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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