Zwift Racing and Categories
This past year I jumped onto the Zwift bandwagon and started doing a lot of my cycling training in the virtual world of Zwift’s Watopia, London and Richmond. The temps outside, even though I live in Austin, Texas, just weren’t ideal for cycling. I am more of the above 50 degrees crowd.
One of the cool features of Zwift is the ability to race people from all around the world. In Zwift, almost on a daily basis it seems, there are at least 1 or 2 races. Signing up for a race doesn’t cost you an entry fee and you will never have to worry about crashing. You simply select your category (A, B, C or D) and wait for the race to start.
While you’re waiting, Zwift allows you to ride a virtual trainer (shown in blue) or ride the race course. My preference is to get aquatinted with the course first and then right before the race starts click the blue [Join Event] button. If you forget to click the button, don’t worry there is usually a reminder that pops up before the race starts. There is also a race count down timer, so you know how much time is left before the race start.
What Do The Zwift Categories Mean?
For those who race in the real world, the Zwift Categories (A, B, C, D) or Cat classification (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) don’t exactly match up and you don’t have to qualify to jump into the various categories. If you feel you’re man or women enough to race category A, the hardest category, then go for it. Just be warned that if you’re not up to the task, you’re going to get dropped rather quickly.
Zwift Categories normally fall into the following ability levels
- Category A: 4.0 w/kg FTP or higher
- Category B: 3.2 w/kg to 4.0 w/kg FTP
- Category C: 2.5 w/kg to 3.2 w/kg FTP
- Category D: Under 2.5 w/kg FTP
The W/KG numbers represent the Power to Weight ratio of (Watts per Kg) and are calculated based on the weight you entered into Zwift. A person who weighs 155 pounds or roughly 70.3068 kilograms and can average 200 watts will have a w/kg of 2.70.
Based on the categories above this person should race Category C. A person who weighs 180 pounds or roughly 81.6466 kilograms and can also average 200 watts would have a lower w/kg of 2.33 putting them into Category D.
Now here is where weight cheating or “weight doping” comes into play. If you weigh 180 pounds and you enter into Zwift that you weigh 150 pounds, your w/kg will be higher. In other words your actual weight should say your output is 2.33 w/kg rather than 2.70 w/kg. I am not exactly sure how this all plays out, but needless to say, there are plenty of cheaters in Zwift.
In general I will race on the upper end of Category C or the lower end of Category B. As far as I am concerned Category A is for Watt Cheaters (yes people can cheat) and pure bad asses.
To Give you an idea of how fast Category A is, here is a Zwift race I did. The race consisted of a 4 lap 17.1 mile course 1 significant hill each lap. The first place guy was averaging 472 watts or 6.1 W/KG (Watts per Kilogram of weight). I sort of find that effort suspect, but maybe it’s accurate. Considering none of the other racers were even close and almost 1oo watts less, it does stick out. Obviously M.Posten was sandbagging the race because he should have been a category A rider based on his stats.
To give you an idea of an elite pro cyclists wattage, Team Sky’s Chris Froome regularly exceeds a 30-minute power output of 419W (6.25W/kg) and for 60 minutes he would expect to ride at or above 366W (5.46W/kg). Now that is some serious watts and Chris is considered one of the top cyclists in the world, so M.Posten is either a big time Pro Cyclist or something is off.
Here are my results from the same race. One thing that was a little annoying was many racers who were in the C category took off fast at the beginning and jumped into the B category pack. In normal road races, each category will have it’s own racers. So for example a Category 5 race will have Category 5 racers and not Category 1, 2, 3 and 4. In this particular race, all the categories went at the same time so you weren’t exactly sure who was who.
You also might notice that my Average Heart Rate (132) is a bit lower than all the other racers. Yeah I have a low maximum HR. The good news is my resting happens to be around 38. I have noticed over the years that my Max Average HR has come down. I do remember seeing in the upper 150’s to 160’s.
During the race one thing that is really important to remember is to Draft. You will certainly save a lot of energy drafting and realistically there isn’t a reason to push at the front if you can draft off of others. When breakaways occur, certainly go after them if you plan on winning, but also look to save energy by utilizing the pack.