Why ZwiftPower Must Go

Think about W/kg categories for a second. It’s the bane of fair Zwift racing. We have talked at length about that already. But let’s think in broader terms. What could W/kg possibly be good for at all? How did Zwift come up with these categories to begin with? Let’s do some guess work.

Zwift gives us an understanding of our own personal physiology that surpasses even that of the most expensive sports watches. It’s all these numbers and zones and whatnot. Confusing at first but they tell us how we work on a bike and given some time we start to get it. What we can and cannot do, what we might be able to improve, how to approach certain types of efforts and challenges.

At the center of all this sports science is our functional threshold, arguably the most important of all the numbers. We arrive at our functional threshold power through an FTP test or ramp test in Zwift or sometimes by just going hard yet somewhat consistent in a race.

What do we need the FTP or the W/kg for? It will tell us our max sustainable effort for an hour of work on the bike, which incidentally happens to be a very common time span in the activities on offer in Zwift on a daily basis and for good reason. It will also help us pick a suitable group ride in Zwift. 

Often the organizers of group rides will be quite specific. Such and such a ride will aim for an average of, say, 1.8-2.0 W/kg, given the ride leaders weight of so and so many kg. And then, since you know your FTP and your W/kg, you can quite easily decide if the ride is for you or not. You will have at least a rough idea of how the ride will feel in your body, whether you can cope and whether the ride fits into your training regimen if you have one.

These things were at the core of Zwift early on. This was likely what Zwift had in mind when introducing the categories. Racing was underdeveloped but caught on more and more as time went by because… well, racing is fun! The community wanted it, more than Zwift could foresee. And Zwift provided the means to race but did not meddle too much with how races were organized. They left that to the community. ZwiftPower did the meddling instead.

Have you ever participated in a Zwift race with non-standard race categories? One common example would be masters/veteran races with age interval categories. The organizer uses the A-D categories for convenience but the meaning of those categories is not the standard W/kg one. And the Zwift race mechanics are crude and flexible enough to let you do that. It works just fine. You could organize a race where cat A was male riders on US virtual bikes and cat D female riders on European bikes. Or rider length-based categories. It’s up to your imagination, more or less. At least there are no technical limits to what you can write in your race presentation about what the categories are supposed to mean.

In other words, ZwiftPower could have worked for any type of race category system. They were never tied to W/kg. And, in fact, an embryo of something different can be found on the far right of the ZwiftPower race reports or rider profiles, a kind of rank score that could have been developed further into a results-based categorization.

Moving towards a results-based race category system would have required ZwiftPower to get the clubs and other race organizers onboard. Not necessarily an easy thing. But it would have been possible. And then we wouldn’t have ended up in the W/kg mess we are in right now. 

ZwiftPower is as much a culprit as Zwift, I dare say even more so, when it comes to unintentionally promoting the far most common forms of cheating in Zwift – sandbagging and cruising. Then they set out to chase down the cheaters they have created themselves by building racing on an unsound foundation, through ever more complicated means of catching sandbaggers. Even Zwift have started to help out with that lately. But the cruisers are untouched so far. You can cruise all you want. And I argue you should. 

This is all so backwards if you think about it. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, they say. And Zwift racing went straight to hell, I say, as an addendum to that. You cannot have an influential third party working against reason in a platform of yours. ZwiftPower must go. Well played, Zwift, and I mean it. This is potentially a new beginning. Not a day too soon.

This sounds very harsh, I know. But we just have to kill a few darlings now. The subscribers will benefit in the long run.

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