I actually think things are better than ever, even though they are still not good/acceptable. What I write below might seem off topic/a misunderstanding of the topic. I get the point. There are just a few things I think should be said or added for the full picture.
The problem is mainly two things, the way I see it. First, there is the lack of transparency of CE limits, which is being addressed and we will soon be able to view them on ZHQ, hopefully in a sufficiently informative and explanatory format.
While waiting we’re still stuck thinking cat limits are somehow mainly W/kg. We know that is no longer the case but in the lack of transparency we tend to view performances over previous cat limits as suspicious or even outright unfair. That will hopefully change with better transparency. At least I’m willing to give Zwift a chance to prove themselves with the transparency bit before I stop seeing CE as a temporary improvement of categorization.
Second, there is the increasing ‘desync’ between ZHQ results reporting and ZP reporting. They are more and more dissimilar in some ways and Zwift doesn’t seem to be very invested in maintaining ZP, for better and for worse. I mean I don’t think there should be two places were results are reported, especially not if they diverge, but on the other hand ZHQ still doesn’t support leagues etc, which is of course a big problem for the community.
But other than that I actually think things are looking better than ever. They are NOT good enough. CE can never be fair, per definition, since you absolutely cannot have categorization based on physical performance metrics. This is being addressed too, however, although it will take some time. I have decided to be patient and to keep the faith that they will actually do it this time.
Here and now, though, I see much less crap going on in races. The weight/absolute power thing is still a big issue, but that is what you get with physical performance metrics as basis for categorization. You can’t really fix it. However, sandbagging (which I myself call ‘cruising’, whereas I call ‘sandbagging’ signing up to a lower cat, something you can no longer do under CE) has decreased drastically. It’s not impossible to cruise. It will always be possible under a performance metrics categorization. Nevertheless, cruising has decreased.
Let’s just assume for now that someone winning with a higher W/kg than would have been allowed in the old cats is still playing within the CE rules. We’ll have to postpone our judgement until we have better transparency. And let’s set aside the fact that ZP can’t track the CE rules properly (they could fix this after we get transparency). Then intentional/unintentional cruising has still decreased.
I don’t think the reason for this is that the CE cat rules prevents cruising in themselves or that people have become less prone to exploit the system to the fullest in order to win. I think it simply has become much harder to cruise and for two reasons.
First, it is more complex and difficult to cruise now that you have to take several measures into account. And even if you manage to keep track of all those measures to make sure you don’t overstep, it is harder these days to fit it into your race. While you may be able to keep your 20 min performance in line (not that hard), the situation in a race might not allow you to maintain your shorter measures without having to drop at a crucial point (it’s usually crucial any time anyway) like a climb or something. I’m referring to situations where you have the overcapacity to stick with the front, perhaps easily so, but you might not be able to without overstepping.
Second, it is really hard to cruise without CE transparency. It’s hard enough to even mentalize your own relevant measures in a race, but to also gauge others around you over several measures is a challenge. That was much easier in the old days, to make the decision whether you could stick with the front or even allow yourself a push, or whether you had to drop to save your cat.
Sure, making ZP fully CE compliant is an issue, if it will happen at all. I also don’t exclude the possibility that the CE rules needs a tweak or two. It’s possible that there are pockets where some riders with certain power profiles can reign unthreatened by others, that you need to fit a very specific mold to be able to podium. While still waiting for the implementation of a real categorization, one could and perhaps should try to reduce any such pockets, to spread out the chances of winning a little more, although you don’t want to spend too much time fixing legacy code since it slows down progress. But… let’s wait for better transparency before passing that kind of judgement. We’ll see.
You may think it awful that someone winning displaying a 4.3 is terribly unfair while you yourself believe you are confined to a 4.0 limit. It might be fully compliant with the CE rules, but let’s say you still think it unfair, that the rules are bad. But do you actually think this is any different than what has been going on for ages in Zwift races?! It isn’t. Both you and that other guy being restricted to a 4.0 does NOT mean it is fair. Not if e.g. that other guy has +10kg on you - given equal fitness, you are not allowed to compete with him. So what’s the difference really? We already knew the system is fundamentally borked. Still, I think the CE rules polished off a couple of really sharp edges, to make racing a bit more hospitable while we’re still waiting for the big change.
What I like as things stand today is that podiums tend to look like this:
Whereas I see far fewer winners of this kind, the type you used to see quite a lot earlier:
(Both pics taken from anonymous strangers)
And this is absolute key. It’s not about ethics or masochist ideals. Rather, the short format of Zwift races and the stiff and even competition within them will necessarily drive a fair race towards the first picture, because under those conditions it is the only way you can win. It’s plain logics. If, on the other hand, it looks like the second picture, then something must be very wrong with the cat system.
In the here and now of Zwift racing development, setting aside that we still have a static cat system where winners can keep winning forever in a sub-A cat, I personally don’t really mind losing to someone doing 0.2 W/kg above old limits in a well-attended race, assuming it all follows transparent CE logics, not as long as the winner looks something like the first picture, give or take. And it seems to me most do these days.
Also note that this will not change under a points system categorization. Fair Zwift racing is, should and must necessarily be absolutely brutal. For everyone. Just like a CX race.