Races are very popular on Zwift, and I love them too, but they could be much better. The big problem is that the w/kg category system needs to be replaced with something more logical. I know the ZHQ Beta Crit City races are trialing some new ideas, slowing/disabling riders who have entered below their real category, and Zwiftpower filters out the sandbaggers. This is an improvement; however, these tweaks won’t fix another, major problem coming from a categorization based on w/kg.
Here’s what I’m thinking: racing is best when there’s a large field of very similar ability riders, because you have to out-think, out-maneuver, out-sprint, to win the race. You have to ride close to your limit to do well, all the time. It’s at its worst when you’re in a cat in which you can’t stay with the lead group in the first half-mile, every race you’re hoping to find a few others similarly dropped and often end up riding alone for long stretches.
To achieve racing panacea then, all the riders in each race should be able to finish in about the SAME TIME. Right now, that’s not the case, partly because people are allowed to enter the wrong categories, but also because the category system is fundamentally flawed.
It might seem like the w/kg system should even things out, but it doesn’t do a great job, because a heavier rider putting out the same w/kg as a lighter rider will beat them most of the time, more and more certainly as the weight difference increases. I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about this, because I’m 67kg and have suffered the consequence of the current system: being promoted out of your current category as soon as you get to the middle of the pack. Bottom line of the w/kg system is that the lightest riders can essentially NEVER compete for a podium, unless they’re pro-level in the A category .
To make the point clear, here’s an example: yours truly. I started Zwifting again in earnest back in December, quickly got bumped out of D as I got my cycling legs back – UPG after my 4th race. Over the next 3 months I entered 23 C races (10 Crit City, 13 others) and finished in the top half of the field ONCE, when I got third in a race with just 7 riders (actually 5thbut two ahead of me got UPG). My 23rd race in C I hit 3.4 w/kg, finished 9th of 16, and finally exceeded the top three-race average C-limit of 3.1. Since then I’ve been in fourteen B races and worked my way up to a best of 3.7 w/kg, with a top finish of 22nd out of 32, when I managed to outsprint nine other riders to the line. To get a podium in B I’d probably have to hit around 4.5w/kg, well into the A cat range.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still having fun, I join the fastest group off the line I can, trying to find a bunch I can stay with and outsprint them at the end. It’s impossible for me to stick with the lead group (usually the top 60% of the race are in there) for even half a lap without hitting zone 4 or 5 and blowing up my race. This makes sense, because the lead B riders are often within a minute of the A race winning time.
The annoying part for me is when I look at the C group results, because there are ALWAYS a bunch of riders who have beaten my time – without getting WKG/UPG – even when I’ve spent most of the B race drafting in a sizeable group. Surely I (and others at the lower end of B) should be riding in the same race with them, because we’re the same speed racers! My basic point with this post is that everyone would be better served if we did something radical (!) – base categories on a rider’s ability to complete a standard race in a certain amount of time.
So how much overlap is there between race times in different categories? A lot. Below is my analysis of three random (all recent) Crit City races with large fields, as well as one London International race. All four are about 10 miles/16km. I dumped the unfiltered results (so it includes riders with WKG/UPG/ZP, to get an idea of how many people are in the wrong categories) into Excel and converted times to seconds to make calculations easier. The number of riders who entered each of the ABCD categories are shown at the left for each race, and the range of times achieved in each race is shown by the length of the colored bar, to the same scale in all races (see 1 min scale bar). Based on quick inspection of many other races, the four races I looked at in detail are typical. Numbers in overlapping bars mean those riders finished with times in the same interval.
My biggest take-home messages from this analysis:
- There’s consistent, substantial overlap in times between categories, in all races
- Much of the overlap is between riders racing in their “proper” w/kg categories , most noticeably between B and C, as well as between C and D.
- A huge fraction of the leading riders in the C and D categories get DQ’ed (36 of 74 = 49% in C, 32 of 58 = 55% in D), confirming the frequent reports in the forum.
So, how to get people with similar race times into the same races, and get rid of the cheats? Set categories by actual race time AND prevent entry into lower cats.
So, what times could be used for the cutoffs for each category?
I took a look at a bunch of Crit City races and came up with the following times that should split people up into five good categories, based on their best 8-lap races (and indicated on the image above):
- Cat A qualifying time = 20:15
- B = 21:30
- C = 23:00
- D = 25:00
- E = new category, free entry, time sets subsequent category, if longer than 25 mins then they stay in E.
Obviously, if people agree with me in principle, we can argue on the specific times, or adjust them from experience in races. My thinking is you could move someone into a higher cat as soon as they finish a race in faster than the cutoff, but it could be three finishes over a certain number of months, or whatever system you want; those details could be decided later.
A system based on actual race times has many advantages:
- Racing for everyone will be more exciting, because all races will be between much more closely matched riders, encouraging people to keep zwifting
- Zwifters trying racing for the first time won’t be discouraged so easily by facing B and C (w/kg) riders immediately
- Data already exists to place riders into new, time-based categories
- New riders get assigned quickly to a realistic category
- No benefit to anyone based simply on their weight, all weights of riders have equal chance of winning
- Weight cheating won’t work any more, because your power to weight ratio is now irrelevant
- Sandbagging is much more difficult
- Most races will now behave like a race IRL, with a larger peloton that most riders will be able to keep up with for longer
- Less depression from riding on your own
- Much lower chance of being lapped and having lapped riders draft the leaders
- Bunch sprints for the line much more common in all races
- Tactical racing will become much more common in all cats, increasing interest
- More fun for zwifters, more $ for Zwift…
What do you all think?