I’ve followed this beta test with much interest and quite honestly had some doubts if this was going to solve the sandbagging issues. Having tried a ‘traditional’ Crit race two days ago and the Beta equivalent today I thought I’d leave my experiences racing in both formats.
I’m a ‘light’ rider with mediocre 1- and 5-min power. My last season ended in Cat C. This season, I’ve been working my way up from mid-D after a period of inactivity towards bordering C to B. During this time my experiences racing in the traditional format have been rather varied. I have been in races where I could tell that my level was approaching (or exceeding) the top of D-cat, as keeping up with the front group was becoming rather easy (I am fortunate to have experienced this!). Time to Cat-up. Obviously the first couple of races in C ended up in either a relatively solitary ride or a struggle to hang with a group until the hammer comes. Slowly I was becoming more and more capable of hanging in C-groups and competing for the #1 position of my group (ie. ending up somewhere halfway in the field). This progressed until early this year I could actually enjoy racing the front group. However, at the same time I was approaching the Cat limit based on W/kg. The weeks hereafter, my FTP stably hovered in the 3.0-3.2 W/Kg range whilst my experiences were becoming worse. I had the feeling that I was left with two options: A) respect my mediocre 1 and 5min power output and aim for the 3rd or 4th group in the field straight from the Pen, finishing the race in the top 33%-50% range, or B) go all-out, hang in the 1st or 2nd group for as long as possible and get dropped 5-10min in the race, finishing in the top 33%-50% range. My feeling was that this was having to do with ‘heavier’ riders that were able to sit in the draft of higher-Cat riders, whilst I was lacking the absolute power to do this (let alone being able to increase my power on the hills). My frustration here was that any further improvement of my FTP would put me straight into the next Cat, where I would finish in the bottom 5% and get blown from all groups within 1min. In a more level playing field the heavier riders would need to do the pulling, giving me a better chance to keep hanging in the group (and possibly attacking on a hill or risk losing in the sprint).
So how did the Beta test work out for me? Would I have a chance to compete, or would I be nominated a cone myself?
Fortunately, my experience was very positive! After the traditional fast start I ended up in the 3rd-4th group and was able to settle myself here. I was sliding towards the back of the group on the flats and moving my way to the front on the short cobbled climbs. About 2 laps in it was clear that our group was competing for the ~30 position of ~140 riders. However, in the following laps we were slowly overtaking coned riders and continued to do so throughout the remainder of the race! Clearly, things were going in the right direction, which provided a good motivation to try and hang with the group. The last lap in we were competing for the top 10, which I believed was a realistic position for a lighter rider. Indeed, I think it is plausible that a group of heavier riders at the Cat limit could legitimately finish in front of the group I was in. To my surprise, Zwiftpower actually showed that the group I was in was competing for the podium! A couple of riders that finished in front were filtered out. Were these riders able to stay away despite being dialled down? Or could they have lacked the update that dials down the speed? Either way, this experience gives me enough reason to believe these measures will improve racing in Zwift.
My biggest takeaway, however, was not that I was able to compete for a podium finish (rightfully so, being at the limit of the cat). More importantly, comparing my time to the B-field suggests that I may now be able to hang in a group in B and compete for the top 67% rather than being dropped like a stone. I think this is a huge deal as it allows for a more natural progression through the Cats and provides an incentive to Cat-up and keep racing. If it is clear for coned riders that they are able to compete in the next Cat this may further enhance the racing experience for everyone (for comparison, the C-cat winner of my ‘traditional’ Crit race would have won the A-race).
I realize your mileage may vary, but perhaps sharing experiences of different rider situations could help with fine tuning. Long story short, well done so far and I’ll be looking forward to the implementation!