How the Race Was Lost – Auto-Braking Dreams and New FTPs

How the Race Was Lost – Auto-Braking Dreams and New FTPs

Last Thursday’s Crit City race was a fun one, mostly because I finally got to race with a local buddy. Sure, I still lost. Sort of. But there’s something special about riding on Zwift with someone you’ve accompanied for thousands of IRL miles. Sure, it’s virtual–but thanks to Zwift and Discord, it’s also very real.

Warmup

After missing my usual early-morning Zwift session the workday had gotten away from me. Now it was two in the afternoon and I just wanted to get a hard effort in so I wouldn’t go stir-crazy. So I messaged a few local riding buddies to see if anyone wanted to tackle a Zwift race with me, and my friend Zane came back with an affirmative. We quickly chose an event: Crit City. Bell Lap. 4:45PM. See you then!

Front to back: me, Zane, and another friend riding our local Konocti Challenge imperial last October

Two Riders, One Mission

You have to understand, this was a rare occurrence: Zane and I ride together on Zwift quite a bit, but hardly ever race together since he prefers racing in the A’s. He’s a glutton for punishment, preferring to get shelled by the top riders so he’s better prepared when the outdoor season begins and he’s taking on the P/1/2 field here in Northern California.

Me, most of my races are done because I know I have a shot at the B podium. Sure, some races are purely for training – but I’m much more motivated to go hard if I think I can finish in the front pack.

Zane and I are good friends, but we’re opposites in many ways. He’s the guy you’ll see attacking repeatedly off the front–I’m the guy sitting in and trying to survive. He rides by feel, I love all the data. He is a naturally gifted athlete–and I’m far from that! His FTP puts him right near the top of the B category (325 watts, around 3.9w/kg), while mine is closer 300 watts, around 3.6w/kg.

But that’s one reason we enjoy each other’s company: we learn from watching the other guy, and riding together pushes us to try strategies and workouts we wouldn’t have attempted solo.

Our goal for this race was simple enough: try an attack to see if we can split the group and get away with a small breakaway bunch. (I’ve been wanting to be a part of such a breakaway ever since my first Crit City race, but I have yet to see it work). If we couldn’t get in a break, we would simply stay near the front on the crazy final lap, then go all-in for the sprint finish.

The Start

I tried convincing Zane to attack with me on the first lap up the twisty climb, but he wasn’t into that idea. So we just surfed the wheels near the front as the race began. As we pulled out of the start gate I realized I’d forgotten to switch back to my Tron bike, and was riding the S-Works Venge with Zipp 858 wheels. Not the absolute fastest option, but no time to change now.

There were some strong riders pushing the pace at the front, and our group of 26 was reduced to 14 before the first lap was even finished. That group would basically stay intact for the remainder of the race.

The pack shrunk quickly from 26 to 14

After a couple laps, I was pretty sure we had two riders in the front of our group who would 1) finish the race well over the category limits or 2) blow up within another lap or two. They were constantly throwing down some big wattage on the front, but it was OK because we could sit on their wheels and let them work.

Were they sandbaggers, or just really strong? You really can’t think too much about that in a race situation. Just ride smart. Ride to win!

The Middle

We hit the twisty climb at the start of the third lap and Zane yelled in Discord, “I’m going for a break!”

I would have followed, except he caught me sleeping near the back of the pack. So I let him go. He managed a gap of 4-5 seconds, but good ol’ Hemstad towed us back to him.

Zane a few seconds off the front

Give Breaks (Brakes) a Chance

As we caught Zane I was reminded that breakaways need some help on Crit City–it’s just way too hard to get away, and this makes the races less exciting. Let’s go down a side road for a bit…

Here’s what I would love to see Zwift add to the Crit City course: position-based auto-braking. In a crit, pack position is huge. If you’re at the back of a pack going through tight corners you’ll have to put in a lot more work as the group slows to a crawl then you sprint back up to speed, over and over again. Conversely, if you’re in a 3-man breakaway off the front you can take that corner much more quickly. And this is a good thing, because it’s just about the only advantage the breakaway has on the chasing peloton.

We don’t have auto-braking on Crit City, though. Not yet. But it could be done! Riders could simply be slowed to a maximum speed (say, 20mph) on the two sharpest corners of the course. This would make the races more dynamic and crit-like.

But what if Zwift took it to the next level? What if the amount of auto-braking was based on your pack position? So the rider at the front of a pack would only get 20% of the auto-brake effect, while the riders at the back would get 100% of it.

I remember a little piece of software from a Zwifter years back that showed the percentage of draft effect Zwift was currently applying to your rider. So yes: Zwift already has a drafting “level” in play. What if that number was used to determine how much auto-braking was done? If you’re getting 0 draft, then 20% auto-brake. 100% draft? 100% auto-brake. And everything in between.

This would give the breakaway more of a chance, and reward those who are putting in the work on the front of the peloton.

Last lap: no powerup (again!)

The Finish

The remaining laps were fairly uneventful, and heading into the final lap I had received just 3 powerups in 7 chances through the arch. The powerup gods must be angry, because the ratios weren’t working in my favor! Hoping for something useful as we rode beneath the arch for the final lap, the spinner once again landed on the 10XP bonus. Boooo!

As always, the pace picked up when we hit the uphill twisties for the last time. I was out of the saddle happily hammering along, just doing my best to ride the wheels and conserve before the final sprint. Zane was right on my tail as we descended the bricks, making us 4th and 5th wheel as the pack stretched out thanks to Minton pushing hard on the front. I kept my eye on the riders ahead and the list to the right, ready to jump and grab a wheel if any strong riders looked like they may get away.

As we flew through the penultimate turn it was time to go all-in. No Tron bike? Can’t think about that now. No powerup? Oh well! My lovely wife had come up to the Lab and was yelling “GO GO GO!” and I was out of the saddle, head down, giving it all I had.

I wasn’t even sure if Zane was ahead or behind me. I was too busy putting everything I had into the pedals for those final 15 seconds.

I crossed the line, looked up, and was delighted to see these results on the screen:

1-2, baby! I started singing “Weeeee are the champions” into Discord for Zane to hear, but I was so out of breath I only got the “We” out. NorCal boys take the podium!

See my Strava activity >
See this race on ZwiftPower >

Grading on a Curve

Zane is a perfect example of how the current “final race results are on ZwiftPower” idea is broken. Why? Because he’s not on ZwiftPower.

Totally legit racer. Accurate power. But he’s not in the “final” results because there are too many hoops for him to jump through.

Oh yes, I’ve tried to get him to sign up. Repeatedly. But it’s just too much hassle for him. He just wants to ride. He’s never worn a heart rate monitor and doesn’t like hassling with tech. Since he doesn’t really care whether his Zwift race results are “final,” he’s not motivated to sign up.

For this race, that means: I won! Well, sort of. Except Zane beat me. But I DID get this:

Takeaways

Here are my takeaways from this race:

  • Racing with friends is fun. Even better if you’re on Discord.
  • Forgetting your Tron bike isn’t the end of the world. Neither is a lack of powerups.
  • A real-life cheering section always helps.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of my “positional auto-braking” idea? And does this count as a win for me? Please say it does. Chime in below!

About The Author

Eric Schlange

Eric runs Zwift Insider in his spare time when he isn't on the bike or managing various business interests. He lives in Northern California with his beautiful wife, two kids and dog. Follow on Strava

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Bruce Langsteiner
Bruce Langsteiner
1 year ago

Eric, I think the auto-braking idea is genius! I used to race crits in the very competitive area of south Florida back in the ’70s. What you say is right on the money with how the pack works. If you’re on the front, you get the benefit of being able to pick your line. If you’re on the back, you get stuck in the yo-yo effect of constantly having to sprint out of the corners. Both of these factors play into team tactics and ensure breakaways can happen. Good ones are very hard to reel in.

Carl J
Carl J
1 year ago

Congrats on the race, and the new FTP.
Been meaning to try one of the Crits. May end up going one of the TdZ Stage races first

Garry Twiss
Garry Twiss
1 year ago

Autobraking
Club functionality
Private events

If we are asking for stuff!

Great write up Eric, but I too are not on Zwift power so I would say we’ll done on second place 😉

Chris Shelton
Chris Shelton
1 year ago

I really like your idea of auto-breaking that would definitely make it interesting at the front. The only question I have I remember from a previous post that you mentioned the specialized venge SWorks with the level 45 disc wheels was just as fast if not faster than the Tron bike, am I wrong?

james
james
1 year ago

so tron is quicker than s works 808 disc on this course? Thanks Eric, Love these articles keep them up please 🙂

Darin Boyd
Darin Boyd
1 year ago
Reply to  james

My first thought as well, I would use the S-Works – 808/Super9 combo as well on that course… watching…

Han Solo
Han Solo
1 year ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

I’ve noticed that the Zipps seem harder to spin-up than the Enve wheels even though the tests don’t necessarily bear that out. It could be just seat of the pants kind of thing, but using Zipps (454, 808s, etc.) vs Enve’s of the same variety take a bit longer to get going and feel ‘heavy’. I haven’t done the Crit with the Tron and will try that one next. I’m also considering moving up to “B” even though, I’ll get blown out the back as there seems to be less sandbagging there. Thanks for all your insights!

Rick B
Rick B
1 year ago
Reply to  james

Same here. Not a tron fan. The slight advantage is negated by not getting visual que that you are in the draft or not in my opinion.

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 year ago

Congrats on the podium and the “win”. I’m not a fan of auto-braking in general (the braked turn in London just doesn’t feel right to me), but your position-based idea is terrific and would do a great job of capturing real-life dynamics. The only thing I would tweak is I would give 0% braking to a rider with 0% draft (rather than the 20% you suggest). The guy with his nose in the wind gets to take the fastest line through the corner and goes through at full speed.

Pmsap
Pmsap
1 year ago

The lack of PU is not the end of the world but damn that it helps. I witnessed that in my last race that I won at the sprint. And I’m a really bad sprinter. I got an aero pu in the penultimate lap!! I ended up using it at absolute perfection. I passed the last rider at the line finishing first by 0.1s. In zwiftpower.com I saw that I ended averting a 15sec sprint with 1w/kg less than the rider that I overcame at the line with him being 10kg heavier than me (some 150w less sprint power for… Read more »

Oliver Radermacher
Oliver Radermacher
1 year ago

Very interesting ideas and comments on this race. I love the idea of “braking” or reduced draft. And congrats to the (second place) “win” 🙂 . You are really hammering it down. Keep on racing and writing about, especially your takeaways

Bob Kratchet the accountant
Bob Kratchet the accountant
1 year ago

Congrats on the win!!! Does the “too many hoops” statement really hold water though? It took me literally 2 min of hoops to sign up for Zwiftpower. Zwiftpower feels like signing up for a racing license in real-life, it’s a necessary step. When I used to race outside, every single year there were a couple guys who would never buy a license as they were “only going to do a few races” and it was “too much hassle”. They would show up, blow apart the field and collect their podium win for 2-3 weeks and then disappear for a year… Read more »

Bob Kratchet the accountant
Bob Kratchet the accountant
1 year ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

I suspect in most cases, beyond the new racer who doesn’t know about ZP, is that they do know better and are not signing up for a specific reason. Probably the same reason the dude outside shows up and wins two races every single year in Cat 5 with times that would have blown apart the Cat 3 field before disappearing for another year. A win is a win for them and they can go brag to family and friends who know no better (and probably don’t care anyway). What I don’t get is Zwift has SOOO much data. They… Read more »

Ron Gallo
Member
Ron Gallo (@rgallo1964)
1 year ago

As a rider struggling with the notion that I still have a long way to go before I can enter the B Category simply because the w/kg numbers tell me I can, I’m not so sure of the auto braking feature. I suppose it would challenge me to be farther up in the group but would I just be burning matches? Would it mimic IRL even more? Possibly, especially since I seem to get swung out wide everytime and lose the draft. Don’t get me wrong, I have a few friends that you may have seen racing in the A… Read more »

Heath Powell
Heath Powell
1 year ago

Crit City is such a good addition to the simulation! I love crits!! As a 185# weightlifter with a sprint around 1400w I can only hang on to the lil guys in races like this. my FTP is 278w and that puts me harshly at the bottom of B class for w/kg. the Tour de Zwift reminded me how much of a these lite guys will decimate people my size in a sustained climbs. I take solace in the fact that I can bench and squat more than them…. zwift does not seem to care about those metrics though lol!… Read more »

M4rk0
M4rk0
1 year ago

Great write up and love the auto braking suggestion.

Side note, you need to join us fellow west coasters in the Sweatfest racing series on Wednesday nights!

Bobby Mac
Super Member
Bobby Mac (@rmacdowell1)
1 year ago

Hi Eric, I’m a big fan of Zwift Racing and enjoy your race summary articles. Did Zane have a power-up on the final sprint? I similarly have friends who race on Zwift but are more focused on IRL racing so they don’t care about ZP or HR. Shame. Perhaps if there were races with actual cash prize they’d change there tune? Of course for a cash prize race you’d need a strict registration protocol including dual recording, , morning weight video, ZP registration, IRL stats, and maybe even recording a portion of your ride with your smart phone. Also I… Read more »

Mark Mckie
Mark Mckie
1 year ago

Real life crit racing is about repeated braking/max a celebration efforts. I have ridden one crit so far on zwift and kept fairly steady power- more a tt effort. Auto braking is one way to force the accelerations the that are at the core of crit racing

Tomas
Tomas
1 year ago

1. Auto-breaking definitelly.
2. I miss the info about the number of laps to go. Or do I oversee it?
3. The crit race should be primarilly about the points that is possible to get in each lap. Not only about the final time. This type of race should be more intensive and probably more atractive than the start-stop race.

Phil
Phil
1 year ago

Re: ZwftPower and Zwift Results – it’s frustrating as a C racer, because I think the number of registered racers on ZwiftPower decreases as the levels decrease. I’d rather ZP maintain the complete results, and if someone isn’t registered, list them in the results as “Unregistered Rider”. I’d rather show up as 10th/100 (i.e. all riders) on ZP as opposed to 4th/25 (i.e. registered riders); especially in a big ride like Tour de Zwift. I love all that ZwiftPower is, but at my level, it’s kind of like bragging that you finished first in your age group, when you were… Read more »

Bob Kratchet the accountant
Bob Kratchet the accountant
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil

Honestly it just seems that ZwiftPower should be a mandatory and more seamless functionality of Zwift itself. Looking from the outside, if Zwift outsources all of their race disqualifications and categorizations to ZwiftPower, then they can disassociate themselves from having to police people, leaving them to simply collect the revenue of those who want to sandbag, giving them the big W they desire on the Zwift screen.

George Homer
George Homer (@pass_a_bud_a_bud)
1 year ago

As I commented on your last article….Zwift will never be even close to reality until a braking system of some sort is implemented, your theory while good lacks mentioning the fact of slowing on downhills too…..braking is a must for the future of Zwift if it wants to be even close to reality!

Renzo Castro
Renzo Castro (@rgcastro7)
1 year ago

I’m really enjoying your articles, Eric.
I’ve read quite a few in preparation for my first Zwift race, which I raced today.

There’s been a huge amount of useful information, so thank you for taking the time and effort to write all of this.

The braking system sounds like a great idea. I’d love to see that implemented.

Derek Brauch
Derek Brauch
1 year ago

I like the breaking idea but personally I’d be even more interested in “coasting” corners where power output would be cut… this would replicate the many micro recoveries that we have IRL. The coasting zones could be delineated with “force field” indicators.

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