Race Report: 30 Sep 2020, Midweek Autumn Series by SZR, Park Perimeter Reversed, 3 laps

Perhaps I shouldn’t race consecutive days. Then again it’s just cruising and I’m starting to worry about my fitness. But I wanted into the lion’s den. Swedes are a tall, big boned people, tech savvy and somewhere in the middle in the European Overweight League. Lots of heavies. Quite a few cruisers too. And this is a race series that naturally attracts Swedes, although as usual it’s a mixed bag.

Things didn’t look bad at all in the early signups though. Heavies, yes, but not many 100+ kg. Not many sandbaggers. Not even many blatant cruisers, although one could suspect a few of the participants could advance to cat C quite easily. But like yesterday there were lots of last-minute signups.

Much better race organization tonight though. You should always do staggered starts. And when you stagger cats, cat D goes last and not first and not together with cat C. (They got that right tonight.) The race wasn’t tagged as having invisible off-cats but I never saw any other cats. Much better that way, provided the starting pens are well filled.

With quite a few late sandbagger signups, the start was hard. The front group got strung out and kept snapping. Early on I tried to bridge a couple of times but I ended up letting the front half go. It was suicide pace for a cruiser and I honestly don’t think I could have kept up anyway.

The only problem was that there were still two riders piggybacking at the front that I was sure were no sandbaggers. This is a tricky situation when cruising. You don’t want this to happen but it often does. And it can go either way. Most of the time it doesn’t work out for them and they have to drop solo, but sometimes it works. If that front group slows down a little later, then the non-sandbaggers can get their 20 min average down, won’t get a DQ but are still a minute or so away from you. It’s very hard to catch up with them even as a cruiser.

With sandbaggers in the front group, and this is why it mostly fails, the pace won’t slow down enough and piggybackers might get DQ’d. But if you’re unlucky the front group splits in two halves and the non-sandbaggers can go with group two, get draft, get their averages down and still be a minute away from you, both of your groups moving at about the same speed.

I noticed a little later, though, that the two troublesome riders in the front group had dropped and we were bound to catch them sooner or later. In fact, they were going really slow. I’m not sure. Maybe they were just waiting for a group to join (namely us), but they just so happened to be doing exactly what I would have done in their situation: panic over an over-limits average and few minutes left of the first 20 min block, and hit the brakes.

I wasn’t so worried about my own average this time. As opposed to the last… number of races. I got it down to 193W before the race clock struck 00:20:00 (195W is my absolute maximum at 75 kg). And at exactly that moment two riders shot off from my group like cannon balls! But it wasn’t some hardcore cruiser tactics. They were just chasing primes. Phew! And soon enough we caught the two riders. I was especially worried about one of them. He looked too strong for cat D and was probably not droppable. He would also beat me easily in a sprint, but that would still somehow be better than having him a minute away up front.

Once the two riders were caught and we were out of the first 20 min block the pace picked up again. Very different from yesterday’s race where the second lap of two was really slow. Here we kept more or less the same pace throughout the race.

Some riders couldn’t take the upped pace and had to drop. We ended up a group of initially just five, later down to four riders. Me, the two caught guys and another guy, just floating about in total isolation, miles behind the sandbaggers, miles ahead of the legits. And we took turns trying to torture each other, all in vain. One guy, presumably light, pushed all the climbs just to be nasty. One guy, obviously heavy, overtook us and got a little distance that had to be bridged after every damn descent. And it went on like that for the last two laps.

I wouldn’t be able to drop the others and certainly wouldn’t keep a distance solo to the finish after a breakaway attempt. So I just sat with the group and waited for the sprint. I was guessing one or two of them weren’t registered, so I was confident that I would podium at least. But beating all of them in a sprint just wouldn’t happen.

The ZP winner (the guy I was the most worried about during the race) smartly revved up his sprint late and passed me. Well, being way stronger than me, it was bound to happen anway.

So this vile cheater had to settle for silver. You won’t always win as a cruiser, but you get chances (and podiums) others don’t. Like ever. It’s easy. Because the system is broken. I could never exist in a results-based categorization. And it’s on you to ask Zwift nicely for that. Or maybe not so nicely. Whatever floats your boat, whatever spins your wheels.

Some 40 riders in the category were removed by ZP, 8 sandbaggers ahead of me and then a whole bunch of unregistered behind me.



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Race Report: 29 Sep 2020, Team Vegan Tofu Tornado, Tick Tock, 2 laps

With my cheater’s license renewed it was time to go visit Watopia again and play some banjo. You know, duel the system a bit like I have been doing. Well, I tried everything. I even squealed like a pig. It didn’t help. I couldn’t possibly have got a better result than 4th.

Now you should tag along and try to follow me to understand what a 4th really means here and exactly why that happened. Who knows, you might pick up a banjo lick or two on the way.

This looked like a suitable race for a cruiser on the ZP website. Very flat, a little too flat for my liking, but with full draft, not that many heavies signed up and a good turnup it nevertheless seemed reasonable enough. Besides, there was only really one other suitable option for me tonight, but that race had a notorious heavy weight cruiser in it who I didn’t want to lose to.

There were loads of last minute signups, so 2 min before the race the participant list for cat D had grown to over a scroll length on ZP, meaning it would be hard to keep track of everyone during the race to tell the registered from the unregistered and the lambs from the wolves. The list looked like this:

The list is cut off but I’m guessing it may have been up to 40 registered riders. Some time later in the results, ZP picks up only 19. The rest were DQ’d! (You can imagine the tempo – more about that below.)

I didn’t have the time to study the late arrivals of course, and they were plenty. But down to like 6 min before the start I had a pretty good picture of what I was facing. At that time there were just a couple of cat C’s listed. Well, there was actually two more hidden in the D field, exactly how they managed to get downgraded, I wasn’t sure and didn’t have time to figure out. Then there were two female sandbaggers – this is a bit unusual although not unheard of – who were categorized as female cat C and clearly over limits for D judging by their past results. I memorized their names too. And then finally there were two or three guys who weren’t cheaters but who I would have to keep an eye on still.

The race was listed as having invisible off-cats, which I prefer, although sucking some slow cat C rider’s wheel can be useful sometimes. But they were not invisible. And with no staggered start groups and high attendance the start was a complete slaughter.

I got into some kind of front group while at the same time thinking “whoah I don’t like this pace at all”. With cat A’s and B’s driving the pace, the big front group got strung out fast and I reluctantly clung on to the tail end. But you know, when you look down on your mobile and your average still shows 300W after a minute, with no signs of dropping off, and you’re cruising cat D, then it’s time to devise an exit plan.

I think I hung on to the front string for 2-3 min. Then I spotted an all-yellow blob not too far behind. It was an easy choice to drop. The only problem was that yellow blob seemed to go awfully fast too seen from a distance. And it did. While slower than the front string, some 12 min into the race my average was only down to 210W. I still had 8 min to go before the first (and worst) 20 min were done, which would define my avg W/kg in the results on ZP. I wanted down to 190W. Or maybe 195W as an absolute maximum, one that I wasn’t even completely sure my 90-day ZP average could take. It would be decided on the second or third decimal and the last thing I wanted was to get upgraded and lose my cheater’s license again. Now, 8 min may seem like plenty to get the average to drop 15-20W some 12 min into the race, but the group still wasn’t slowing down! I realized I would be forced to drop once more.

As luck would have it, I got the chance to splinter off the back together with two other guys whose wheels I could suck. Going considerably slower than the second group the average still moved awfully slow, however, but I didn’t want to drop from those two either. I made it to the descent down the ocean tunnel and had to stop pedaling completely with a knot in my stomach, just rolling, while the last few seconds of the first 20 min block were ticking out.

I managed to get the average down to like 194-195 with just a couple of seconds to go. Now I was safe. Well, actually, I didn’t feel safe yet. I felt I had to do some calculations on the mobile while cruising the flat of the tunnel just to make sure. Yes. I was safe. But barely so. It was very close to a screwed up 90-day average though. Although ZP pinned me a little lower afterwards my calculations put the 90-day average at 2.4966667 W/kg!

Soon enough an approaching, mostly yellow group caught up with us and I ran with them for the rest of the race. All of them seemed fairly strong but no one seemed to be interested in catching up with any forward group. The pace dropped considerably on the second lap. I think I hit a low in my second 20 min block of 164W which, given that I am light and weak and unfit, is still a joke compared to what I have been used to. It almost felt like some fat burning ride. This was no way to end a race.

I tried to pry a little in the ascent up to the forest, hammered it and forced them to catch me on the bridge. They still hung in there, all of them. I only recognized one registered name in the group, which didn’t mean a whole lot with all the late signups, but that name was one of the non-cruiser guys I was a little worried about. Since he wasn’t a cruiser like me, I would have to wear him out some more before the finish. It might actually work. So on the climb out of the ocean tunnel on the second lap I repeated the push, then let them catch me while still making sure the pace didn’t slow down too much for them to catch their breaths. This time a couple of guys had to drop. Excellent…

The plan was to rob the group of the sprint through a third push while popping an aero at something like 800m from the finish, a push that would last all the way. Not really a breakaway attempt, I mainly wanted to make sure their legs were sour before the sprint, because I reckoned all or most of them were heavier and more muscled than me. And also fit enough to not get dropped easily (there were clearly some questionable cat D’s in that group).

I executed my little plan and got caught and overtaken by two or three of them at maybe 200m from the finish, caught up with them again somewhat and lost the group sprint to the front guy, a heavy who wasn’t registered anyway.

And this put me at 4th. The podium were all minutes ahead of me. They must have been sitting in that second yellow group I dropped from after 12 min. Now, I’m sure they slowed down on the second lap. And fitness wise I would have had no problem staying in the group. I’m a cruiser! But I had to drop or I would have been DQ’d and upgraded.

So how come they didn’t get DQ’d? How come their first 20 min didn’t average above 2.5 W/kg, since I claim mine would have had I stayed with them?

The answer lies in their weights. They all weigh some 15-20 kg more than me. And this means two things to me. First, they more than likely had more muscle mass than me, which would let them produce higher average Watt at the same perceived effort. Second, with their weights they would have way more wiggle room compared to me in squeezing in extra Watt below the cat D performance ceiling of 2.5 W/kg. And you can also see that their Watt numbers are indeed higher than almost all the rest of us participants in cat D. Our W/kg are similar but they are doing 40-45W more than me on average. Of course they are going faster on the flat! And of course I couldn’t keep up with their speed without getting DQ’d! This race was simply impossible to win for a cruiser on the lighter side.

Yes, this is coming from someone who was intentionally cheating in the race, who should be racing in cat C according to the ZP ethics, who had lots of excess capacity throughout the race, and who had a fairly good grasp of what was going on tactically.

Now imagine you had been in this race too and that you were fairly light, and that you were a “true” cat D who could keep a 2.49 W/kg average but only barely so. An upper zone 4 effort, but you’re not afraid of the pain. Bring it on!

How do you think you would do in a race where not even a cheater stands the slightest chance? Also remember that the podium will be back for more cat D races. Indefinitely, should they want to and should they play their cards well (double whammy: heavy weight cruisers).

You would be completely shut out in races. Your only way out of this would be into the bottom of cat C. Not that you would ever get rid of cheaters like me or heavies like those on the podium, not with race rules like ours. Because there is plenty of cheaters and heavies and heavy cheaters in cat C too. And in cat B, so stop dreaming.

Do you see how broken the system is? Is this really your idea of fun?

You shouldn’t complain though. At least you learned some banjo.

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Cheat School: 3. Getting Your Cheater’s License

To start cruising seriously you will need to acquire a cheater’s license. Don’t you worry, ZwiftPower is perfectly fine with you cheating as long as you pass their cheating test. It is actually they who issue the license. And no, it is not a piece of plastic to stuff your wallet with. It is just an official lower category on your ZwiftPower profile page, one that will let you sign up for races in a lower category without getting automatically disqualified.

There is a bit of a Catch 22 to this, though, just like with driving school, as getting the cheater’s license actually requires you to start cheating before you have it. But since you are under supervision by Cheat School, this is OK.

Although ZwiftPower legislation doesn’t explicitly demand that you add a [Student Cruiser] or an [L] tag to your in-game name, it is a nice gesture to other racers, so that they don’t set their expecations too high on your race performance at a point where you may still deliver unpredictable results since you are still a learner. Feel free to experiment with such a tag.

Register with ZwiftPower

If you are not already registered properly with ZwiftPower (ZP), then follow the registration instructions on the ZP website. Zwift itself does not even try to enforce categories in the least, so to cruise just for the Zwift HQ race results in e.g. the Zwift Companion app is rather pointless and you might be competing against cat A+ riders doing so anyway. ZP, on the other hand, semi-enforces categories by disqualifying any registered racer who exceeds W/kg limits in a race. Furthermore, ZP is regarded as the “true” results in any race by the racing community, so obviously it is ZP and the racing community you want to deceive by cruising and not ZHQ.

Choosing a suitable category to cruise in

What you need to do to get your license is to decat, i.e. to lose your current category on ZP and get a lower one. This is a long-term project. No one walks out of Cheat School with a license the first day. It can take up to 90 days to accomplish even if you work hard on it, during which you will be practicing your cruising skills, however, so it won’t be all bad.

First, you need to decide on which cat to decat to. If you are a cat C rider, then you only have the option to decat to cat D. As a cat A rider, you can theoretically decat to any of the cats B-D. It is suggested that you only decat one step, meaning a cat A rider decats to cat B and not C or D.

There are three reasons why you should not decat two or more cats down:

First, cruising takes its toll on your freetime, which is limited by nature. When cruising you will not be racing at an intensity that corresponds to a HIIT workout, so if you are looking to improve your fitness, and you should be, then your cruising sessions can never be what drives your fitness progress the most. You will have to work on your fitness in other ways than either racing or other scheduled group events [sic!]. Within Zwift you are thus confined to solo workouts or hard freerides as a cruiser if you want to improve fitness further, a price you need to be willing to pay.

Second, cruising more than one cat below your “true” cat is harder than just one step down. And it is all too easy to get your cheater’s license revoked (i.e. you get upgraded again), in which case you will need to start all over again with a new 90-day decat period to get your license renewed. One or two mistakes where you go over the W/kg limits slightly is often all it takes.

The reason why cruising is much harder in too low a cat is that you don’t get the bodily cues that you are about to go over limits in a race. When cruising just one cat below you will have excess capacity for most of the race (except sometimes when you bridge or sprint) but the race is still an effort and it is much easier to gauge your Watt output when you get feedback from your body than if you were a cat A racer cruising a cat D race, just spinning your legs. Without feedback from your body you would have to watch the numbers on your Zwift screen and on third-party apps much more closely, and irrepairable mistakes would be much more likely to happen. It is simply a safety precaution to decat only one step and it may well be what separates a voluntary cruiser from an involuntary sandbagger.

Third, cruising too far below your “true” cat is so boring that you would be tempted to sandbag just to get any kind of stimulation from a race, and there goes your license.

Adhering to cat W/kg limits

Once you have chosen your cruising cat, make sure you fully understand the W/kg limits of said cat. The limits are as follows:

Cat D: best 20 min W/kg avg. * 0.95 < 2.500 W/kg

Cat C: best 20 min W/kg avg. * 0.95 < 3.200 W/kg

Cat B: best 20 min W/kg avg. * 0.95 < 4.000 W/kg

This means that during no 20 min period of any race or any other group activity listed in the Zwift Companion schedule must your average W/kg * 0.95 exceed the cat limit! ZwiftPower does allow you to go over limits by 0.1 W/kg (previously 0.2 W/kg) before you get a DQ, but this is leeway that you should think twice about making use of. If the race depends on that 0.1 W/kg, then maybe this was simply not your race. There are plenty of other races out there. Don’t risk your license.

Make sure you understand that the limit is not your best 20 min W/kg during the race but rather your best 20 min W/kg * 0.95. ZwiftPower attempts to treat those 20 min as an FTP test. They try to make sure your assumed 1-hour capacity does not exceed the cat limit, and not your best 20 min. This is one of many flaws in the ZP rule set, since it lets a cruiser, who has excess capacity by definition, go over cat limits the entire race – just as long as no 20 min period * 0.95 exceeds the limit. A weaker racer might not be able to hold consecutive 20 min periods * 0.95 close to limits over a race that lasts 40+ minutes since his average Watt drop over longer efforts, but you as a cruiser will defy this physiological principle to some extent since you are not at or even near your lactate threshold on average. You will last longer since you go easier – you don’t go slower than others in the race but your perceived effort going the same speed or faster will nevertheless be lower.

Also make sure you understand that “any best 20 min period” in the race does not mean any best consecutive 20 min period. More often than not your best 20 min period, whether you are cruising or not, will be the first 20 min of the race, right from when the race clock starts at 00:00:00 up to 00:20:00. But there are occasionally races where your best 20 min period could happen between 00:04:57 and 00:24:57 (or later still). So in this case your actual best 20 min period occurs somewhere between the first 20 min block 00:00:00–00:20:00 and the second consecutive block 00:20:00–00:40:00, overlapping both of them.

The concept of consecutive 20 min blocks is still important, however, and we will sometimes make use of it in this course but for very specific reasons. More about that later on.

Passing the cheater’s test and getting the license

In order to pass your ZP cheater’s test you need to be able to show a 90-day best-three average 20 min W/kg * 0.95 below the limits of your chosen cruising cat. There is a button on top of your past activities list on your ZP profile page that says “View 95%” and this should be clicked orange to get your outputs multiplied by this 0.95 factor. Keep it orange.

So if you want to cruise in cat C, then only your best three registered activities count. (Note that this includes both races and other scheduled group activities like group rides!) So in order to decat fast, you now need to sign up for and complete three scheduled activites in the Zwift Companion app. And the average W/kg effort of those three must not reach 3.2 W/kg after the 5% deduction (avg 20 min W/kg * 0.95). So an adjusted 3.19 W/kg is OK whereas 3.201 W/kg is not, at least for the best-three average.

Note that ZP will DQ you from your decat races. You will find the UPG tag in your activies history next to the results and you will not show up among the participants when looking at the overall results on the corresponding race pages on ZP. This is normal and unavoidable. Although DQ’d these results still count toward your new average.

Want to calculate ahead of time and understand why ZP puts you in your current category? Add the adjusted three best results (20 min W/kg * 0.95) over the last 90 days together and divide them by 3. There is your 90-day average. You need to get it down below e.g. 3.2 W/kg over the coming 90 days. And it is recommended that you do so practicing to cruise races rather than doing safe group rides with target W/kg below desired limits. You had best be practicing cruising from the start if you want to become a cruiser.

Once you have a 90-day period where the best three results are below your cruising cat limits, then ZP will decat you. So if you decat to e.g. cat D you will look like a true cat D to anyone who doesn’t dig too deep in your race history. And even if they do, ZP will know you as a cat D and will no longer insta-disqualify you with the UPG (“Upgrade”) tag for just signing up to a cat D race. Congratulations! This is your cheater’s license, a false but seemingly legit-looking lower cat on ZP. And they can’t tell. They don’t even try to.

Just remember that you still need to stay below limits in any future race to not get DQ’d by ZP in that race. And if later, once you have started to cruise with your cheater’s license, you happen to get the current average of your best three race results above limits, then your license will be revoked since ZP will upgrade you to a higher category again. You will then once more get a UPG from ZP by just signing up to a race in your cruising cat and your results will not “count” in people’s eyes until you have renewed your license at least 90 days later than the latest of the three results that counted toward your over-limits average.

An example

So let’s assume that you are a cat B racer who wants to become a cruiser and that your current 90-day average looks like this on ZP:

So clearly you are currently miles away from “legitimately” cruising in cat C. You need to get those 3.61 wkg down to at most 3.19 wkg, but at least three past results in your last 90 days stand in the way and only time and a handful of successfully cruised races can make them go away.

But let’s assume that the highest result, the 3.76 wkg, was from 80 days ago. Then ZP will discard it in only 10 days. After that it’s the second highest results that will count as your new high, i.e. either of the 3.53 wkg results. And a fourth result from your race history, lower than the two 3.53 wkg’s, will be used together with those two to calculate your new average.

Try to find the two 3.53 wkg results in your activities list below these numbers on your ZP profile page. What dates were they from? You can then tell how long you must wait before they are discarded (just add 90 days). And other than those, are there still other later results above 3.19 wkg over the last 90 days? Then they might prevent you from getting your decat until they too have ticked out. You can’t get a license before 90 days from your last result over limits.

Anyway, you need to make sure to add three race results below 3.19 wkg to your race history and in no more than 90 days will you have your license. If you haven’t raced much recently and the results that pin you at cat B are rather old, then you can actually get your licence faster than in 90 days.

So let’s assume all old results have been discarded by ZP and that the three highest-effort attempts at cruising look like this:

This is not ideal. It’s passable but you could have done better. Your average is 3.18, below 3.2, and you are now welcome to race in cat C without getting that auto-DQ. But you are going to have to be very careful doing so and your chances of getting great results in your races might be somewhat limited.

The reason is your two best races are actually above limits. It’s only the 3.07 wkg result that brings the average down to acceptable levels. So assume that you on your first licensed cruise get an adjusted best 20 min result of 3.14 wkg and that everyone who crossed the finish line before you were over 3.2 wkg. Your result is the first one below limits so you will not get a DQ for the effort itself. Congratulations! You should be the winner according to ZP! That’s the good news. Now here is the bad news. You’re not the winner. Your best three results and your new average are now:

(3.25 + 3.23 + 3.14) / 3 = 3.207

You get a DQ for having blown your average and you are also upgraded to cat B again!

It is better to aim for results that aren’t too high while getting your decat. See it as an early exercise in prudence and patience, things you cannot get too much of as a cruiser. With your strong legs and lungs, too strong for cat C anyway, you will likely find that you all too easily go over limits eager for results.

At least make sure your best three while getting the decat are all below 3.2 wkg. It would have been much better if your decat looked like this:

While your average is rather high, no race in the best three is above limits at least. This means you know for sure that as long as you don’t go over cat limits in any single race from now on, then you won’t get either DQ’d or upgraded.

The nice thing about having an initial average a little lower than in the example is that your average will be more forgiving should you accidentally go over limits slightly in one of your early licensed cruises, something that easily happens. A lower initial average can take such a hit without getting too high and turn into an upgrade.

Now go get those three sub-whatever results you need. Good luck on getting your license! Or perhaps wait a little just yet…

The missing piece

There is one thing we haven’t actually touched on yet. Getting three sub-limits results isn’t hard if you overdo it. Just forget about placings and go ridiculously slow in three races! Go for a coffee break and come in last! But that isn’t very constructive. You need to learn how to cruise for the future, for what is coming once you have the license. So if you are not to overdo it, if you were to practice how to stay below limits like in a later licensed race where you actually care about the results, then exactly how do you do that? That is for the next lesson. Don’t skip class!

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Cheat School: 2. The Pledge

In order to enroll in Cheat School you have to take the pledge.

Repeat after me:

I, [name], solemnly pledge to consecrate part of my Zwift racing to the service of the Zwift subscriber community and the betterment of Zwift racing by cheating.

I will never state my weight falsely.

I will never state my height falsely.

I will never tamper with hardware or software to enhance my performance.

I will never consume illicit performance enhancing substances, unless prescribed by a doctor for health reasons.

I will cruise.

For cruising is the sublime form of racing in Zwift and is most pleasant to the eyes of the Zwift Gods. Yea, the Gods of Zwift rejoice in Heaven over the Cruiser, hallowed be His name. May He strike down His foes in Zwift races and may golden laurels crown His head. For He is infused with the Holy Spirit of WTFPWN for all eternity. Or at least until the Zwift Gods get a grip and change the system.

See, that wasn’t hard. Welcome to Cheat School! Now let’s cruise!

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Cheat School: 1. Grand Opening

Of course you have always wanted to cheat in Zwift! Or cruise, to be more specific – there are cheaters and then there are cheaters after all. Cruising is the most sublime form of cheating in Zwift. It is the only form of cheating that doesn’t involve breaking any rules, neither Zwift’s nor ZwiftPower’s nor race organizers’ rules. It is also the optimal, most effective, most successful way to race in Zwift and on ZwiftPower if you want to win. And why race at all if you don’t want to win? Of course you should cruise!

You would want to cruise for any number of reasons:

– You may want to cruise to make your contribution to critical mass, the breaking point where even the dimmest start to realize that something is rotten in the state of Denmark and Zwift is forced to take action and rework the race rules into something better.

– You may want to cruise in the meantime as a simple protest against race rules that are an insult to intelligence

– You may want to cruise just to try it out – to see for yourself if it actually works and if it brings any clarity to the purported rampant cheating in everyday Zwift races

– You may want to cruise to get an impressive race history on ZwiftPower, which should earn you some respect in your local Zwift community (it has worked before)

– You may want to cruise just for laughs, to WTFPWN the pudgy noobs in a lower category

– You may want to cruise as a pleasant and more engaging recovery ride in your otherwise hard and highly structured training plan

– Or you simply want to cruise because you like to take things nice and slow

It really doesn’t matter what your motives are, although you will only fully understand why once you are a cruiser yourself.

There are many self-tutored cruisers out there already, but by enrolling in Cheat School you will get up to speed much faster and won’t have to make the myriad of mistakes of the forerunners. How do you cruise? How do you get started even? This is where Cheat School provides. In here you will learn all the intricacies of cutting-edge cruising. All posts will be sorted under the Cheat School category, which you can select to filter for quick access.

The course begins with a few introductory posts to get you started, as you will be expected to practice and do homework already early in the course. After the introduction we will discuss various cruising topics, one at a time, in an unstructured fashion.

If time goes by and nothing happens to the Zwift race rules, a quite likely scenario the way things are looking right now, meaning cruising remains the most effective way to race in cat B-D in Zwift, then Cheat School will eventually grow into a book, which will be put together and distributed freely in .pfd format for future students.

You enter the Cheat School curriculum by making a pledge. You graduate from Cheat School by proving your skills with a solid cheat record, the details of which will be provided at a later date.

The benefits of having graduated from Cheat School include:

– Significantly improved racing merits and ZP rank score (although from a lower category)

– A deep understanding of the Zwift race rules and the reasons why they are not fit to be a race rule system in a sport

– Hours of questionable fun!


Good luck, student and fellow cruiser!

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Zwift the German Board Game

There is one thing you need to understand about cruising in Zwift. It isn’t just cheating. It isn’t just cheating-while-getting-away-with-it-on-ZP either. In fact, it isn’t even cheating-very-efficiently-while-dodging-the-DQ. No, our race rules and race category system allow cruising. And cruising is the optimal way to race in Zwift.

In turn, the hours I put in are about finding the optimal way to cruise. I am definitely no expert at it. Not yet. But if Zwift and ZP will allow me, I think I will get there in due time. And the way things are looking right now over at ZHQ, I’d say the prospects are bright. I will most likely be able to continue optimizing the optimal way of racing in Zwift. The last known statement from Zwift is that racing will remain as is for the foreseeable future.

It is what it is. But if you have followed any of the race reports here, then you might agree with me that there are still interesting challenges to cruising. It asks so many things of you. It takes curiosity, competitiveness of course, a constant hunger for improvement, there’s all the excitement, and the need for an analytical mindset, the min-maxing of parameters, finding the optimal strategies for different scenarios, and yes, having that constant eye out for opportunities.

The closest analogy that I can come up with for what cruising can offer you is German board games, or Eurogames as they are also called. You know, board games like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Agricola, Puerto Rico etc, designed by Germans with poetically exotic names like Klaus Teuber, Uwe Rosenberg or Reiner Knizia.

I am no expert at German board games and not much of a board gaming buff. I am more the cyclist type. But I have played some of them and I know a little about the genre and its history. American board games got split up into a commercial mainstream branch (think Monopoly) and then a niche branch for the more or less adult audience. I refer to these hardcore strategy games with manuals thick as books and hundreds of playing pieces on huge game boards. The German board games took another direction, partly as a response. Not really meant for kids but simple enough to introduce to your friends in one sitting, games that take only a bearable amount of minutes to learn but a lifetime to master, to paraphrase the commercial for a completely different and very old board game.

The first few times you play a German board games it’s just fun and laughter. They can be very entertaining and they do bring people together in a way computer games often fail at. The novelty wanes, like with anything, after you have played one of them a few times. But they often keep growing on you even so. The novelty is replaced by something else. You start to discern the game and its rules as a system of limitations and opportunities and slowly you being to understand how to win, and win again. What does a good starting location in Catan look like? At what point do you shift over from maximizing income to buying assets in Puerto Rico? And the fun becomes less of just laughing together with friends for failing and more of spotting the system, outsmarting your friends and beating them. And they want to beat you too.

Yeah, German board games like Catan or Zwift can really be a lot of fun for you and your friends. There is only really one thing lacking in them, one thing I can miss.

They are not like bike racing at all.

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Race Report: 22 Sep 2020, KISS at Race – EU PM, Whole Lotta Lava, 2 laps

Under the volcano, playing with fire. I really need to slow down. I am very close to screwing up my categorization and I was dangerously close to going over limits today. With a best 20 min tonight of 2.495 W/kg, and with a 2.521 W/kg and 2.457 W/kg in tow come October, I will land at a 2.491 W/kg, barely cat D.

In this report I thought I would will teach you a nice little cruiser trick, or principle rather, but let’s go through the race first.

I overdid tonight’s race, much like the Alpe the other day. I beat the ZP winner by 3 min 21 sec, barely under the cat D limit. So yes, this would be a gold in about a week from now, which is when an over-limits result from July 1 poofs. But it was an unnecessary margin. It’s just so hard to judge where you stand as a cruiser sometimes.

The race wasn’t so tricky to read as some of the recent races I have participated in. But a race of this size, 162 participants whereof 34 cat D’s, gets messy still. Few participants were registered with ZP, though, which simplifies things a bit since it is the ZP crowd I am competing against, but with so many participants of various categories cluttering the in-race rider standings you sometimes have no idea if any legit riders are already ahead of you, or if it is the other way around and you ought to slow down a bit.

The start was quite comfy. The pace was too high to keep up for long without going over limits but nevertheless manageable for me, so I would have to be careful.

I got into the front group, knowing there would be quite a few sandbaggers in it. The ZP start list looked like this 5 min before the race. No children or high-end heavies to worry about.

I recognized few names in the front group during the approach, meaning there would be a lot more unregistered sandbaggers on top of those I knew of beforehand. I tagged along all the way to the foot of the volcano and then decided to drop during an early climb section. Still at 75 kg (why am I not losing weight?!) I then had 8-9 min to lower my average W/kg from something like 220W down to ideally 190W, or 195W at the very least.

I lost precious time looking for a suitable group of cat D’s to hitchhike on while lowering the average. But group after group were doing 2.7-2.8 W/kg and I had to let them go. With just a couple of minutes left, I had to slow down to something of a crawl to push the average down fast. I barely made it to 195W. And in the meantime yellow dots were whooshing past me left and right. I lost count of them. This didn’t look good at all!

Shouldn’t those who passed me be sandbaggers anyway, racers I could ignore? Probably, yes, but not necessarily. It is really inefficient time-wise to go slow in a climb. Ideally, you only want to push low Watts on a descent, where your speed doesn’t suffer that much from the low effort. And even on the flat you can coast a bit from time to time if you’re in a group. If the riders passing me had had a more even pace over the approach and the beginning of the climb combined than I had, as mine had turned very uneven by then in spite of the relatively slow start, then they just might have been able to pass me while still under limit. I couldn’t exclude the possibility completely, which probably explains why I kept a high pace for the rest of the race.

Actually, as soon as the first 20 min block was done I hammered the rest of the climb. My reasoning was that I had already completed a large part of the climb and stepping on the remainder probably wouldn’t hurt my next 20 min block or even an overlapping block that much since I had a descent to look forward to, where my average would drop rapidly. I’m guessing the 2.495 W/kg ZP put me at was the first 20 min but later blocks probably weren’t much lower.

On the second climb up the volcano I started to pass some cat D’s and felt more at ease since those still ahead of me began to look more and more like obvious sandbaggers that I didn’t have to worry about. The last part of the race was spent in a small group with some slow cat C’s and two cat D’s that had me a little worried. I then got completely taken by surprise by the finish arch since I had mental picture of the waterfront finish for some stupid reason, but it was probably a good thing that I never tried to sprint against the other two guys, who turned out to be sandbagging anyway.

Now time for the treat. I stated in the last race report, the one up the Alpe, that an even pace is preferable in a climbing race in Zwift, and that it included the approach. I’ll add something to that. The thing is an even pace takes better advantage of a quirk in the ZP calculations. It’s not an exploit, it’s not that good, but it’s useful knowledge nevertheless.

Assume you are a cat B cruiser at 70 kg racing a climbing route that lasts for two 20 min blocks. The first block is roughly 10 min approach and then it’s the first 10 min of the 30 min climb. Assume there are several groups during the approach you can choose between, all with varying speeds. You gain seconds by drafting in a group that hammers the approach of course, but the speed increase going from fairly hard to really hard isn’t as big in relative terms as when going from fairly hard to really hard in a climb. You are in draft during the approach, yes, but the exponentially increasing air resistance during high speeds nevertheless kills some the effort during the approach. During the climb you are mainly fighting gravity, which behaves differently as a counter-force.

Your effort is better spent climbing and – here is the thing – you want to spend as much time as possible over limits during the climb. But how can you do that, especially if the goal is to keep an even pace? You aren’t supposed to hammer any climb sections, right?

The Watopia PD will DQ riders going over limits. But their speed cameras are a bit funny. They don’t care if your total race average is above limits as long as no 20 min block puts your Watt x 0.95 above the Watt limit for your weight. And that implies that you can go over limits for the entire race. That was confusing, I know, sorry. But I’ll give an example.

So you weigh 70 kg and in cat B the max is 4.0 + 0.1 W/kg before ZP DQ’s you.

70 kg x 4.1 W/kg = 287W

So 287W is your max then? You stay below 287W in the race and you should be fine? Wrong! You’re passing up on a golden opportunity here as a cruiser.

The Watopia PD reckons your 1 HR FTP should be no higher than 287W in a race as a 70 kg rider in cat B, but the way they calculate this is essentially by treating your “best” part of the race, your “best” 20 min, as an FTP test. And, as you know, to arrive at your 1 HR FTP the formula is:

[Best 20 min avg. W] x 0.95 = 1 HR FTP

or put differently

[Best 20 min avg. W] x 0.95 / Weight = 1 HR W/kg limit

So imagine you, being this cat B rider, keep an ERG-mode-like even pace throughout the race. Then your [Best 20 min avg. W] x 0.95 / 70 kg must never exceed 4.1 W/kg for any 20 min period in the race. Let’s solve for [Best 20 min avg. W]:

[Best 20 min avg. W] x 0.95 / 70 kg < 4.1 W/kg

[Best 20 min avg. W] < 4.1 W/kg x 70 kg / 0.95

[Best 20 min avg. W] < 302W

Thus, as long as no 20 min period in your race is higher than 302W, then you won’t get a DQ. But 302W / 70 kg = 4.3 W/kg! You can do 4.3 W/kg throughout the race and get away with it as long as you pace it well!

I was actually above 2.5 W/kg in cat D the entire race tonight. I just made sure to manage my trailing 20 min average. That’s how you cruise.

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Why call it ‘cruising’ and not ‘sandbagging’?

Some people have questioned my use of the invented term cruiser, which I didn’t invent myself by the way. I would have to credit some guy on the Zwift forum whose name eludes me, but the thread has been archived into thread heaven and is no longer available, so I can’t credit him by name. I liked the term though and stole it. I will explain why.

But first let’s answer the question, isn’t cruising the same as sandbagging? And why even bother with a new term when there is already an old established term that predates Zwift by centuries?

If we are getting into etymology, then hmmmnnaah… I don’t think the terms are quite identical. Sandbagging describes the act of misrepresenting your true strength by deliberately downplaying it, only to strike later once you have lulled opponents into believing you are weaker than you are.

There is still some confusion around the origination of the term. The phenomenon exists in car racing where a racer might provide a false dial-in time for his car before the race so that he can enter a lower bracket and win it easily since his car is actually faster than what the dial-in time said (essentially more similar to a “hacker” or weight/height doper in the Zwift context than a “sandbagger”).

But sometimes sandbagging is taken as putting bags of sand in your ride to weigh it down to make it look like it runs slower. I’m not so sure that has ever been a common practice among race car cheaters though. There are other more convenient ways to fake your car’s speed. Perhaps it is a confusion with horse racing, where you do put weights under the saddle, but then the purpose is not to cheat at all, rather quite the opposite. The horses’ weights are to be equalized in a race so that no horse is advantaged by carrying a lighter jockey and tack than the others.

However, the origination of the word sandbag is actually more sinister than just dead weights. A sandbag is like a sap, like a blackjack, a homemade weapon you clobber someone on the head with when he least suspects it, perhaps after conning him into a dark alley, and it might not even leave a mark on the unconscious victim you just robbed. It’s in that sense the term has been used in poker for many decades. You play your hand weakly and place a small bet, representing weak cards, to trick others into raising you. Which is exactly want you want, since a more forceful bet from you from the start might have scared them off. And then you clobber them by raising them back and now there is suddenly a whole lot of chips in the pot and your opponents are already committed and it’s too late for them to get out.

In any case, whereas both terms, sandbagging and cruising, refer to downplaying your true strength, sandbagging might have made cruising a redundant term, only it doesn’t. And cruising better describes the actual activity behind the term anway. It also captures another very important feature not to be missed. We’ll come to that.

Today when people complain over “sandbaggers” in Zwift on some forum, they rarely if ever refer to cruisers. It’s not always crystal clear what exactly they are referring to since the term itself rests on a somewhat far-fetched analogy. In 90% of the cases, however, people using the term refer to racers joining a lower category than what ZP pins them at. And in 90% of the cases they also refer to racers who have no intention to respect the performance ceiling of the cat they are racing in. So the actual deception when sandbagging, according to these people, is just the act of joining a lower category while your intention is to pace the race as if it was your “true” category. That interpretation of sandbagging is now so widespread, and sandbagging is also so blatantly obvious to even the dimmest racer, that many people seem completely oblivious to existence of cruisers. But as I hope I have been able to show here on the blog, i) I do actually exist, and ii) I am not alone in my trade, far from.

So while what a sandbagger does isn’t necessarily crystal clear, what a cruiser does should be more obvious. He cruises races. He races at a more casual pace than his actual limits, his full steam ahead.

Note here that while sandbagging hints at a malicious intent, cruising does not. There might not be any particular intent at all. Although I often speak of cruisers as having the motive to cheat, it might as well come down to just a matter of preferences for some of them. Some people don’t like to get too winded. They prefer to cruise in all activities in Zwift. Which is fine. You just shouldn’t be given an advantage in races when cruising, and that is Zwift’s fault, not the cruiser’s.

Yet sometimes you can actually spot malicious intent in the activities history of a racer. Some cruisers do way harder solo workouts than their races, which ZP doesn’t pick up on. Some cruisers show a history with a previous upgrade to the bottom of a higher category, where they became pack fodder and then apparently decided to go back to their original category again, supposedly where it was more fun since they won races there. There are all kinds of cruisers with all kinds of motives, I’m sure. But the thing is intent doesn’t matter. The effect on the race is the same regardless. It screws up the race for people who go hard, whatever their intent is.

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Race Report: 20 Sep 2020, 3R Alpe du Zwift KOM Race, Road to Sky

It was time to dust off the Tarmac Pro. I needed a Sunday cruiser workout that wasn’t too short. There happened to be two Road to Sky races close together on the schedule and I quickly decided that it would be the ride for me since AdZ happens to be one of my favorites. I opted for the race with the most signups, mainly because the other race had a known cruiser in the participant list. I figured better the devil you don’t know. It’s more fun that way.

I’m only cruising “virtually” until the end of month, which actually makes me a sandbagger in cat D since ZP pins me as a cat C, but I did try to stay within cat D limits as usual. Anyway, this would have been an extremely easy race had it been something like 2 Oct. With ZP showing 2.45 W/kg afterwards and with 10 min on the ZP winner according to the ZHQ race results, it would have a been a rock solid gold.

10 min? How can you win Road to Sky by 10 min in a race with a fair amount of participants? Well, there are reasons how this came to be. For starters, the ZP results list only shows one single eligible finisher (who thus was defaulted the gold)! I came in 6th according to ZHQ. Mr Gold did a 3.6 W/kg and Mr 5th did a 2.8 W/kg. Sandbaggers, all of them.

Oh, and perhaps I should show you this too:

This is the signup list on ZP from less than 10 min before the start. As you can see there is only one ZP registered participant who isn’t joining the wrong category. One of the others has even done a sub-60 AdZ in the past!

You can’t get a fair race in Zwift these days. It just doesn’t happen. If we are to get a bit philosophical here, though, you could perhaps say that from a utilitarian standpoint Zwift is actually making the right choice not to scrap their crappy cat system. I mean, look at it! Out of 10 signups, only one wants to race in his category. A whopping 90% want to cheat. So by still offering the opportunity to cheat, Zwift is actually maximizing happiness in cat D! It is clearly better to make 90% of the participants happy at the expense of 10% rather than the other way around. This is pure rationality! Or… wait a minute…

I think there is a reason why we see such an unusually high proportion of sandbaggers in this particular race though. It’s related to what I call the Sprint Race Catapult that comes with the W/kg cat system, only from the opposite end sort of. (You should read the post in the link if you don’t get the point.)

Some of the cat C’s are probably competitive, meaning they could actually have a shot at the podium in a more standard format race, like a 20-30 km race on a semi-flat route. But Road to Sky takes a lot more time to complete and these guys won’t be able to hold their 3.2 W/kg for that long. They might also be used to punchier races where you can hide in the draft between punches. So with their frail egos they prefer to join cat D instead, so that they don’t expose their suckiness. What if anyone saw that they could only land a 2.9 W/kg up the Alpe! Oh dear… Best join cat D! Anyway, that’s my theory. Only God knows what goes on in their minds.

But I didn’t get much competition in the cruising, despite this starting field. Half of them just went straight sandbagging instead. It’s probably the format. Climbing races are a little different. They are also ironically much easier to cruise than a flat race.

What is the optimal way to cruise Road to Sky? I don’t have data to support it, but my hunch says you should treat it like a TT race as far as possible. I doubt it would be a winning strategy to go over limits in the approach. There would still be time for you to make your first 20 min average W/kg drop as the climb starts, but you wouldn’t really want to have to slow down further at the point where you are already starting to go slow.

Instead you should probably aim for an effort on the cat limit, but getting draft is important here. It might be worth it go under the limit a tiny bit if that is what it takes to get draft. But if I had to drop from a front group of sandbaggers that pushed too hard for my average, I still wouldn’t want to slow down too much in order to let myself get caught by a slower group from behind. If you will get caught (and chances are you will if you drop solo and the pursuing group is large), then you might as well let your average drop in the approach and then recover by going over limits at the foot of the climb. But ideally, you get into a group early in the approach that has you going on the limit all the way to the mountain. You want to get there early but not pay too high a price for it.

Once the climb starts, since you don’t get that much benefit from drafting compared to a flat race, you should strive to keep an even pace. Don’t try to drop people the moment the climb starts. You are playing the long game. You are better off staying on the limit all the way to the finish while monitoring your 20 min average W/kg.

As for your average, it makes more sense than in a flat race to see the race as just a number of consecutive 20 min chunks. Once you complete one chunk with an OK average, you just start the next and don’t look back. You don’t have to worry too much that what happens in the last 10 min of the previous chunk will spill over into the next, because you will strive for an even pace and won’t be punching much anyway. You had to let slip a heavier rider in the approach? He might already be heading for a DQ. but if not, then reel him in slowly instead of trying to bridge fast. You have plenty of time. Avoid sudden movements in your average.

What is going to happen to anyone who isn’t cruising, especially during the winter when most Zwifters are on an exclusive Zwift diet with no long outdoor rides, is that they are going to start dropping off in pace after no more than 55 min. And a few minutes past the hour they might need to shift their gear range a tooth or two if they are to stay on a level RPE (essentially threshold). If you are a high cat B or better, then you might not reap much benefit from them dropping off since the total finish time will be too short, but otherwise this will be the moment when you start catching guys in front of you. Because, as opposed to them, you won’t have to slow down since you are cruising. Your HR will start to rise at the same time as they drop off, but there will still be plenty of room in your HR diagram before you hit the red, so you can afford to keep the pace up.

Actually, you might catch others long before that. Surprisingly many riders in C and D don’t know how to climb the Alpe efficiently. They shift gears way too little, keep a bad cadence for the situation, try to recover in corners and may instead start to hammer a climb section inexplicably. And then soon enough the balloon bursts, whether they are actually toast or just demoralized. The end result is the same regardless.

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