Seven Days and Seven Nights – Launching a New Racing League

Seven Days and Seven Nights – Launching a New Racing League

Until last Tuesday, WTRL operated the biggest race series on Zwift – the Thursday Team Time Trial. Since Tuesday, WTRL operates the two biggest race series on Zwift. WTRL TTT and the community side of the Zwift Racing League (Zwift HQ operate the Pro/Am Premier league themselves with tight cooperation from WTRL).

I’ve been an avid fan of WTRL since I started TTTing with the CICC lads out of Paris six months ago. Since then a lot has happened to WTRL, including their latest venture – working with Zwift to deliver the community side of Zwift Racing League, the most ambitious Zwift racing series to date. Last night between results processing and pizza I managed to catch up with Martin Carew – one of the two chaps who created and operate the World Tactical Racing League (WTRL). While I love to josh about WTRL Global HQ and its huge team, it is stunning what two guys have achieved. 

By the numbers, ZRL race #1 had 5,295 riders in 1005 teams with participants from 101 countries. There were over 7,000 people live-viewing the results on ZwiftPower and both Premier League and Community races were livestreamed. There were 25 different events throughout the day, spread across timezones to Zwifters could find a workable race time no matter where they live. 

In the run-up to the event Martin and Steve had to allocate 1005 teams to pens and send out the invites to captains – then make sure the livestream guys were all set up with graphics and other materials and also test the systems as best they could given there was no practice run possible. And throughout this came the emails: hundreds of league changes, name changes, tag changes (I was one of these) as well as hundreds more questions from racers and team captains sent via email or forums such as Facebook. Martin reckons he had four 22 hour days in a row between Saturday and Tuesday!

The day as it happened

The real work started Monday night – 1:45 AM Martin time was the mad rush ahead of the first Australian race. While the race itself was self-running, the livestream guys at Zwift Community Live (ZCL) were fed real-time results data from Zwift and ZwiftPower systems, which Martin had to coordinate. A few hours sleep between the antipodean races and eastern European was welcome, but then ZwiftPower stalled!

So many riders were hitting the results server that Zwift’s backend results systems (the same ones ZwiftPower uses) ground to a halt. The screenshot below is “that moment when..” Nathan and Dave had to maintain broadcast without data. Perhaps one of the best lemons-to-lemonade spiels ever… if you haven’t seen it, hop over to the ZCL footage and scan forward to around 1:10:00.

My race

Quick sojourn. I am captain of the Rowe and King Ewoks – one of six R&K teams across A, B, and C categories. My race was the C-cat route ending at the top of the volcano. I went hard from the gun and made the front group along with two racemates. I stayed there all the way until I was most of the way up the Titans Grove KOM, but got drifted off the back and spat out.

Despite being dropped I still got a PR up the KOM. I grouped with two Portuguese guys and we pushed on, being caught by a chase group going up the Hilly KOM. I was now in 25th place in a field of 100+ with a tight group of 10 riders. We stayed ahead of the chasers until halfway up the Volcano, when a small group of chasers (including one of my teammates) reached us. I got to the top in 35th position, having pulled a B-class w/k of 3.2 for the ride.

Tactically, I know where it went wrong – too hard at the gun, then when I was dropped, too much time in the wind trying to catch them. I lost my chance at points in the first 15km.

The aftermath

When i spoke to Martin late Thursday he had barely slept in 60 hours – and in that time he also had to run the regular Thursday TTT for 600 teams. While a lot of the challenges of processing 5000 rider results were predicted, the Zwift results engine melting down wasn’t. What most riders don’t know is that Martin had to recreate results from the data – a testament to Martin’s professionalism and dedication. 

The other area that consumed energy was sorting through all the results for fairness. Going in the rules were pretty clear – a rider’s ZwiftPower category at the start of their first ZRL race determines which league they compete in, subject to the reality check of Martin’s super-secret algorithms that determine riders behaving outside the normal boundaries of performance for their category.

Out of 5000 riders:

  • 10% were flagged for review (including me). 
  • 400 of those were categorized as racers having a great race on the limits, but not past, the bounds of their category (me again).  
  • 100 were DQ’d from the race results without prejudice. Perhaps they had no heart rate monitor, perhaps they were re-categorized up one, or even two levels. If you take a look at ZwiftPower you can see if you have one of these tags – all pretty self explanatory. UPG-A, UPG-B, HRM.. you get the idea. These riders are being asked to perform an action (move to a more appropriate race team, get a heart-rate monitor etc).
  • The tag CONTACT_WTRL during processing literally meant Martin had personally pored over your data and can’t see an obvious explanation of your performance. There were literally a handful of these – maybe 1% of the riders – including my favorite (this is all publicly available information in Zwiftpower), a rider who magically dropped 20kg before the race, then gained it back afterwards.

What shines through when talking to Martin is how he takes all this in his stride. Of course the first real race was going to be a time-consuming test of the underlying systems. Of course it was going to take days of hard work to process. And of course there would be a shake-out of riders who started in the wrong category or tried to game the system.

As an ex-professional athlete himself, Martin knows the temptations and doesn’t judge them. But he has more nous than the average race organizer, and as a professional data analyst he knows how to dissect a rider’s performance to spot the difference between an extraordinary day on the bike and something more sinister. 

What next

Tuesday will be race #2 – this time it’s a Team Time Trial on the R.G.V. course in France. A short, fast team ride. The rider pool has been cleaned up, the team captains know what they’re doing now and all the systems have been tested. 

Martin and Steve are committed to the success of ZRL – and it’s clear that Zwift themselves want this initiative to be a multi-season success. 

I certainly enjoyed race #1. R&K Ewoks will be out there on Tuesday giving it 110%! See you there and Ride On!

Here’s a picture of two chaps at WTRL. Martin is the one looking very GQ (I think his fiancé chose this), and Steve is the one looking very active at the top of a mountain!

About The Author

Sherpa Dave

Sherpa Dave discovered cycling at age 49 in the summer of 2017 following a drunken "we should do Ventoux" conversation. On Zwift he races with Rowe & King, while in the real world he lives in Colorado with a wife and two daughters (none of whom will ride with him but all of whom are very understanding).

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Aoi Niigaki
Aoi Niigaki
11 months ago

So how come a couple of guys working in what I presume is their free time achieve all this while Zwift, a company with nearly 300 employees and over half a billion dollars in funding can’t? The thing that makes me so disappointed in Zwift is that Martin and Steve’s workload could be drastically reduced if Zwift would build some new race modes (such as team time trials) directly into Zwift instead of having to rely on external processing. These guys are showing the potential of Zwift racing and how it could be so much better but Zwift is laregly… Read more »

11 months ago
Reply to  Aoi Niigaki

I was thinking the exact same thing. Big thanks and a massive respect to Martin and Steve. I hope Zwift can somehow make it worth the effort for them.

Robin Strong
Robin Strong (@robin)
11 months ago

Great write-up Sherpa! I’m also a big fan of the WTRL events and was blown away by the help from Martin after we messed up a few things in our first ever WTRL race. Not just creating a great racing platform by expanding the limits of Zwift but also supporting users like me that were too dumb to use it properly.

Stephane Louvet
Stephane Louvet
11 months ago

It would be nice Zwift enable the draft for TT bikes only during TTT events.
It would give those races something unique !

Marco NL
Marco NL
11 months ago
Reply to  Sherpa Dave

I cannot speak for Stephane, but I’m assuming it’s a matter of ‘style’. On a TTT you’d want to be riding a TT bike with a disc wheelset. It would also give an extra incentive to unlock these gadgets. And think about a TTT on an after-party course, would we be seeing coordinated team bike changes?

That said, would it have changed the end results? Probably not so much..

Marco NL
Marco NL
11 months ago

Great to see that so many people are participating! It will be hard to deny the community interest in Zwift racing given adequate and enforced categories. And these already substantial numbers are excluding those Zwifters who cannot participate in this series since they are not linked to a team (myself included).

A big thanks to WTRL for all these efforts on the foreground and background – it must be rewarding to see the series unfold and that is well-deserved.

Fud (@julian-fussell)
11 months ago

Riders shouldn’t be DQ for HRM – just 1/2 points to a minimum 1 pt? Did you read the rules?

Toby Trotman
Toby Trotman
11 months ago
Reply to  Sherpa Dave

well played!

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