In the Zwift Hot Topic series we bring up popular discussions, controversies, questions, or creative ideas in the Zwift community. We’ll share different perspectives on each issue, but we want to hear your thoughts, too. So read on, then chime in below!
Few things are more controversial among Zwifters than race categories. How should riders be grouped in a race? How should they be ranked in the results? Should leaderboards be categorized? What’s the best way to encourage fair competition? The most popular way so far is W/kg, and some community members have created results-based rankings (see zwiftracing.app).
What about age?
Age groups are often used in real-life races, especially running events, triathlons, and “masters” cycling races. But it’s rare to find an event that uses them on Zwift. FZR, WMZ, and Masters FA are the only open series I can find with age categories, and Fearless also runs their AGES women’s race. Others have come and gone.
Personally, age categories don’t really appeal to me (yet). I didn’t start cycling, or any other sport, until my late 20s. I was slower than a lot of people who were older than me! As I entered my 30s, I became faster and fitter, but still humbled by people decades older who had been training all their lives and could drop me with ease. These are the ones who show up to a group ride, say “you young whipper-snappers need to take it easy on me,” and then ride off into the distance nose breathing while I’m gasping for air.
We can’t avoid it, though – age comes with limitations, and they get bigger the older you get. Top-end fitness starts to decline, recovery takes longer, and health problems can get in the way of training. This can make it harder for older athletes to compete with younger ones.
Angela MacRae: “Particularly as an older woman, racing in mixed fields IRL or on Zwift gets harder because you are already struggling with sprints against men, and that gets even more difficult as you age. I loved the Zwift age-based racing series that let women race a category 10 years older. It gives a really competitive race, and it is very nice to see how you compare with people of your own vintage. I wish there was more Masters racing on Zwift.”
Then again, using age instead of an ability-based grouping means that you may not be as competitive in a race as you expect. Others in your age category might have much higher or lower fitness than you do. Masters races in real life are famously fast! If you haven’t reached your peak early in life, you can still improve your fitness as you age… and so can your competitors.
But age groups don’t have to be separated within a race. They can just be applied to finish results, letting people race with their natural competition.
Stuart Lynne: “I like to see ranking by age only as a gauge to see how well I’m doing in my age cohort. But I am not actually fond of racing in age-based categories. Vastly prefer to race against people at the same ability level.”
When everyone starts together, age categories can make races more tactical. You may find yourself in a group with three or four different categories, but you only need to focus on your own. Racers naturally group by ability but can have their own “race within a race” with their peers.
I’ve heard this from a few Zwifters, and I get it. When I join mixed-gender races and see another woman, she becomes my main competitor. We’re more likely to evenly match each other than the men in our group. It’s natural to compare yourself to other riders who are like you.
Jon Bradley: “I know that there would always be an imbalance with FTP numbers in the relevant age brackets, but it’s still nice to know how you fare against guys around your own age… and younger riders tend to have more explosive power numbers as opposed to older riders.”
Share Your Thoughts
What do you think? Do you want to see more age categories on Zwift, like in races or on KOM/QOM leaderboards? Maybe even age-grouped badges! Or would you rather be grouped in a different way?