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.