Race Report: CeramicSpeed Series Qualifier Race – How to Cruise Out and Back Again

This was one race I just had to cruise! Sponsored event featuring a high-profile brand. Is there ever a better opportunity to display the filth Zwift swept under the carpet? Now, nobody is interested in anything but cat A here. They are the ones to be crowned ambassadors, i.e. a few of them will get to be a virtual ad sign for a bit. Almost like going pro, no? Well…

For best effect, although from a low category, you would of course want to win an event like this as a cruiser, and then brag openly about how you cheated yourself to a win… without actually breaking any rules. If it wasn’t for the usual cat A focus, I would be furious as a sponsor with a brand name to protect if I was fully aware of what a piece of unfair crap Zwift racing really is. And as an undercover cruiser I would just love to help create a little awareness.

The only problem was this was going to be a very difficult race, for a number of reasons.

First, the start list was huge. Three minutes before start I counted 98 ZP registered participants and a few more probably dropped in while I warmed up. We can safely assume there were many unregistered as well even though the rules said you needed to be registered in order for your result to be taken into account, although in the end only 86 finished in cat D. It was a long and tough race that would still attract a lot of people who don’t race regularly and who then got more than their fill during the race and bailed out. Anyway, it is more difficult to cruise a big field since the probability that there is someone in the race who can beat you increases with every additional participant.

Second, how can I be so sure there were lots of unregistered without actually looking? (I never bothered.) Well, it’s a fair assumption that people just wanted in, not caring too much about the rules, since there were plenty of sandbaggers too. I counted 33 cat C’s or worse 3 min before the race. They would all get UPG’s of course, but that didn’t stop them from joining. There were probably quite a few unregistered sandbaggers as well. And cruising a race with a lot of sandbaggers in it is difficult for two reasons. They may confuse you and have you believe they are threats to your placing, and if you don’t watch it you might be tempted to follow which could bust your 20 min average. Also, perhaps even worse since you can’t control the damage yourself, sandbaggers set up the heavies for a win. As a light cruiser I can’t follow a sandbagger for long or I will go over limit. But a heavy might be able to suck the slower sandbaggers’ wheels and still stay within limit e.g. by getting early separation in the first minutes that may be hard to bridge, if you are even aware of their presence somewhere in the far distance in front of you.

Third, an additional problem with huge start lists is that they are near impossible to keep track of during the race. Who is in your group at the moment? Are they on the ZP registered list? Are they strong, will they last? Are they legit, sandbagging or cruising? With so many participants you would need your own personal directeur sportif to shout in your ear what to do and how to respond to what is going on around you. Do the dishes and call in the favor from next-of-kin is my advice. It would actually be really useful when cruising. (I do the dishes and more but I still don’t get my directeur sportif – life isn’t fair!)

Fourth, I noticed many threats in the start list. There was an unusually large number of “nearly C”, loads of heavies and quite possibly cruisers too (I didn’t have time to go through the race histories of all the stronger participants of course).

Too many factors to control. I would have to focus on my average and just play the race by ear. The result? It was OK, I think. I got a 5th on ZP and missed the podium (the bronze to be specific) in a sprint, and if you have read earlier posts you may recall that I am not a strong sprinter.

Actually, it was a mistake to allow the short sprint to happen at all. I was planning on doing the usual thing and go on a push or long distance sprint about a km from finish, but being low cat C trash and after quite a few races recently I must admit I was a bit tired and decided to gamble instead. In hindsight it might not have mattered to the result, looking at the race histories of the small group I was in, but at least there would have been no real downside to trying the long sprint as the worst that could have happened was 6th. Note to self: Don’t let it go to a sprint ever again if you can avoid it…

So what about the rest of top 5? The race was won by a superheavy who finished minutes ahead of us. Since all my 20 min blocks (3 ½) were near limit I know for certain that it would have been absolutely impossible to stay with a guy like that without getting a WKG, not that I ever even knew of his presence ahead in the race. He was pushing almost 300W!

Silver was a heavy who worked hard and who I think pushed solo for the last stretch, which kills speed quite a bit. If a long sprint would have been successful (I doubt it) I just might have connected with him, but then he would have destroyed me in the sprint as I would have been toast and wouldn’t be able to match his Watts even if rested.

As for the little group I was in, which included 3rd, we were all cruisers except for 6th who worked hard and had a legit history. He had a clear weight advantage on me but most of the others beat him on the scales, so all in all he was double disadvantaged. If I could pick a deserving winner in this race, it would be him for sure.

How to cruise Out and Back Again then? I think the easiest cruises would come in cat C. The reason is that the Volcano KOM would start just outside the second 20 min block for them. So they would have somewhat better opportunities to go rather hard in the climb in a sort of late post-20 min push, and then recover the average in the descent. But that is only the forward 20 min average covered, and there are good chances of getting your 20 min average starting at the foot of the climb recovered with the help of the descent as parts of it can be supertucked. If the tempo was only slightly below limit in the approach to the Volcano KOM, however, then there would obviously be the risk of raising the trailing 20 min average above limit.

Note: In this race I actually had to drop in the early climb to get my average down before 00:40:00. Then I went on a hard P20P push. It was probably what caused a best 20 min average on ZP slightly above limit and gave me an upgrade post-race (the result still stands though). Doing so helped me reconnect with the riders I later finished with though, so the result would probably have been worse if I hadn’t pushed. But be wary of your trailing average in that climb. It could easily rob you of your cheater’s license.

The Zwift KOM reversed, which is also included in this course, happens at a relatively safe distance in time from the Volcano KOM. So just be mindful of your average as usual there, no special treatment needed. Apart from those two climbs the rest of this longish race is pancake flat favoring the heavier rider. And for the heavy rider able to ride at limit for the duration of the race (essentially cruising, since this is a 60+ min race in cats C and D) not even the climbs will set him back.

As a final note, am I sorry about the upgrade? Not at all! I was about to write something about it a few days ago that it was probably about to happen soon and that I wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid it. Racing is my preferred WO and cruising is really bad for your fitness if you, like me, have the physique where high intensity gives better results than quantity, the long and slow. As if I would have the time anyway… So back to bottom cat C again where I belong right now. I will likely keep posting even so with course advice for the cruiser, more dissections of the Zwift racing system, etc. Oh, and a new data analysis festival – new and improved, smoking hot and shocking – that I have planned for when I get the time. But first that new lesson in Cheat School that I promised the other day.

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Race Report: 3R Racing – How you are forced to cruise Petit Boucle even when you are not a cruiser

Sunday is the day when a lot of Zwifters go on longer endurance freerides. Some choose to join longer races in a lower category instead. Far from all of these sandbaggers are out to snatch a podium. They may grow restless after a while, however, since virtual endurance rides, although essential in many training plans, are terribly boring and since racing other people is much more fun.

Yesterday’s race was one such Sunday race on the longer side. This was the shortened Petit Boucle of 45 km, but with a climb in the latter half it will still take cat A just over an hour to complete. I doubt you could go any faster than 1:15 in cat D.

It wasn’t a well-attended race but with the increased subscriber count there were still a decent lot at the start line. Only a minority were registered with ZP and a majority of participants, registered or not, were sandbagging.

With a race of this length lasting over an hour a cruiser does not worry about legits at all. It is just other cruisers, particularly the heavy ones, one has to keep an eye on. This was rather easy this time since there was just a handful of names that had to be watched. And with only four legitimate finishes in the end according to ZP (me being one of them) this was an easy gold (14th out of 35 on ZHQ).

So let’s forget this race and talk about Petit Boucle instead. It is not a difficult course to cruise at all. At a quick glance the course profile looks potentially complicated but it really isn’t, at least not in cat D and probably not in cat C either.

Most of the course is flattish with just some low-gradient rollers strewn out here and there. There are three climbs, at least if you look at those websites that detail the Zwift courses, but I beg to differ. I would call it 1 ½ climb.

First, there is the Aqueduct forward climb, which is very short and goes into the second 20 min block, and so it is not a problem. Second, there is the Petit KOM, which is a mid-range climb, although I would rate it a little less taxing than Box Hill. Then towards the end there is the Aqueduct climb again in reverse, which isn’t really a climb at all since you gained most of the elevation already earlier in a 2-3% inclination stretch not associated with the actual climb itself.

The Petit KOM could have been tricky. However, it so happens that it fits nicely into the third 20 min block in cat D and probably in cat C too. Since it is a long race, chances are that the last half of the second 20 min block had your group slow down a bit and go under limit. So even if you are forced to avoid getting dropped or elect to push yourself in the Petit KOM, you should be able to accomodate those extra Watts in your 20 min trailing average without too much difficulty. In fact, if the start was hard it might even be difficult to go over limit here with everyone being a bit toasty – it all depends on how low you cruise.

Bear in mind, though, that the descent is not quite as nice and steep as the course profile on some site would have you believe. It can actually be surprisingly difficult to get into supertuck in the descent. You will get the chance to get some CO2 out of your lungs if you went hard in the climb, yes, but the net effect on your average may be smaller than you hoped for. So don’t overdo the climb unless you have a solid plan for keeping your average within bounds.

In an everyday race the rider texture in the last 15 km after the Petit KOM is likely to be rather fragmented. You therefore don’t have to worry too much about finding draft. It is not out of the question to treat those last km’s as a threshold interval (even though it is not it may still feel that way at that stage) and convince yourself you are Jensie. You might not be as stuffed with chemicals but you are a kroozer, ja? So it evens out.

There is one tricky thing about Petit Boucle, though, which I would like to address. It is not something particular to the course really but rather something pertaining to its length. In a longer race like this, on a course that isn’t pancake flat, there may be a whole lot of fighting for position at start. Assume you are a completely legit top cat in C, not an “Almost B” but a solid C, only on top. You don’t podium much, if at all, because the cruisers and heavies do that for you. But you can produce a 20 min average not too far from cat limit. Now, if the race is even half as full of sandbaggers as this race was, particularly if the number of potential legits is a little bigger than in this race, then you might get dragged into these position wars in the first 10 min. And even if the group you are in halfways through the first 20 min block slows down a bit, it might still not be enough for your average to recover in time for the second block. You could risk a WKG, which would be both ironic and unfair since you are forced to spend the latter 20 min blocks well below cat limit due to fatigue. Thus, even a legit rider needs to learn how to cruise, or you risk getting upgraded and then race mostly below your new cat’s W/kg span. It’s a shitty cat system, I know. And Petit Boucle could be one of those courses where you get more than a whiff of the poo. So stay safe in sunny virtual France, whatever staying safe means to you.

We will take a closer look at the first 20 min in an upcoming new lesson in Cheat School. Stay tuned.

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Race Report: ABSA Cape Epic Stage 3 PB Abus – How to Cruise Jungle Circuit (Reverse)

I got the bronze here and I am satisfied. It wouldn’t have been possible with a higher placing. I will explain why later on but essentially it was because of my low weight.

This was a tricky race on a very simple course. The tricky part was the lineup. Since this is a big ZHQ event it attracts a lot of attendees even on a Friday night. I noticed 2 min before race start that the start list consisted of what looked like 50% sandbaggers and higher-cat recovery riders, and that was only on ZP. The bronze on ZP translated into 27th out of 89 in cat on ZHQ!

I also noticed in the ZP start list that there was a 7 year old Canadian child with a 3.2 W/kg 90-day average weighing in at 30 kg. If he finished, then there was no way I or anyone else could beat him since he falls under the low Watt–low weight ZP rules and can legitimately win even though he breaks through the performance ceiling in cat and rockets out into space.

The start was hardish but the front group soon slowed down and the second group bridged to us. Everything was nice and easy with a draft speed giving me a decent margin below cat limit that would surely let my initially high average tick down well before the 20 min mark. But once we hit the caves this kid does the smart thing. Or rather, you could almost hear coach daddy yell in the background “Go Charlie!” He suddenly started pushing 3.2 W/kg and went flying. Since the now enlarged front group consisted of quite a few sandbaggers the group was baited into following. A brilliant move! And well-timed. If there were any ZP signups among those who got baited, then they would be screwed. They would never get their averages down in time. I quickly decided to drop of course.

I expected more riders would be sensible enough to drop but apparently nobody checked the ZP signup list (a good sign, because all cruisers do). Or maybe they were sandbaggers all of them. I dropped into a sizeable group right behind us but even they seemed to be all sandbaggers and intent on catching up with the front group. So I dropped down further into some stragglers. Who were also sandbaggers and intent on catching up with the second group. And so on. It took a while until I found draft at a reasonable pace.

The group I landed in let me lower my average in time and with a nice little margin on top that I could use to catch up with riders up front in a post-20 min push once the first 20 min block was finished. I connected with a couple of riders in the push. After a while some others connected and we turned into a group of maybe six or so riders.

However, on the second lap I still had a Watt debt from the P20P to pay for and the pace was a little too high for my liking. So when the group started to chase down stragglers with 5 min left of the second 20 min block and with my average still 4% higher than my 20 min Watt limit, I realized I had to drop again. The only problem was this group contained the rest of the would-be podium, both of them significantly heavier than me. 1st would go over limit quite a bit in a way that I couldn’t possibly have matched without getting an upgrade. 2nd had 24 kg on me and I wouldn’t be able to compete with such a heavy-weight advantage either. Both seem legit though and if we disregard the Light Rider’s Curse for a second their placings were well deserved.

Some semi-dispersed riders right behind seemed to go a little slower and I dropped back to them. After a while we coagulated into a new group of 6-7 riders. I must have pissed off, among others, future 4th on ZP (who I noticed was a heavy as we went on) since I refused to take wind. I’m quite good at that. I’m glued to their wheels and there is no point in trying to shake me off. It won’t work unless they are sandbagging. And I absolutely had to suck wheel to lower my average in time for the start of the third 20 min block.

I let my average run past 20 min as we approached the finish through the caves. We had slowed down further and I built up a 2% Watt margin I would be able to use at the finish. Not much but it would cover a short push at least and I had saved an Aero powerup too.

The start list on ZP was hard to read with half of the participants, interspersed, being sandbaggers, but I was pretty sure my group only contained one ZP legit rider, the heavy guy I mentioned. If he decided to sprint at the finish just for the hell of it, then he would likely outsprint me and I wouldn’t even be able to try without risking an upgrade. This is a common problem for the cruiser. You will often not be able to sprint at the finish without screwing up your 90-day average, since you are often already on or very close to the limit. And even if, as in this case, you have a small Watt margin up to your Watt limit as you approach the finish, a 20 min average will rise horribly fast if you start doing sprint Watts. It is very easy to bust out in a sprint, so beware.

I pushed semi-hard some 400m out and popped the Aero. Some other guy I was half sure wasn’t on the ZP list went after me and I let him pass while trying to keep 4th behind me with an average that very quickly rose slightly higher than I wanted it to. Luckily, it seems the Wahoo app overreports compared to ZP (or maybe ZP underreports) so there seems to be a little safety margin built into my cheating setup. And thus I could both finish third and stay in cat.

But what about the kid? Well, 7 years is awfully young. If they have the stamina to last 2 laps around Jungle Circuit at all, then very few would have the attention span or motivation to sit through the whole race. In fact, as a parent I’d be slightly worried over a kid who did. On the second lap I saw him standing still by the roadside. Maybe his favorite cartoon had just started. ‘A’ for effort nevertheless.

So how do you cruise Jungle Circuit. Well, there really isn’t much to say. It is a very flat course. You just maintain your average and monitor the tactical situation basically. It won’t be the course itself that destroys your cheating dreams but, if anything, other riders.

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Race Report: 3R Innsbruckring Flat Race 2 Laps – How to Cruise Innsbruckring

This was a ridiculously easy race. The reason was that there were no cruisers around this time, only the usual sandbaggers, but even they were quite few, at least the ones that didn’t actually treat the race as just a moderate workout or recovery ride. Also the race had a distinct lack of strong heavies, which is a bit unusual. Maybe it was the late hour, a little too late for the Euros and a little too early for the Americas.

You can see the lack of competition in the results. You shouldn’t be able to win the golden turd after two measly laps around the Ring with a whopping 2 min time separation between you and the runner-up. It ain’t right. Obviously the remainder of the classification is legit. Note that almost four times as many riders were discarded by ZP, most of which were not registered on ZP at all. But at the same time it is interesting, because the results above tell you something about the power of cruising. It is quite clear. Remove weight advantage and competition between cruisers and this is what you get. Total domination over people trying to ride fair, even on such a short course. It ain’t right. But this is happening all the time in cats B, C and D on a daily basis.

As a sidenote, it’s an encouraging observation that so few among the corona mass invasion of new subscribers actually bother to sign up with ZwiftPower. ZP has its place, for all its shortcomings, and that is for managing leagues and series. But it ends there. And without that false shine of fairness that ZP painted over Zwift, it becomes blatantly obvious how flawed racing in Zwift is. The standard newbie discussion thread about racing these days is no longer the “Why do so many people sign up in the wrong cat?”, but rather the “How come people do 3.5 W/kg in a cat D race when D is specified as 2.5 W/kg max?” I.e. the newbies look straight at the ZHQ classification for the “true results” these days and couldn’t care less about the contrived ZP. And even the yea sayers, you know, the guys who go “You must look at ZP! ZP is da troooth!” seem far fewer in between these days. Or they simply drown in the noise of the newcomers, I don’t know.

Anyway, during prime time hours and with 3-4 laps around Innsbruckring rather than just 2, then you’d see much stiffer competition. I actually ended 4th here according to ZHQ after deliberately giving up the sprint for 3rd to an unregistered sandbagger I spent most of the race with, this in order to keep my average low, because there are a couple of tricky things about cruising the Innsbruckring. And I wanted to talk about that.

How do you cruise the Innsbruckring? It’s a great course and thus very popular. But it isn’t as easy to cruise as e.g. Sand and Sequoias or the other top choice race courses. And the reasons for that are two things. First, it’s a short lap of just 8.8 km. Second, the Legsnapper.

The Legsnapper is the 450m 7% climb towards the end of the lap just after you cross the bridge back to the north bank, just before the 5 km mark. People like to push it there. It presents an opportunity to drop people on an otherwise very flat course. However, pushing up the Legsnapper spells trouble to the cruiser.

Due to the short lap, if you are cruising in cat B or C, then you will hit the Legsnapper twice in the first 20 min block. Let’s say you cruise cat C. The start will be hard as usual, “fighting for position”, which translates into “finding the optimal group to suck wheel in just around cat W/kg limit”. A couple of kilometers after the start your hopefully optimal group will slow down. If the group is indeed optimal it will slow down below cat limit so that you can start lowering your inflated W/kg average (which is nowhere near 20 min yet by the way).

Then right before the 5 km mark comes the Legsnapper. Sandbaggers and contenders will start pushing and you can’t allow yourself to be dropped solo, not unless you have a juicier group right behind you to drop into the open arms of. And what if your current group will slow down considerably after the climb? Then you should be in it. No, you don’t dare to drop. So you follow. Obviously you won’t be trying to drop anyone yourself on the first lap. In 9 cases out of 10 it will be a bad idea. Instead you just follow and make sure you can draft the descent to start mitigating the sudden rise in your previously dropping average. So let’s assume you do and that the group does indeed slow down so that your average starts ticking down nicely again.

But then after another 8 km comes the Legsnapper again! And this time you may not be able to follow your group in the climb, because you are still inside the first 20 min block. In cat C and given that your group slowed down considerably after the first Legsnapper, then maybe. But it’s iffy. If you cruise cat B and given competition from other cruisers, following your group up the second Legsnapper can be a complete no-go depending on the situation. You may find yourself crawling up instead, in panic over your average.

Cruising cat D is easier. Deceptively easier. You will hit the 20 min mark right before the second Legsnapper. So you’re cool, right? No, not necessarily. This is the kind of course where you risk an overlapping peak 20 min period somewhere between the first two 20 min blocks. So unless you can track a trailing 20 min average in realtime, then you have to be careful.

The reason why you need to be careful is that potential overlap. The standard scenario in a race is that the first 20 min block is where you will push your highest Watts due to the hard start. So the 20 min average shown on ZP will be based on the 20 min period coinciding with the first 20 min (block) of the race. But you already have another power peak in the first 20 min block, the Legsnapper on the first lap, and people like to push the Legsnapper so hard that your Watts may become higher even than your Watts at the start, especially on the second lap, since you were smart enough not to follow obvious sandbaggers at the start but tried to find the frontmost group containing cruisers and legits. See the problem?

The problem is that even though the start was lower Watts than the second Legsnapper, there was still higher Watts than your group is now doing on the flat, so the start Watts are still a liability backwards in time, in your actual trailing 20 min average. So if you can’t track your trailing average in realtime but instead rely on the method I proposed in lesson 5 of Cheat School, i.e. restarting the average after the first 20 min block, then you risk going over limits if your group pushes really hard up the second Legsnapper.

This is a big problem for cat B and C cruisers. For the cat D cruisers I would suggest you don’t reset the average as you hit 00:20:00. What you can do instead as a rough method – and this you need to keep in mind already at the start of the race – is to make a mental note of how many minutes you went over limit after the start. Also try get a rough estimate of the kind of W/kg you did up the first Legsnapper. If you went over limit for 2 minutes at the start and if you are not really going harder up the second Legsnapper than up the first, then let your average run for about 2 more minutes before you reset. And keep your average in check. Yes, that could imply dropping.

If, on the other hand, you do indeed go harder up the second Legsnapper, then it gets even trickier. You may have to let the your first average run a little longer, but you could also be past the second Legsnapper after 22 min, which would reduce the risk of going over limit. Make sure you get good draft and hopefully easy pedaling in the descents, because you really need to get your average down a bit immediately.

Finally, there is one more hazard on the Innsbruckring. Because of potentially dangerous overlaps of 20 min periods between 20 min blocks, the finish can also screw up your peak average in the race and send you out of the podium or even your cruising cat. Sprints can be very dangerous because your average will take a significant hit and you are way less likely to monitor your average properly during a sprint than in basically any other situation. So ideally, you won’t have to finish the race with a sprint against another cruiser, but chances are that is something you won’t have much of a say in. You can only keep your fingers crossed.


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Race Report: UK Armed Forces Cycling Community Race Night – How to Cruise London Loop

Time to take up arms against British forces. As they say, “In love and war…” Hence they wouldn’t mind a little cruising, would they?

The course was two laps around the lovely London Loop. I won on ZP but I consider it a botched race as I went over limit slightly and damaged my 90 day ZP average. I might bust out of cat any day now if I’m not careful and keep the gold fever in check.

The London Loop, which includes the climb up Box Hill, is a very interesting, very tricky course for the cruiser. Or to be more precise, it is tricky if you can’t measure a trailing 20 min W/kg average directly (I still can’t) and thus have to rely on guesstimates from 20 min block averages (please refer to lesson 5 of Cheat School if you didn’t understand that sentence). Which would explain why I went over limit at all. I would assume it happened somewhere around the period of 00:10:00–00:30:00.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that legit top cat riders would do well to stay away from the London Loop even though it is a fun course. As a strong legit rider it would be only too easy to go over limits somewhere in the first 20 or 30 min, carried away by sandbaggers and an eagerness to position oneself well before and at the beginning of the first climb.

My guess is that this is a typical course where those about to will get their upgrade. But two laps is not a short race in Zwift standards! Even in cat B you are looking at a 50 min effort, and down in cat D it will be difficult to go under the hour mark. So if you are riding legit and push hard early on (and why wouldn’t you, seeing as you are not a cruiser?) then you might get upgraded for that initial effort while still suffering badly on the last lap at maybe 0.3 W/kg below limit, since by then you are out of both matches and steam, way out of contention against the complimentary sandbaggers and cruisers that your race came stocked with. And the next races you join, you will be assigned gatekeeper for the gruppetto up in the next category. Isn’t it ironic?

The course starts close to the Tower of London, follows the north bank of the Thames westwards and down south, takes Lambeth Bridge over to “Surrey” (yeah well…), up Box Hill, then down and across Tower Bridge and back to the finish arch.

The standard hard start will take you through most of the inner city section. Your group may slow down by or a little before Lambeth Bridge and by that time your average will be quite high. So you are going to have to slow down further if you want to avoid a WKG or an upgrade. This means the early climb will be affected by your need to go under cat limit for the remainder of the first 20 min.

As soon as you finish the first 20 min you can do the post-20 min push. As long as you are not pushing Watts higher than those at the start of the race and since you had to go under limits for a bit towards the end of the first 20 min, you don’t necessarily have to restrain the post-20 min push to cat limit. You can actually go harder. Your trailing average still contains some minutes of under-limit effort and ahead of you there is the descent where you can get some rest and get your average down. At the foot of the descent later on your average will likely be quite a bit below cat limit if you supertucked the descent.

That doesn’t sound so hard, does it? Well, it’s hard to gauge exactly where your peak 20 min period will be. It may not be the first 20 min as is usually the case in most races. To make things worse, if you did well in the climb and managed to drop some riders, it will also be very tempting to create additional separation to safeguard the descent against heavy riders by stomping that last little climb just beyond the KOM portal right before the descent starts. And then once the descent has started you don’t want to slowroll up to supertuck speed, so you stomp it again. Those additional Watt peaks could easily send you through the performance ceiling even though your average may have been OK during the latter part of the Box Hill climb up to the KOM, regardless of whether you are cruising or merely riding legit.

Notice here how the line between cheating and playing fair gets blurred? It’s not you. Or “they” (villains like me). It’s that fucking W/kg cat system that ruins races on such a fun course. But should you, if you ride legit, safeguard against an accidental upgrade surprise here at a point where you don’t feel ready to move up to the next category and get crushed? It’s up to you, but you really shouldn’t have been put in that choice at all. With a results-based cat system you wouldn’t be. Don’t forget, as a legit rider you are going to be toast on the second lap.

Let’s move on. Try get up to speed and into supertuck as soon as you dare in the descent. There are a couple of spots where you may have to pedal a little to not lose precious seconds on the pursuers, but otherwise you can supertuck most of it. Also be prepared as the descent ends and you turn into the train station. It is very easy to lose seconds there as well. Your heart may have broken a smile again after supertucking but your legs may have turned a bit cold and stiff.

Once you have pushed up the steep little escalator climb up to the station entrance – and pushing hard should be fine here – make sure you get up to cruising speed fast on the flat. After that you should be relatively safe until the finish unless chased by a big group or a couple of rhinos.

During the first lap you will want to have wheels to suck post-descent as there are a fair few flat kilometers before you hit Lambeth Bridge the second time around and drag is no longer an issue. And there probably will be wheels nearby. In fact, you will have to weigh the value of any time separation against drafting opportunities already in advance towards the last bit of the first Box Hill climb. It’s too early to attack anyway. First lap is all about positioning for the second lap, where you will make it or break it.

On the second lap, however, only cruisers, sandbaggers and top cats will still be around (by necessity). The field will be much thinner and dispersed. In this run I climbed mostly solo in the second climb and then went on a solo ZP victory from the summit. They never caught me in the descent in spite of my low weight (thank supertuck for that). This is a Pantani or Virenque kind of course where things like that can actually happen.

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Race Report: The Alpe Dash by HERD Racing League – How to Cruise Road to Sky

Road to Sky is by far my easiest cruise. It isn’t a particularly popular cruise, so the races are typically a mix of of just sandbaggers and legits. Further, the heavies only have a very small advantage there. They have the upper hand in the short approach and if they can make clever use of it, then they can get a head start in the climb that may be hard for a lighter rider to bridge without going over limits. But usually they don’t present the normal, often unsurmountable, problem for a cruiser on the lighter side of the scales. Finally, even a stronger cruiser, should you ever meet one on the Alpe, does not have much of an edge since the pace should be set as even as possible for efficiency – as long as you can stay at limit for the entire duration of the race, be it at 100 or 150 BPM, you are competitive. So essentially, when I cruise Road to Sky I expect to win. And I did, this time too.

The start was slow and the front group arrived at the climb a couple of Watts below my set limit average of 190W. Well, not quite the front group. There were three riders ahead, although within eyesight, who I was sure belonged to the sizeable group of sandbaggers that had signed up.

Once we hit the climb I just kept going at the same pace all the way until the finish. Like in the Lutscher CCW race two days earlier, this is a 1 hr+ race in the lower categories, meaning the legits simply can’t keep up. Somehow this course also seems to be way more demoralizing to many participants than the Lutscher. Which is kind of funny to me. Sure, it’s a little bit longer, but it’s way easier on the legs and the heart. You just keep going steady. TT style (unless you, quite unlikely, really need to drop someone). Piece of cake. And again a huge lead on the runner-up. Note that 14 riders got DQ’d or UPG’s, more than actually finished the race within cat limit. People always go too hard in the early climb. And those were just the ones registered on ZP… Like I said, you rarely face skilled cruisers on Road to Sky, playing the German board game known to us as Zwift racing.  And the legits can’t last at 2.5 or 3.2 or whatever W/kg for a race that long. Hence the wide time margin. It has absolutely nothing to do about heroics or physical prowess. It’s just plain cheating, slipping into the blind spots of an idiotic race rule set that should have been reworked years ago.

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Race Report: 3R Climbing Race – How to Cruise Lutscher CCW

Lutscher, especially the counter-clockwise version, presents an interesting challenge for the cruiser who doesn’t fear a climb. It’s much trickier than e.g. Road to Sky, which is a very straightforward climb.

You start in town with a shortish approach to the mountain. Then you go up the steep side. Then you go down the somewhat shallower side. And then up again the steep side toward the finish.

The approach is so short that it isn’t quite critical. Still, you don’t want to fall behind too much at start. So the first challenge is to find a group with a suitable pace to draft behind. You can go a little over limits here but remember that you need to compensate for it later in the first climb during the latter part of the first 20 min. Sandbaggers and inexperienced cruisers will fail to do so and get snuffed out unknowingly already in the first climb, ZP will tell them later.

If you cruise in cats C-D, then the first 20 min block will occur well before reaching the first KOM portal. This means that while you may have to compensate for a hardish start by slowing down in the first climb, a margin below cat limit, then as soon as the race clock hits 00:20:00 you can do the P20P, the post-20 min push. But not only can you suddenly afford to go back up to cat limit in your climb. You can actually really push it and go above limit.

The second 20 min block will end in or close to the descent, where you will aim to reach 58 kph ASAP to start supertucking and basically do 0W as much as possible. However, remember that if you push it too much once the second 20 min block starts, even though the descent will take care of the average for the second 20 min block, your trailing 20 min average cannot quite tolerate a super high effort, in case you cruise well below your true capabilities. So if you had to end the first 20 min block at, say, 0.2-0.3 W/kg below cat limit in the first climb to compensate for the hard start, then you can only push the first part of the next 20 min so hard. In e.g. cat D, you probably shouldn’t average higher than 2.9 W/kg (before the 95% recalculation, so effectively something like 2.8 W/kg).

The third 20 min block, depending on your cruising cat, may involve both the descent, the flattish stretch before the second climb, and the first part of the second climb. The descent is going to make your trailing 20 min average plummet, so you can afford to push after that. It will be up to you whether to start pusing already on the flat, if that makes sense considering the race situation and your rider characteristics. If not, then you hold a little and wait until the climb starts and then begin dropping people.

If you are cruising cat D, then the race will continue into a fourth 20 min block although incomplete. Just be mindful about your trailing average. If you pushed too hard towards the end of the third 20 min block you will have to compensate for it during the finishing minutes, which is far from ideal.

Remember that when cruising lower categories, this is a +60 min race. There is absolutely no way any non-cruiser could keep up with you. By definition their FTP should be 2.5 W/kg or 3.2 W/kg tops. Unless they somehow defy the laws of sports physiology they cannot stay at that level for over an hour, and since the ZP FTP grossly overstates a legit rider’s true FTP, they will not last in the final climb. So the only opponents you will have are cruisers and sandbaggers. Try to tell the difference.

I am going to need several more runs before I can say I have perfected the Lutscher. But it was an OK run. I was caught off-guard by a late entrant that I wasn’t aware of. I was certain (mistakenly) that he wasn’t ZP registered and never worried about him. Being a bit heavier than me and also going slightly over limit, whereas I made damn sure I wouldn’t, he slipped away with quite a margin during the final block. I’m not completely sure I could have beaten him without getting a DQ. Being an ex-cat C rider like me but with a weight advantage he could make better use of the descent and the flat. He was very efficient. Still, I got a silver and am quite content.


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Race Report: Midweek Crit Race Series by SZR – How to Cruise (and Still Lose) Downtown Dolphin

With a slow week in the Build Me Up program for a change, I thought I would add a race, starting in my old cheating pen. I had set my eyes on the new edition of the SZR iTT series the day before, which would have taken me up and down Bologna and then up again on a TT bike. It would have suited me fine at 73 kg and capacity to do the whole race at WKG limit (although admittedly at a rather high HR as things stand now). But things went a little upside down in life and I lost the opportunity. Losers can’t be choosers, so I signed up for the new crit race series the day after instead, knowing full well in advance it would be awfully hard or even impossible to accomplish anything in it.

There’s not much to say about the race really. I went out hard-ish at start, then stayed around cat limit trying to get as much draft as I could with still freakishly high average Watts dropping all too slow, had to drop from groups going at DQ pace a couple of times. And, being a little rusty, in the last minute had to basically stop pedaling in panic to avoid an otherwise inevitable UPG.

Then once we hit 00:20:00 on the race clock I was free to do the… let’s give it a new cool acronym… the P20P, the post-20 min push that I described in lesson 5 of Cheat School. The idea is that the first 20 min of a race is usually the period where your Watts are the highest, especially since the first minutes typically involve unsustainable Watts way beyond cat limit. So the latter part of those 20 min are shaky since you need to get your average Watts down considerably to pay for the early high Watts or you get a DQ. However, as soon as you are out of the first 20 min block, considering the latter part of it was spent clearly below cat limit, you are again free to push hard, at leat up to cat limit again or even higher if you can compensate for it later or if, as in this case, the race will finish somewhere between 20 and 40 min.

Anyway, I gave the P20P a go but didn’t really put my heart into it since the race was obviously already hopelessly lost by then. I ended up 6th but even so only due to primes. Now, the classification is an obvious example of a point I have raised many times before. Heavy riders, relatively speaking, enjoy an advantage in cats B-D. Depending on the scenario, this advantage can even be so huge as to make the race theoretically unbeatable by a light rider. Let’s have a look:

The winner and the runner up went slightly over limit which might screw up their 90-day average. Mr Bronze could roll over the finish line at a comfortable 2.269 W/kg, though, and the reason for this is his weight. The average weight of the top 10 (me included) is over 94 kg, i.e. more than 20 kg on me. There was absolutely no way I could have kept up with the podium in this race. I would have gone over limit by a mile. So with a lineup like this you cannot place well as a light rider in a crit race. It is a mathematical impossibility and you are not allowed to do your best accoring to the rules as doing your best will earn you a DQ. You simply have to hold back and let the heavies win. Crit races are a no-go for light riders. And no, the presence of the Green Cone of Stupidity (Zwift trademark) wouldn’t help here. Sorry.

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Cheat School: 5. Managing Your Average

In this lesson we are going to talk about the core skill in cruising, which is managing your 20 min average W/kg. As long as you can handle that you are effectively cruising. It’s like learning to hold a fishing rod. Once you know how, you just sit there and wait to catch a goldfish. You don’t always catch one, but as long as you are patient and keep a firm grip on the rod the fish will come sooner or later. You will win way more races on average than any legit racer could ever do.

Monitoring Your Average

When I talk about “your average” I always refer to your current 20 min average W/kg. You can find your best 20 min average in ZP’s race report tables under the avg heading, which turns into a 95% of 20 min if you click the orange View 95% button, which should generally be clicked. But that is old information, after the race. You need to have an idea of what your best average and your current average is all the time during the actual race. If you don’t you will most likely go over cat limits since you race with overcapacity as a cruiser. If you know your averages, it becomes easy to make sure you don’t go over limits. But how do you know what your best average or current average is during the race?

It is awfully hard to gauge the average without some kind of meter to look at. Don’t even try it. And by meter I don’t mean the Watt or W/kg meter on your Zwift screen. They will move up and down a lot, making it hard to judge what those movements average to, and you need to be fairly exact when cruising because you are looking to stay as close to cat limits as you dare. And besides, even if you had some savant ability to actually guesstimate your total race average, then that information is useless. What you want to know is your 20 min averages.

You will need some kind of third-party help because Zwift doesn’t provide the data you need. Luckily, there is easily available help.

A Crude Method

I myself use a very crude method to keep track of my averages because that is all I have access to at this time. It sort of works but it isn’t perfect. Since I use a Wahoo Kickr Core smart trainer I have the Wahoo app (previously Wahoo Fitness) installed on my mobile which goes onto the handlebars in every race with a QuadLock. I run Zwift on a PC through an ANT+ connection and the Wahoo app connects to the smart trainer via BlueTooth. The Zwift Companion app connects to the Zwift PC app via WiFi and I have it on but I’m rarely using it in a race, which is half the explanation to why you will never get a RideOn from me during a race (the other half is I couldn’t stomach to give people rideons while I’m cheating). Instead I’m constantly keeping an eye on the Wahoo app because it provides me with crucial information. Or should I say cruisial?

I’m not sure the Tacx app can provide the similar real-time numbers, but I would guess so. I don’t remember. I never really liked my previous Neo 2, it felt too articial. As for Elite or other smart trainer brands, I couldn’t say. Have a look if you own such a trainer. Other options would be bicycle computers like Garmin or possibly power meter pedal or crank apps. Or if you happen to be a programmer who likes to play around with hardware SDK’s and the BlueTooth protocol, then you could make an app of your own, I guess. That would actually be ideal and I will come to why. Anyway, investigate your options.

Here is what the Wahoo app shows me in real-time:

I start a workout recording in the app exactly when the race starts. The red circle is the total average Watt since the start, so it’s the total average. The green circle shows the total time elapsed in the workout so far. The blue circle shows the best 20 min Watt effort since the workout was started, which can be useful if you want to do an FTP test on your own outside of Zwift or even outdoors if you have a power meter and a Wahoo bicycle computer.

This is not ideal information at all. What you would need is a trailing 20 min average, i.e. your last 20 min. If you had, that then cruising within cat limits would be extremely simple. Just look at the trailing average as you race and make sure it never rises above limits. But in the lack of a trailing average I am forced to make do with the three colored circles. It works OK’ish, but it isn’t foolproof. Below is a lengthy explanation of how I do it.

Setting Your Personal Race Limits

Since the Wahoo app doesn’t show W/kg but Watt rather, I have to do some calculations before the race. Right now I weigh 75 kg. And I have one race result slightly over limits in my ZP 90-day best three average. My 90-day average is currently ridiculously close to an upgrade and looks like this:

(2.521 + 2.495 + 2.483) / 3 = 2.4996666667

A gust of wind would tip that average over to 2.500 and an upgrade. The lowest race result in the best three is 2.483 W/kg. I must never go harder than 2.483 W/kg in any 20 min period in any race. How much is that in Watt given my weight, so that I can set a limit for myself for the Wahoo app?

2.483 W/kg * 75 kg = 186W

But we are forgetting something here. The 2.483 W/kg is an adjusted number. ZP looks at your best 20 min and then multiplies it by 0.95, treating your 20 min as an FTP test for the race. It is not your 20 min performance that cannot hit the cat limit but rather your assumed 1 hr performance. So we have to deadjust that race result and then redo the calculation.

2.483 W/kg / 0.95 = 2.613 (rounded down on purpose)

2.613 W/kg * 75 kg = 195.975 W (we round it down to 195W to be on the safe side)

Thus, as long as I never average above 195 W in any 20 min period in any race, then my 90-day best three average will never hit 2.5 W/kg and I won’t get upgraded. If I stay very close to those 195W I also have a good chance to win races because I am then operating right under the cat D performance ceiling. You can’t go much faster than that in cat D. You are not allowed to.

Typically, I will aim a little lower than 195W. If I can get the average down to something like 193W for the first hectic 20 min in a race, then I will feel better about it. Surprisingly often, though, it comes down to a choice between either dropping from a group at a race time like 00:18:37 or pushing those 193W just a tad higher. If I drop from that early group the race could be lost. If I stay with them I could risk going over limits and lose my cheater’s license. Be prepared for constant hard choices when cruising!

20 Min Periods vs 20 Min Blocks

What ZP looks at is your best 20 min period in a race. And that period could happen any time. Usually it’s the very first 20 min of the race and this is because the starts are almost always very hard, which pushes up the initial average. But you could end up in a race which starts in easy terrain but ends up in a climb, e.g. in one lap around the Lutscher route. Let’s say the bunch doesn’t push the initial descent too hard at race start but then some light guys drive up the pace in the finishing climb. Then your best 20 min period could be the very last 20 min of the race instead. This is a rare situation though, so since more often than not your first 20 min will be the hardest in terms of Watt output, and since e.g. the Wahoo app doesn’t show a trailing 20 min average, then it becomes meaningful to also think about the race as divided into consecutive 20 min blocks.

So let’s say you knew in advance that the first 20 min would be your best 20 min in terms of Watt in a race. Then your best 20 min period will happen in the first 20 min block. They will coincide. And let’s say you manage your average carefully in those first 20 min. You manage to not go over your set personal limit. Then once the race clock hits 00:20:00 the worst part is over. You know that the risk of going over limit is drastically reduced and you can relax more.

You never know in advance though. But let’s say you notice that your average Watt start to drop in the latter half of the first 20 min after a very hard start because the group you are in is slowing down compared to the first crazy minutes. This is a very common scenario. People around you can’t keep that initial crazy pace up for very long. It’s just initial positioning and then things slow down a bit. But that also means that once the first 20 min are over, given that you didn’t go over limits, then you can forget about that 20 min block. Your high Watt during the first minutes won’t hurt the rest of the race.

The First 20 Min

It becomes easier to understand what happens during the first 20 min if we visualize it in a graph. The below graph illustrates how your momentary Watt output can change over the first 20 min in a successful cruise.

On the vertical axis is your Watt. On the horizontal axis is race time in minutes. The race finishes at F after like 55 min or so. The red line shows your personal limit for this race. We will use my limit of 195W for this example. Then we have the blue line which shows your Watt output and how it changes minute by minute during the first 20 min in a cat D race.

This race starts hard at Watt way above your limit. It drops after a while because no legit cat D’s can keep that pace up for long. And it has to drop or you will get a DQ. Actually, in order for you to dodge the DQ you are going to have to end the first 20 min below your limit as compensation for the high initial effort, or your average for the first block will become higher than your limit. We can intuitively see, when illustrating it like this, that there is a relationship between the first period of the block, when your Watt are above limit, and the second period, when your Watt need to be below limit. The relationship is this:

As long as the area a is not larger than the area b, then your average will end up below limit.

Put differently, you need to make sure that area b is roomy enough to be at least equal in size to area a, meaning you need to compensate for the initial high effort by going under limit for a while. If the initial effort in a was high, then the lower you go under your limit in the b part, the faster your average will recover. If you stay closer to your limit during b, then getting your average in line with your limit will take longer.

How do you match the areas of a and b from the saddle during a race? You don’t of course, not literally. The area thing is just for illustrating a principle and during the race you are riding in the blind. You don’t think about graphs at all. But you still have to follow the principle somehow or you will get DQ’d (it will become clearer how to do that under the next heading).

Wouldn’t it be more efficient to just keep a level 195W during the first 20 min? Well, your body would definitely agree. But your sense of race tactics wouldn’t, not unless you race in an individual time trial. Since everybody else brings out the hammer the first few minutes, you must too or you won’t get in a reasonably paced group that you can draft in for the rest of the race. So you suck it up. But the weak spot here is those compensatory minutes in the first block. It feels awkward to go under limit that much as a cruiser. However, it is the same for everyone in the race. It’s not just you, the cruiser. Legit racers who never compensate during the first 20 min will get upgraded, just because of those 20 min, even though they lack in staying power and are half toast and forced to race way below limit for the rest of the race due to their fitness level. It would suck to get upgraded under those conditions, but it actually happens all the time to people with relatively high 4 min power in their power curve and an eagerness to stay with the sandbaggers. Legit racers rarely plan to get upgraded. It just happens one day and they take it from there. You have been legit yourself and you know what it’s like.

The Average for the First 20 Min

Note that the blue line, your momentary power output, in the above graph is not at all what your average Watt will look like in the Wahoo app or similar. It will behave differently, more like the below graph, given that you cruise successfully during the first 20 min.

The green line is your average corresponding to the momentary Watt output in the previous graph (blue line). So your average will start high. Then, as your Watt output decreases, it will start to drop slowly. But as long as your Watt output is still above limit your average will be nowhere near limit. Even as you start compensating by going under limit in Watt output, the average will still trail behind for some time, above limit. And chances are you will only get the average down to meet the limit in the nick of time. That is actually optimal, but those last few minutes of the first 20 min block will be scary. Will you get the average down in time?

It is during the latter part of the first 20 min block where you will have to make some hard decisions. You can’t stay with the cat C’s and the cat D sandbaggers for very long or you will never get the average down in time before the first 20 min have run out. You will have to drop at some point, usually after 10-12 min. Preferably, you drop right into the arms of a nicely paced legit cat D group so that you can get the average down while in draft. Draft helps a lot in lowering your average quickly while still maintaining decent speed.

Those last minutes of the first 20 min block are usually the most difficult part in a cruised race. It’s the make or break part. Err on the side of caution in your first cruises! Slow down considerably! I really should write those two sentences ten times, but I won’t. Read them ten times instead.

One Block Down, Now What?

So you survived the first 20 min? Well done! Now where do you go from here? Or rather, how hard do you go from here? The pace might be dictated by the slower group you dropped into and the proximity of other groups in front of you. Let’s look at that first graph again.

Should you just keep going at the same pace where you ended the first 20 min? Something like this?

If you did find a suitable group, as in “the likely frontmost group that contains cat D riders who are registered on ZP and who won’t get a DQ”, then you could sit with them for a while. You can’t go on a solo breakaway for the last 35 min anyway, even if you come from cat A because you have a performance ceiling to respect and any chasing group on the limit will go faster than you due to draft effects. You will have to get caught even if you aren’t tired. So you might as well sit with the group and then try to drop them one by one or perhaps drop them all in some climb closer to the finish.

But strictly speaking, you are going well under limits and that is a waste. A legit rider may be forced to race at that sub-limit pace because his HR is high coming out of the first minutes, he never really gets a chance to recover fully, and his fitness level doesn’t allow him to stay on the limit for the remainder of the race. It’s not how his categorization was measured anyway. He isn’t measured by ZP on his actual 1 hr performance (or 55 min in this case) but rather his assumed 1 hr performance, which ZP gets from his previous best 20 min race efforts, which are more than likely coming from the first 20 min in three races the last 90 days. There is nothing in those measures supporting that he would actually be able to pull those numbers off for a full hour, and usually people can’t, not quite. That 20 min W * 0.95 is often an overly generous estimate of the 1 hr FTP, especially for a Zwifter who is often used to shorter rides.

You, on the other hand, are a cruiser. You have overcapacity. You could stay on the limit for the entire race. Look at the x‘s in the graph above. That’s unused potential. You should strive to minimize the x area, to push up that blue line as high as you can without going over limits, because that is one of the cruiser’s two strong edges against the legit (the second edge is being able to withstand harder over-limit efforts than others, which then need to be compensated for). That’s how you win as a cruiser. However, minimizing x has to make sense. You don’t go on early solo breakaways. But if there is a faster group that you could join, faster than the one you had to end the first 20 min block with to get your average down in time, then that may be what helps you use your full potential. Oh, and there is something else.

The Post-20 Min Push

Since a cruiser typically ends the latter part of the first 20 min block underutilizing his potential because he has to get his average down, something funny sometimes happens at race time 00:20:01. He is out of the first block. He managed his average. It is just below limit. He is safe for now. And that means that he can instantly jump right back up to limit like this (if it makes sense in the tactical situation):

It’s a weird move but it follows naturally from the contrived 20 min rule of ZP’s. As long as the cruiser ended the first 20 min with an OK average, and as long as he doesn’t go over limit in the next block, then his previous 20 min are no longer a liability and won’t pull him down anymore.

In fact, while you always have to worry about high effort 20 min periods overlapping parts of two 20 min blocks, once the second 20 min block starts you can usually push it far more than just that little surge up to the limit shown above. You can actually push it like this or even harder:

The race scenario in the above graph could be that in the first 20 min you initially went with a bunch of sandbaggers in the early chaos, just to stay ahead of all legits. Then you had to drop to get your average down. You ended up in a slow moving group that helped your average. But while you were desperately grooming your average some riders from your group broke off or you were passed by faster riders from behind, and you couldn’t afford to latch on to them for fear of the health of your average.

Once the first 20 min are over, this group that helped you with the average just pulls you down and, you are not sure at this point, but perhaps those who passed you will become ZP approved contenders for the podium. But now you are no longer tied to the first 20 min. And those who passed you are still not that far ahead, just a few seconds. And their W/kg’s seem higher than your group’s although still low enough for you to be able to maintain your average during the next block by drafting on them. A firm push (x) and you could hook up with them and continue the race at a higher pace and secure your shot at the podium.

As long as the push area, x, ends up smaller than the recovery area, y, by the end of the second 20 min block your average will be fine. Or put differently, you will be fine as long as you compensate for the push by going under limits enough during the latter part of the second block, just like you did in the first block.

Dangerous Overlapping 20 Min Periods

But isn’t there a risk that you can get an overlapping 20 min period that goes over limit? If you haven’t actually got an app that tells the trailing 20 min average? You did manage the first block and on its own it turns out OK as an average. And you might have managed the second block too on its own. But isn’t there a possibility that you accidentally get a 20 min period somewhere in between 00:00:00 and 00:40:00 that goes higher than limit? Like the 20 min period within the green brace in the graph above?

There is always that risk to consider. And it’s an important point. But in the above example with the post-20 min push the risk is usually low or can at least be managed, although it comes down more to craft than to science, so to speak. I won’t go into detail to explain fully why, but as long as the race start was hard, with high Watts, and as long as your post-20 min push isn’t quite that hard, i.e. the Watts are somewhat lower this time, then you are OK. Because then you already compensated more than enough for the push by going under limits during the latter part of the first 20 min block. Going under limits paid for the hard start, but it also pays forward. It usually covers a later push just outside a 20 min block as long as the push in the new block isn’t harder than the push that the previous block was started with. And it rarely is harder.

There are situations, though, where a 20 min period can ruin everything. Luckily they don’t happen very often because race situations like that don’t occur very often, but it’s on you to make sure it stays that way. I’ll show you an artifical example of such a bad period:

I don’t know exactly what the scenario would be. I was just showing off my Paint skills. But maybe something like this:

“So uh, the start was hard as usual, and then I compensated to get the average down and all, but then I wanted to bridge to another group because there was this guy in there who was dangerous-like, and it went fine, I got him in check, and the average for the first block still turned out OK in the end, but then came the KOM and everybody was climbing like monkeys and I had to hang in there, but then after that things kinda slowed down ‘cuz we were sortta toast, and then towards the finish there’s this little climb, you know, and I thought ‘imma make a move here!’ and I did and dropped those wrung-out monkey suckers and then basically just coasted over the finish line for a guaranteed gold on ZP! Yay! Hey… wait a min… what’s this? WKG?!”

Every block in the race is under limit (the green braces). But toward the end of the first block a 20 min period starts that unfortunately happens to include two surges that aren’t compensated for with enough under-limit area (the brown brace). Each of the two surges are covered for within their respective block, but combined in an overlapping 20 min period they are not. And this will result in a WKG and possibly an upgrade on ZP.

So if you can’t monitor a trailing 20 min average (I can’t yet), then you have to play the race and your memory of its parts by ear and just make sure you don’t stack over-limit efforts too closely. But wouldn’t your total race average warn you in advance? Not necessarily. If you have been going under limit for quite some time in a race that goes on for more than two blocks and then suddenly you start to push hard toward the end of a race, then the total average might not pick up fast enough for you to notice or realize that your trailing 20 min average is actually above limit.

Restarting the Clock

If you, like me, can’t actually monitor your trailing 20 min average (I would love to hear from you if you have found a way), then what do you do with the Wahoo app or similar and the numbers in it once the app clock hits 00:20:00 and the first block is over? Do you just let it run and try to rely on the total average Watt number, even though the information it gives becomes less and less fine-grained and reliable as the race progresses? Or do you simply stop the clock, reset it and start over, i.e. you measure actual separate 20 min block instead throughout the race?

Good question. It depends. I lean towards resetting as blocks end and usually end up doing just that. In most races it makes sense, or at any rate the alternative seems worse to me. We can take a look at this graph again with the post-20 min push that I showed earlier.

When the race clock hits 00:20:00 you know that your average is fine for now. You survived the dangerous first 20 min. You want to push next and you know it is likely safe to do so since you won’t be overdoing it. You want to make sure, though, that the next 20 min period starting with the push, basically the 20 min period coinciding with the second 20 min block, ends up alright. So stopping the clock at 00:20:00 and restarting it makes sense here. You can mostly forget about the past 20 min and you are mostly interested in monitoring your average for the upcoming 20 min as it builds up. And restarting the clock does just that for you.

Spring Break

This concludes the first part of Cheat School. You now know the (intricacies of the) basics of cruising. Try it out, get a hang of it and you will find that you can start winning a lot of races as a cruiser, races you really shouldn’t be able to keep winning indefinitely. And you will understand what a house of cards Zwift racing and its rules are. It’s sickening, yes, but this isn’t you. It’s Zwift, the German board game. And you have just learned to optimize your Zwift racing (which is nothing like bike racing). Cruising is the optimal, most efficient, most successful way to race in Zwift, in the ZP version of Zwift, in the “official” and respected version of Zwift. Now take a temporary break from school and go out there and have some questionable fun!




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Cheat School: 4. Race Selection

It is time for you to cruise your first race. The first time you are probably cruising out of category, without a proper cheater’s license, as a first step in downgrading to a lower cat. Or just to try it out to see what it is like. You really should, even if you hate cheating. You really should, just because you hate cheating.

You could also cruise against a lower cat, in your mind, while racing your normal cat, as long as it is a race with visible off-cats and simultaneous starts, but I would advise against it. That would be a simulation at best. Those you attempt to cruise against will react differently to you than if you were to cruise in the same cat as them. There is no point in trying to win against you, so they will give you a much easier time. If you want to try out cruising for real, then you will have to accept that UPG tag in your ZP race history. I know, it ain’t pretty, but neither is Zwift’s racing. What, Zwift really thought the frogs they kissed in their own stinking frog pond would turn into princes? Fat chance… rrrrribbit!

Race Selection

Look for suitable races to cruise in the Zwift Companion app or, preferably, from today’s event list on ZP. On your first cruise you would do well to choose a race with not too many and not too few ZP registered participants in the cruising cat of your choice. Something like 10-20 might be a good number early on. That is enough people to create some dynamics, to make it interesting and a good learning experience, but still not too many to become chaotic.

Remember that many participants will sign up late, on a whim, so if you see early on that 9 or 10 have already signed up, then that figure will usually rise in the last few minutes before the race. There is a lag between Zwift and ZP to consider, so check the Companion app too. Also remember that what you see on ZP are only the racers that ZP knows of since before. There will be a fair few unregistered legit racers and sandbaggers too on top of that.

An Example

We are going to go through an example of somewhat advanced cruiser race selection. You don’t have to do all this in your first cruises. On the contrary, it is better if you don’t get too tangled up with tactics and hypotheses about other participants early on. You should concentrate on managing your average and only that, because that can be tricky enough and we don’t want you to get overwhelmed in the beginning. Soon enough, once you have your cruising under control, you can start to aim for podiums and then the below will make sense to you without becoming overwhelming. So read it through once and come back to this post later on for a re-read.

Now, let’s assume you are a cat B rider who would like to cruise in cat C. You happen to find the below race in the ZP events list 20 min before the race (I have edited out all names as usual so it will look a little different for you).

With 12 signups already and with time still for more to join, this could be a suitable and interesting race. At first glance it actually seems like the perfect beginner’s race for an aspiring cruiser!

We notice immediately that only two sandbaggers have signed up so far, one from cat A and one from your cat, and this is an unusually low figure. There will be more in the last few minutes, count on that. Most sandbaggers tend to avoid advertising their presence. Oh, don’t worry, they are just on a recovery from injury and wanted a slow ride and have absolutely no ambition to snatch the podium from under your nose. But they still made sure to not let you know too early as to not scare you away. How thoughtful!

Generally don’t worry about sandbaggers though. Tell them to invite a few more friends. Just make sure you don’t get carried away and try to follow them too far after the start as they will probably not stay under cat limits even after the first few hard minutes.

We note here, however, that the sandbagger from cat B is actually not very strong in his cat, if you look at his past efforts (3.5 W/kg * 0.95 = 3.3 W/kg). In this race he may well end up cruising with you, and as a cruiser he could be a force to be reckoned with. Even worse, if he isn’t deliberately cruising the race, then he might go full speed instead, which is only slightly above the performance ceiling in his case. It could prove dangerous to follow this guy if he has a say in setting the pace. You can get baited into going over limits. Watch your average W/kg!


When looking at the list we instantly notice one guy (Danish, 3rd row) who ZP hasn’t categorized yet in three previous races. You can tell because he doesn’t have that mini C icon like everyone else and his rank score is at the default starting point of 600.00. However, don’t take him for a lamb just because he is new!

We can see that he has an excellent lap time on the route and at impressive Watts and W/kg. This guy could spell trouble. He is likely not a cruiser but might put up a good fight, and remember it doesn’t matter if you can do 4.0 W/kg in your regular cat B races. You can’t do that here. You race under the same performance ceiling as him and you could both risk going over limits if you push each other too hard. Your strategy against him will be to wear him down long before the finish. If it turns out he is not droppable, then you aim to make sure his legs are too sour for a really strong sprint finish. The difference in 15 sec performance can be lower on average and is far more variable from rider to rider between one cat and the next than the 20 min average. Always have a healthy fear of the legit rider’s sprint.

There is also another guy who hasn’t raced before. It’s the Dutch guy just below the Dane we just talked about. He is categorized but ZP has no knowledge of any past 20 min or 15 sec performance. He is a wildcard and you can’t completely rule out that he is top of category even though the odds speak against it. But you have bigger concerns. Forget about him for now.


Now look at weights. In the bottom row, for example, is a Dutch guy who weighs 92 kg. If that means he is considerably heavier than you, then he could pose a threat. The deciding factor is his W/kg. In this case it turns out he has been able to push 3.4 W/kg for 20 min, meaning he is on top of category. He might be able to do whatever it takes to stay in the race. Neither his 20 min fitness nor his weight is an obstacle for him. The only potential weakness is his staying power. Can he do 3.4 W/kg for longer than 20 min? For the entire race? You can.

The Dutch heavy can be a problem to you, although you don’t know the full extent of it yet. What you know for sure is that he is allowed to go faster than you on the flat in the first crucial 20 min of the race without going over limits. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he will. It all depends on the speed of the group you are in. Just be aware that you could end up in situations where you can’t keep up with him. It’s not that your fitness wouldn’t allow it. If you come from the upper end of cat B you could easily smash him in a normal race. But Zwift races are not normal. They are German board games. In a high-speed group you may have to produce Watts high enough for you to go over W/kg limits while he still has a margin. You will be forced to drop because you need to avoid a DQ. He won’t. You are stronger than this guy but you are not allowed to drop him. He can drop you though!

On the upside, we notice that this guy’s 15 sec record isn’t particularly high. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he can’t sprint well, but at least he has no track record of it. So as long as you can allow yourself to stay with him, and if it turns out he can’t be dropped, then maybe you can outsprint him at least. Usually that’s not the case with heavies if you’re light. They often have stronger legs.

Rank Score

We notice something else about the Dutch heavy. His ranking is far from the default 600. And that’s bad news. Without going into too much detail – you can get those from ZP – your rank drops permanently by a few points every time you place well in a race. The higher the placing, the more points are deducted. So a low rank is a good rank.

People in higher categories get naturally lower ranks, which you can see if you look at the cat A sandbagger. But there is nothing stopping a cat C from reaching a low rank if he does well in races and keeps at it since the rank score can only decrease. So what if you spot a cat D or even a cat C with a remarkably low rank among the signups for a race? Well, there could be a natural explanation. Maybe he has been racing for years. Every once in a while you get lucky even if you aren’t very strong in your cat, and then your rank drops permanently, bit by bit. If he is good, though, and he races frequently, then getting to a low rank happens much quicker.

Wait a minute, a low rank in a low cat tells us something else too, doesn’t it? It tells us that this individual has not moved on to a higher cat, or if he has, then he has been downgraded since. If he hasn’t actually been racing for years, and you can easily find out by clicking his name and studying his past races, then how do you explain his stable fitness level? Sometimes it’s a heavy rider who has plateau’d and can’t or won’t increase his fitness further. Being heavier than the average cat C racer, he runs little risk of getting DQ’d or upgraded because his W/kg will be lower than his peers’. But what if he isn’t heavy even? Yes, you’ve got it. Then it’s another cruiser like you!

Track Record

If we leave the poor Dutch heavy and move on to the rest of the participant list (repeated above), there is actually more to discover in it. For example, if you look at 2nd row, there is one English guy with a shocking rank score of 434, a score you normally don’t get to unless you have raced in cat B. And he is not heavy at all!

To make things even worse, there is a very unusual discrepancy between his 20 min W/g and his 15 sec W/kg. He is on top of cat C. It may seem like he is above cat C with his 3.4 W/kg, but you have to remember that his best 20 min get multiplied by 0.95, i.e. 3.23 W/kg, only slightly above limits, something his 90-day average has tolerated (obviously, or he would have been upgraded). Now, 3.4 W/kg in cat C is one thing, but he can sprint at 11.0 W/kg! Sure, but he’s light, you may think. Maybe his actual Watts aren’t that high? But they are! They are the second highest after the cat A sandbagger!

We clearly need to check this guy out. Let’s click his name in the start list!

We need to go through his race history to figure out what is hiding behind this avatar. Although the dates and races have been edited out in the picture, I can reveal that this guy has been racing for almost two years. He was cat C until early Jan 2020, when a win with an adjusted best 20 min of 3.33 W/kg brought his 90-day average above limits and he got upgraded to cat B.

The very day after his upgrade he joins a cat B race and suddenly performs worse than before, an adjusted 3.0 W/kg, well within cat C limits. Hmm… And then just in a matter of days he joins a few more races in cat B, staying within cat C limits every time except his second B race where he must have been baited into going ever so slightly above limits, 3.21 W/kg, which is still fine since the average of his three best races from cat B is well below 3.2 W/kg.

Then he stops racing for 90 days. Patiently he waits for his decat. Once he has renewed his cheater’s license he starts racing in cat C again but scews up his third race and gets a DQ for going over limits (WKG). Then he apparently takes a break from Zwift, staying outdoors presumably, but over three months later, in Sep 2020, he is back with a vengeance and can build a new 90-day average where the WKG no longer reduces his wiggle room under the 3.2 W/kg cat ceiling – he can make full use of it again.

The summer did him good apparently. He immediately goes on a winning spree you rarely see, even among cruisers. Seven straight podiums! Six wins! And that’s just the beginning of the rest of the story. As you can see, his last result was still processing when I took the screenshot.

Let’s look further at his stats. We know already of his very strong sprint for a cat C. We now notice his exceptional Punch index of 96.3% (the blue bar in the upper right corner). And we also notice that his NP, his Normalized Power, has these partial colorings. Red, orange and green. You can read up on the details on ZP, but what it tells us is that this guy’s Watts varies a lot during his races. His peaks deviate highly from his average Watts. Partly, it can be explained by his strong sprint efforts. But it doesn’t take a genious to figure out that in a climb this is the kind of guy who drops you like a half-eaten jambon-fromage from the Eiffel tower.

In fact, this is one of the most determined and scary-looking cruisers I have ever seen.

The Decision

The other participants in the race pale by comparison to this cruiser ace, but there are still more in the starting list who could be problematic! (I won’t go through it.) So what initially looked like a perfectly fine race to cruise in actually turns out to be a complete nightmare.

This is one race I would stay clear of. There are two reasons. First, there is too much competition for the podium, to many contestants. And you don’t cruise to lose. Second, it’s a high-risk race. There is likely going to be one hell of a pace and you might end up in too many too difficult decisions whether to stay with others or to drop to save your average. It’s your (future) cheater’s license at risk here and it’s not worth the WKG or upgrade to participate in this single race. There are plenty of other alternatives in the schedule. Leave it and take consolation in the fact that the race will be a nightmare even without you. Some other guys might be taking hits to their 90-day averages in your absence which is good for you.

If you don’t bother with the pre-race research in your first cruises (and you shouldn’t), then you’ll just have to deal with it as it unfolds. The important point, your only objective in your first cruises, is to stay alive, i.e. to not get carried away and let your average drift away. Full focus on the average and you’ll be fine. But you won’t win of course. Winning comes later with more experience. At that stage, what we went through in the signup list here won’t seem complicated at all to you, because by then every number in all those ZP tables will be meaningful to you. And you will be able to do the above exercise in just a matter of minutes, which also happens to be all you got since it’s the time available between a decently filled starting list and your deadline to sign up yourself.

Signing Up

You should never sign up early to a race as a cruiser. That’s actually one of the few mistakes this ace cruiser does. If you are familiar with investments, or poker, you will have come across the term expected value (EV) before, i.e. the payout on average from a certain investment, or move in poker, after your costs have been deducted. Negative EV means that on average you will run at a loss if you would repeat the move over and over. Like when playing roulette at a casino or buying a lottery ticket. You may win once or twice in roulette or the lotteries, but in the long run you will lose money because the game is stacked against you. And signing up early is a negative EV move. You might get lucky and then it doesn’t matter, but there is no actual upside to signing up early. The only payout you get from signing up early is zero effect or negative repercussions on the race, and in the long run you will run at a deficit. (You need to think like this as a cruiser, not just when signing up but in many situations.)

Think about it. Does it matter when you sign up? Not to the average Joe, José or Jürgen. He won’t look at the start list. He might not even know it exists. Would anyone look? A cruiser would. Now ask yourself, what cruiser would join your race after having had a look at the start list, where he spotted you in there, had a glance at your race history and realized that you were a cruiser too? Only a cruiser who thinks he can beat you of course! And you don’t want to race against him. You should be the one making the choice who to race, not him. So sign up late.

Signing up late helps you make informed decisions. Scout for suitable races ahead of time but have a last quick check 5-10 min before race start. Does the race still look reasonable? Then sign up and warm up quickly. Has the race turned sour due to certain late arrivals? Well, you’re dressed, the water bottle is filled and you’re warmed up already. Go do something else in Zwift. Do a hard solo workout. You’ll need it if you cruise a lot. Or wait for another race a little later in the schedule if you have the time. There are always more races.

Remember, though, that there are no perfect races for a cruiser. A picky cruiser doesn’t get out much. There will always be adversaries, only sometimes enough is enough, like in the race above. And the adversaries you have to put up with are mainly not legit racers in your cruising cat. You don’t really compete for podiums against legit racers. You are cheating. You expect to win against them. Not always but often enough. Your true opponents are cruisers, heavies, lightweight women, light junior cyclists, anyone with an unfair advantage like yours, or worse. It’s them you battle for the podium.

Groping for Edges in the Dark

A perfect race for a cruiser would be a race with just a bunch of mid-cat legits signed up. You could crush all of them. But races like that don’t really exist. So how do you know when to accept a race with contestants in it and when not to? How do you tell apart a promising race and a plain bad race? Where do you draw the line? It’s all about edges. Your edges. You need to be able to picture a scenario where you win the race. Exactly how could you win a certain race? This takes experience and will not be so hard to decide later on.

Let’s play around a little with the above race just as an example. Is there any way you could win this race, including beating the cruiser ace? Yes, there is. Let’s say you happen to be one of those 18-wheelers in Zwift, a superheavy at, say, 117 kg. And let’s say you can perform well right under the ceiling and do a 20 min 3.4 W/kg easily. And then another. And then another. Then there is a child’s play strategy just for you, although it would have been even better if the route had been Tick Tock rather than Titan’s Grove.

The plan is to end this mid race. You are concerned about the hills but not overly so since you can make up for it on the flat, and then some. What you don’t want is to take it to the sprint finish. So at start you go as hard as your average will allow. Stay with the sandbaggers for as long as possible. Your average W/kg can take much higher Watts and much higher km/h on the flat than the cruiser ace can since he is so light. If you are lucky with the speeds of the early groups you are with, then this might actually be enough to create early time separation that can’t bridge. And it should take care of the other contestants as well. But if it isn’t enough, if he manages to survive the first 20 min without a DQ and is still with you, then if your group at the time moves too slow you just go on a solo breakaway at cat limit. Your fitness can take it and it will by definition be faster on the flat than the average group can go. He is forced to follow you or he will lose the race. He will suck your wheel to minimize his average. But it won’t be enough! Just keep hammering the fuck out of the little shit. He will be banking on your getting tired and cutting pace, but since you won’t (you may actually have to work hard for real here for a change) he will either be forced to drop or face a DQ. As long as you are in control and set the rules here, then it’s impossible for him to win.

This plan could sort of work even if you are quite a bit lighter although still heavy. But then you might have to scrap the cheesy solo breakaway. He will follow and sucking your wheel might equalize your averages, so it’s a no-go. Do the maths in advance and see if it’s possible or not (I won’t go through that here). So then your strategy rather relies on influencing the group speed to such levels that he can’t keep up without a DQ. You can’t stay in the wind too much (or you’d be able to go on that solo breakaway) but stay near the front and help pull. Keep adjusting up the pace.

So what were the edges here? It’s your weight and it’s going steady. The cruiser’s edge isn’t his overcapacity, because you have that too. It’s his explosivity, especially uphill. So you go steady, steadily too fast on the flat for the cruiser ace, exploiting your weight advantage. And if that isn’t enough, then you still have a shot at silver on ZP, which counts for something at least. At any rate there is a winning scenario in your mind. If you can’t come up with a single winning scenario given a certain start list and given a certain course, then chances are you are absolutely right and then the race isn’t for you since it could be unwinnable. That is one thing you need to be aware of. There are races that are unwinnable and that is because of the performance ceilings.

Informed Cruising

Once you have decided on a race, then what do you do with all the information you just dug up? Do you just forget about it now that you think you have picked a race with not too many problems in it? No, absolutely not! You memorize the information! Or write it down or make it otherwise visible and accessible during the race if it is indeed too much to keep in your head e.g. in a race with a huge start list. All of these little details are highly valuable intel and will influence many of your decisions in the race. You didn’t dig it up just for the race selection. Like we said, there are no perfect cruises, so you will have to bring the information with you into the race. And cruising is not about going out there making your best aerobic effort. Cruising is more of a mind game. Zwift is a German board game and not a bike race.

Does it seem hard to remember a lot of names and numbers? It does when you are new to thinking like this. But you must not forget that right now all these pieces of information probably mean very little to you. It is only when you have cruised a fair few races that it all falls into place and then the information turns from meaningless into very meaningful and revealing.

What does it mean to you that so and so is heavy and seems to be able to break the early 20 min ceiling with ease but seems to have somewhat low staying power? It only means something to you if have raced against similar people before. Then information like that also becomes much easier to remember without even trying. It might even be hard to forget, so you start remembering e.g. cruisers you have met in previous races. “Oh no, not that guy again…” And you can quickly visualize what cruising a race on such and such a route will be like with so and so a guy in it. So don’t worry and don’t push yourself too much early on. It will all fall into place soon enough.

Bonne chance in your race selection! Next lesson will teach you how to manage your average W/kg in a cruised race.

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