never have to ask ourselves “did this person do this or that on purpose or not”. The question becomes irrelevant.
- While “Level of effort can be defined as where in your HR distribution graph you spend the bulk of your time in a race”, it’s not the only metric is it. I might spend most of my time in upper Z4/Z5 in a Crit but in Z2/3 on a long mountain race over several hours. Intervals are often harder than paced rides but bulk of time is in lower HR zones.
Yes, obviously this must be so. You can’t go high Z4 for several hours unless your name is Sepp Kuss. But it’s not level of effort per se that is of interest. It is relative level of effort. A long distance race will be mainly tempo pace, but if the level of effort differs between riders in that race, and if they are all on the upper category W/kg limit, then isn’t that peculiar?
Still, it is a very crude method, agreed. I do think HR is the single best simple measure available, but I don’t even have the raw data to analyze in better ways. So yes, the analysis is very crude. But I hereby formally challenge the guys at ZP and Zwift to do better analysis and come up with a different conclusion. I’m 100% sure they won’t be able to. It’s there, in the data, what W/kg cats do to racing in the lower categories.
And there is a very simple way out of it, one that Eric Min mentioned himself in the Zwift Podcast of 4 Feb. I just want to see it happen. Until then you will find me nagging about it, and you will find me cruising just to show it can be done.