How the Race Was Lost: Autocat Zwift Classics – Yorkshire Grand Prix

How the Race Was Lost: Autocat Zwift Classics – Yorkshire Grand Prix

Yesterday was the first event of the Zwift Classics 2021 series, organized this year by the good folks at WTRL. I’d planned to hop into these races because I knew the competition would be higher than usual – many races are a bit low on attendance these days, as the weather outside is just too nice. But what really sealed the deal was WTRL testing their new autocategorization system in these events.

After clamoring for race category improvements over the years, it was finally be happening. I had to see what it was like!

Signing Up

So I headed to WTRL’s site, logged in, then visited the Zwift Classics event signup page to join the time slot I wanted. (11:45am California time suited me nicely, although this is apparently “Western Europe” in WTRL’s parlance.)

When I clicked to join, I got a quick countdown screen as WTRL computed my “class” for this race. In just a few seconds I was redirected to the event signup page on zwift.com, where I clicked to join the A (men’s) race. It was official – I was a class 3! (For this race, anyway. More on that later.)

The Warmup

Signing in around 35 minutes before the race began, I had already done my pre-ride ritual: two pieces of caffeine gum and hour before the race, and some PR lotion on my legs before kitting up. Then I jumped in and spun for a few minutes until the button popped up to join the race – I clicked that quickly to reserve my place at the front of the line, then hopped into the C. Cadence group for my standard race warmup routine.

While warming up I did a bit of research, checking out who else was signed up for my event. We had a really big field (150+ signed up) with some real hitters in the mix. Yorkshire’s 2019 UCI Worlds Harrogate Circuit is always murderous for me – I can’t seem to hang on with the strong Bs up the KOM. Between the course and the field I knew today wasn’t about contending for a win. And that was OK – I wanted a hard workout, and an autocat experience.

I would do my best to stay with the front, and when that didn’t work, I would try to work with others to ride smart and finish as high as possible. I wasn’t going to chase points, even though there is both a points competition and a “scratch race” element to these Zwift Classics events.

Let’s race!

The Start

As we left the pens I saw only 129 riders had made it to the race. We started up the Otley Road climb, and the burritos began flying. Burritos everywhere! Had I missed the sale at Taco Bell?

Somehow I managed to stick with the front up the climb. Not everyone faired so well, though. I’d say the front group probably had around 60 riders in it, and two or three riders messaged that they thought they’d been placed in the wrong class – there was no way they could hold this group’s pace.

Does that mean you’re in the wrong class? Not necessarily. Every class will have stronger and weaker riders, and when you have 6 classes that’s still a pretty wide band of ability in each class. It’s possible these dropped riders were used to riding near the top of their category in other races – but I don’t see how that could be. They were all Bs or As based on ZwiftPower. So my guess is these riders had raced in smaller B packs and perhaps lower B ZRL divisions. This race felt like a Division 1 B race – very different from a Division 6 B race.

Back to the race: I got the 100kph achievement descending Pot Bank (I thought I’d gotten this years ago, but apparently not.) Then the first KOM hit, and everything splintered to bits. I found myself in a small group of riders, the third group from the front, with much larger groups ahead and behind us.

No man’s land. We didn’t have the firepower to push hard and catch the group just up the road. Which meant we’d probably get caught by the larger group behind. But we pressed on anyway, five of us, working hard but not on the limit, into lap two.

The Middle

My small group stayed together nicely, and I just sat in the wheels with a pair of legs that felt decidedly sub-par. After descending Pot Bank for the second time, it was clear the group behind was going to catch us. So I sat up, took a breather, and caught their wheels as they came through. I grabbed even more recovery on the descent to the KOM, then hung in with the pack up the KOM. Whew.

There were now three main groups on the road, and I was in the third. This group held (approximately) places 40-60. The pace was tough, but I wasn’t on the limit. Two laps down, one to go.

The End

We mopped up a few riders dropped from the groups ahead, and our group now contained approximately places 30-55. I hung in with this group to the top of the KOM, but as we hit the Cornwall Road uphill toward the final sprint point, the riders at the front of my group started hammering, and we stretched out. A gap opened ahead of the rider just ahead of me, and by the time I realized what was happening I was mostly out of the draft.

I began to hammer to catch the group, but I couldn’t close the 1-second gap even as the road leveled out through the sprint. I pressed F1 for an elbow flick, hoping against hope that another rider would come around me who could tow me to the group. But that didn’t happen either.

And that was it. 15 places rode away from us, and I was left to duke it out with just two other riders for the finish. I finished between them, in 45th place.

See activity on Strava >
See ride on Zwift >
See (partial) results on ZwiftPower >
See results from WTRL >

Watch full race video (unedited):

Thoughts on Autocategorization

So how was my first autocat experience? I have no complaints. To me, it felt similar to a ZRL Division 1 B race we did on the same route, where I finished even further down in the pack (60th place!) over just two laps.

I’m not even close to an “Almost A” in terms of my power numbers. So I wasn’t surprised to be signed up to class 3, which was almost entirely B riders (in terms of ZwiftPower categories), with just a few As. At a glance, it appeared class 2 was mostly populated by A riders with some lightweight Bs, and class 1 was almost entirely A and A+ riders, with a few strong lightweight Bs.

There will be riders who don’t like the class they’re placed in, of course. Those will probably be riders who were pretty strong in their ZwiftPower category (say, a strong C) who are placed in a class where they’re racing against Bs. It may also be lighter riders who have been milking the ZwiftPower wattage limit system and walking away with lots of wins, who are now racing against higher category riders. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

One interesting thing many racers don’t understand about the autocat system is that your class can change on a per-race basis. Your class is currently based on your power numbers, as well as your performance on routes similar to the route you’re signing up for. So, for example, I may be a C3 in Yorkshire (where I don’t perform really well) but a C2 in Crit City (where I can hang with the front in some A races).

Where Next?

WTRL is still testing and tweaking their autocat system (read their notes on it here), and will continue to do so for some time. That it worked as well as it did out of the gate is a testament to their smarts, hard work, and attention to detail.

My hope for the autocat system is that it continues to evolve and begins to include race results as a categorization factor. (WTRL’s autocat page says this is coming.) And once the system is working well, I want to see it integrated seamlessly into Zwift, so anyone can sign up for a race and be automagically placed in the correct category.

It’ll come.

ZwiftPower Weirdness

Some sort of database issue or bug caused ZwiftPower to not show all riders in the results for my event, and others in the Zwift Classics series. My results page shows 57 finishers, while WTRL’s results show all 129!

Hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come – I like having complete results in ZwiftPower. But with the way Zwift is investing heavily in WTRL’s side of things, I can imagine we’ll continue to see more development and improvement of WTRL’s systems compared to ZwiftPower. RIP ZwiftPower? Maybe. Slowly…

Your Thoughts

Did you participate in the first of the Zwift Classics races? How was your autocat experience? Share 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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Gregory
Gregory
9 days ago

Hi Eric, I thought that was great. I was seeded in C4 as I am a heavy low B rider. It felt a lot like the TFC Mad Mondays low end B category. I have seen indeed online a few C riders not liking it, but indeed it has to be taken as a challenge. I used to race against you last season in the ZRL and my strengths are flat and repeat sprints…so it will be interesting to see if I move to C3 for the Crit Race.

Cyrus
Cyrus
9 days ago

I did the same race but in eastern Australia time, was autocat in C2 (I am a light B) and we were almost only A’s… I could stay with the first group for one lap then on second kom ascent was dropped. We made a small 2nd group. I was 19/32, so I think autocat is working well to match me with similar opponent (in B cat I sometimes win on hilly courses)

Jim Maguire
Jim Maguire
9 days ago
Reply to  Cyrus

It worked well for me. I’m a lesser B and usually get dropped by the higher B’s (lesser Bs seem to not turn up for B races for this reason) but this week i finished in the middle of my race. Well done autocat.

Andy
Andy
9 days ago

Great summary Eric, it was a brutal one! I was in the same event as you, in fact you can see me in the first screenshot (A.Connah [DIRT]). I got dropped on the first climb and ended up 71st but looking forward to the next one

Trevor
Trevor (@freburt)
9 days ago

I liked the system because I had to really work to stay with the front group in my race. I think I was class 3. I am usually a high B rider… Finished 8th in time and there were multiple groups on the road v one big blob like usual. Or if you lose the first group, you are swarmed by the 2nd. Anyone else having difficulty reviewing results? Been to WTRL site and there are no results listed when I do go.

David R
David R
9 days ago
Reply to  Trevor

I had trouble seeing results too. Once I logged on I could see the results.

ShakeNBakeUK
Member
ShakeNBakeUK (@bakeuk_2)
9 days ago

lots of red in the ol’ power charts, maybe time for a fresh FTP test? ;D

Pshuck
Member
Pshuck (@paulshuckerow)
9 days ago

Hi Eric, I was in your no man’s land group of 5 and enjoyed racing with you. And this article was like getting my own personal race report since we were around each other all race! Like you, I had no chance of a win in this field and just tried to fight for a top half finish. I think the auto cat system worked great, I was always around some riders to race hard against which is all I want. See you out there!

Dan
Dan
8 days ago

Thanks Eric, definitely interesting to get another perspective on the new system. Is it confirmed that riders will change class depending on the course? I would have thought that you would be assigned to the same class but the categories would be determined in a way that hillier routes actually favour lighter riders rather than still favouring heavier riders with equal w/kg. Also, it’s a minority of riders < ~60kg that benefit from the current cat system, otherwise it favours heavier riders, and as a result there will be far more heavier riders 'milking' the system through not needing to… Read more »

Richard Wenger jr
Richard Wenger jr (@rwenger)
8 days ago

Eric – thanks for this article. Excited to see where this all goes! Will be exciting to see some more races use the system will move around cats dynamically.

rdcyclist (Mark Crane)
rdcyclist (Mark Crane) (@rdcyclist)
8 days ago

I rode in the eastern Ozzie C4 race; I’m a low B racer but the Yorkie UCI course is usually pretty good for me. Unfortunately, due to a variety of life circumstances, I was way off in terms of ability to perform. That said, this was a much better race experience than we’re usually getting on Zwift. The start while hard wasn’t much beyond what is humanly possible for most riders in my category and I was able to hang for about 8km or so. And then I was completely blown so I cruised the rest of the event and… Read more »

rdcyclist (Mark Crane)
rdcyclist (Mark Crane) (@rdcyclist)
8 days ago

Oh yeah, the start time sucked for me: I typically ride at 5-6am PDT (west coast US) but the closest thing was the east OZ race at 4am. That’s another reason I sucked… 🤔

Kevin
Kevin
8 days ago

I was wondering about the Zwift power bug. Zwiftpower only show 50 participants for my race when we were at least 100. As I finished 63 or something my race isn’t in Zwiftpower at all. So sad as I had some pretty good numbers I think.. Don’t know what happened

rdcyclist (Mark Crane)
rdcyclist (Mark Crane) (@rdcyclist)
8 days ago
Reply to  Kevin

I finished 50th in my race and it was a battle to stay ahead of 51st at the end. At the time we had no idea the stakes were so high!

Sean Leary
Sean Leary
8 days ago

If you look at the 1:00:10 mark of your YouTube video, I inadvertently sticky-drafted you on Cornwall Road. I remember it happening. I passed you but couldn’t hang on to the group, and a gap opened up. As I faded and you went back around me, you activated a burrito and I remember thinking ‘payback!’, although in review you were likely just using it to get a new powerup at the banner. But in watching the video I wonder what would have happened if you had dumped (deleted) that burrito instead. Would the three of us been able to close… Read more »

C.L.F.
C.L.F.
8 days ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

Great! I like your race reviews, Eric. And if now and then someone, like in this case Sean, also adds another view of the same race it’s even more interesting! Thank you both for putting your time in sharing this with us 🙂

KingBathSalts
KingBathSalts
8 days ago

King bath salts is now 18-0 in the D group. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=pubstomp

Catering for babies
Catering for babies
8 days ago

I’m a 50 year old A rider and got bumped up to the C1 ride. It was shit. Came in dead last. Almost got lapped. WTF.

Hybrid Noob
Hybrid Noob
8 days ago

C3 here too, normally a bottom of the pile A or rarely a top end B. Autocat worked well for me, a competitive race where I finished 5th, though I totally forgot about segment points on the first (naturally quickest) lap so, despite belatedly foolishly trying, nothing doing to trouble the podium on that prime score. The final is reminiscent of the Volcano – big watts for a ramp, minimal easing off then struggling to muster a sprint to the line…just lots more climbing before all that too!

Geoff Searle
Geoff Searle
8 days ago
Reply to  Hybrid Noob

The extra points were per lap, weren’t they?

Hybrid Noob
Hybrid Noob
6 days ago
Reply to  Geoff Searle

Yes and no. FAL was for each segment on every lap and up to 10 points a pop but the FTS was for the whole race and up to 20 points for each of the two segments. All the top points for the latter went on that first, quicker lap. So I managed to blow some FAL points and even more FTS points. Not that I would’ve been close to the win anyway mind!

Mark
Mark
8 days ago

Thanks for the review Eric. Does it have no sound, or am I not operating my laptop correctly again? Once I figured out I didn’t actually need to race in my actual time zone (PDT) I chose Americas Central. Much better than racing at 7:00 in the evening. I thoroughly enjoyed the race, which was a cat 4. There was no feeling of sandbag shenanigans going on, and everyone seemed very well matched. I had done one of the autocat test races as well, and also felt it was very fair and fun. The race was fast, competitive and tight.… Read more »

Jon Tiktin
Jon Tiktin
8 days ago

Autocat seems ok, categorised as a 4 shuffled to the back of the pack as I’m a strong C on zwiftpower and now competing with lower B’s, I’d be further back again if I was doing B grade races. My issue is that performances within this category system will effect those in the original and to be competitive here will mean upgrading in the other series I race in (e.g. HSRL)  Interesting note about how the the categorisation takes the course into account, if your entering a series (ie HSRL again) as a 4 but you could be a 3… Read more »

Geoff Searle
Geoff Searle
8 days ago

I’m a lower B and was quite shocked to see entrants in C4 for the NZ race with power stats that were well and truly out of my league. Utterly reamed myself to hang in for the first lap but was blown to pieces by the time the first gentle climb started on the second lap, and watched the stronger riders roll away comparatively easily (and was utterly powerless to stop it). Fell back to a small 2nd bunch with 5 up the road fighting for the win. They were putting out (average) power numbers that I can only dream… Read more »

Ben
Ben
8 days ago

I liked the autocat. I’m a high C, almost B Zwiftpower rider placed in C4 for Oz East Race. Managed to stick with front group (on the back!) before the KOM with some big sprint efforts before the early descents. After the KOM I was well and truly gone from the front of the race but stuck with a group of about 10 for the rest of the race and we even mopped up a few on the last KOM. Placed 23/60ish riders which I was fine with. The rider who won had crazy number (avg 4.2, compared to my… Read more »

Tom
Tom
8 days ago
Reply to  Ben

I was in that race too. The winning rider was a class above everyone else, went solo for the last lap and kept pulling away. I can see how the autocat put them in that group on their recent results but I’m sure they’ll get upgraded next time. The Yorkshire course turns little gaps into big ones, on a flat course the lead group would have been at least 25 strong.

C.L.F.
C.L.F.
8 days ago

Zwiftpower shows my “Eastern Europe” race in C3 (I’m a B finishing 52nd of abt. 80, race went as expected for my current training state 🙂 ) only as an activity but not as an event/race. Is this a bug? And do you experience the same? I would guess it does not qualify as an “event” then and thus also won’t be used for autocat when signing up for the next race. Odd…

josh
josh
8 days ago

i was in your race, great to ride with you! i managed a lowly 79th and sadly was in the group lost on zwiftpower – my toughest race (based on strava relative effort) so far so would have liked to have seen the numbers there. I hope you are wrong about zwift dropping ZP, but i fear you may be right!

Renni Eg
Renni Eg
8 days ago

I did not race but watched the results. Looks quite dense at mens cat – good! But in some races were about 1-5 women per cat. Which means it would be a good thing to use fewer classes when there are only few riders expected. I prefer racing in mixed classes anyways if womans fields are very small …

M. d. s. Günther
M. d. s. Günther
5 days ago

I had the pleasure to race with Sherpa Dave in C5, which was absolutely the perfect class for a middle-to-bottom C cat. A buddy of mine, who is a strong D, was really struggling tho and for the next event he is now in C6, which will be a better fit i think. Meanwhile i am now in the open class, don’t quite get why but let’s see how it goes.

Hybrid Noob
Hybrid Noob
4 days ago

I signed up a few days ago for round 2 and got assigned to C2 (previously C3 for the first event but fair enough I finished 5th in it and this is a different course so no problem). I then pulled out with outdoor riding plans before taking a look in again today when I got assigned as Open Category all of a sudden. Not sure what happened in between times, lots of sign ups modifying things, change under the hood or a glitch? 🤷‍♂️

Tiago Afonso
Tiago Afonso
3 days ago

Hi Eric, thank you so much for all your amazing work. Really a great help to anyone that enjoys zwift. Hoping this cat system works out and we get to enjoy more competitive races. The first race got placed in cat 4, really enjoyed the race, got dropped in the second lap but felt like a better result was achievable. Today on the second race of the series, got placed in CAT 3, still enjoyed the hard race, but this time as soon as we reached the first KOM, the front guys just flew away. It’s easy to understand that… Read more »

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