A couple of years back I wrote a “How the Race was Won” article detailing how I had won my first race since being upgraded from C to B. Now I’m back, explaining how I won my first race since being upgraded to A. Well, sort of upgraded…
Ever since I began Zwift racing back in 2018 I have read and heard talk about the need for categories to be assigned to riders during races to prevent those who are too strong from having a negative impact on the racing for others. And it seems that finally in the spring of 2022 Zwift has delivered with the creation of ‘category enforcement’. It seems, though, that many riders have been surprised by how they have been categorized, myself included. I along with a few other Zwift racers have found myself ‘bumped-up’ from what my Zwift Power category is.
Whilst I have found some racing success since becoming a fully-fledged B over the past 2 years I still remain some way off from being an A-grade rider under the Zwift Power category system. But I AM an A grade rider according to Zwift’s new in-game category enforcement. This took me a little by surprise as I find that I need to dig deep to hold onto the front in many B races I have competed in, often being the rider with one of the highest and regularly the highest average heart rate (so I would not consider myself to be coasting and just sitting in until the crucial moments). As a result, I have almost always continued to select ‘B’ when signing up for a race until recently when I was browsing for a race to do on a Saturday afternoon and found that entering my usual category was no longer possible in many races. This left only one option… jump in with the A’s!
Surveying the Competition
I felt a little trepidation about what was to come and whilst this wasn’t the first time I have raced in A when I have raced and won in the A group in the past there have only been a handful of others present who were generally poorly ranked so I’m not sure I can really ‘count’ those as wins. But a browse of the Zwift Power rankings prior to this race revealed a fairly strong lineup with some riders in the list who possessed a better ZP rank than myself.
I wondered if I would be able to hold on to this group and was a little concerned that I did not have the fitness to hang in with some of the A’s when they put the hammer down, as I have taken a slightly different approach to my training this year. Last year I trained and raced on Zwift hard in the winter and early spring, hitting a fitness peak in April/May just as the outdoor racing season ordinarily would begin. However, some lingering Covid issues and restrictions put the start of the season back to late June and I found that by the time racing came around I had come off the peak and was in a bit of a decline. This meant that whilst I did pick up some results in the races I felt a little flat and found I needed a break mid-season, after which I came back much stronger, picking up some podiums in the local races.
In order to avoid a similar situation this time around I have taken a much more cautious approach with a little less intensity through the early part of the year, hoping to hit more of a peak a little later. This meant I don’t currently feel that I have top form.
Anyway, on to the race!
Off To An Easy Start
The course was Makuri Islands’ Wandering Flats, which takes in roads on both the original Yumezi area and Neokyo. Whilst for the most part this is a flat course, it contains a sting in the tail! It was a mixed category event with everyone starting together but a good chunk of these were from the A group I was in.
The race settled into an easier pace pretty quickly after the initial 30s effort to get up to speed, and we meandered down the slightly downhill opening kilometers. Aside from one guy putting in a short-lived attack on one of the slight rises in Neokyo the race took on a steady but otherwise relaxed pace where I spent my time hiding in the pack to gain maximum draft, knowing the final few kilometers of this race had the potential to be explosive.
As we went through the connecting tunnel between Neokyo and the Yumezi flatlands I knew the race was about to get a lot tougher as the road hits the ‘hilly’ section, gaining around 60m over a 2km section. But little did I know I would have to go deeper than ever before!
The Work Begins
5.8km to go… the road begins to tilt upwards and the first rider hits out early on the short 5% ramps as we cross over the flatland loop start/finish banner. The group responds by ramping up the effort to close across the gap, and I know I have to follow if I want to have any chance of being involved in the shakeup at the end. However, within 400m the effort needed to hold on to the group is already taking a toll and my HR has risen to 199BPM. I know that just around the next corner the road would tilt up even more…
Is This How It Ends?
Even though this steeper section where the gradient touches 10% does not go on for long I knew this would be a point where the stronger riders would begin their attacks. Sure enough, they did. I saw a number of riders go into orange numbers on the rider list and I was sure it was here I would get dropped, but I promised myself I would grit my teeth and hold on for as long as I could.
With my HR now rising to 204 I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep in there for much longer, but much to my surprise I managed to survive the attacks over the steeper section and found myself hanging onto the front of the rapidly dwindling group! A quick look at the mini-map showed me the group was stretched with gaps appearing everywhere as riders struggled to hold the wheel in front.
The group continued at an infernal pace as we headed along the flatter portion and the much hoped-for respite before the next rise never materialized. As we hung a right and the next rise in the road reared its head I didn’t know how much more I could take. A quick glance through the sweat now pouring into my eyes revealed that my HR was still well over 200 but I found myself in the first few riders of our group. I was still doubtful that I could hold on to the end but I felt that if I could use my forward position to give me some sliding room I might just be able to hold on until the top.
It was a huge effort for me but as the road finally flattened I was still in touch with the front riders, but with my HR registering a frightening 207bpm. Could I recover enough to feature in the sprint?
Thankfully, the next few kilometers were taken easily by the group until 800m from the line when one of the riders decided to go early. I let out a sigh of annoyance that I would need to make another effort before the sprint, but knew that this close to the finish line this could be a dangerous move that stays away.
Fortunately, the attack soon slowed and the group caught the breakaway rider within 250m.
We were now just over 500m from the finish line. I felt that an early sprint could work since this was a slightly downhill finish. This is also something that seems to work for me as, I cannot hit super high peak power during sprints but don’t seem to drop off a cliff either, maintaining a decent average for a longer duration.
So with 400m to go I buried myself into the sprint and in a world of pain, shouting expletives (my partner Rebecca came into our gym to see what was going on and proceeded to photograph the incident). I looked up in the final 100m to see myself out front solo just crossing the line as another rider appeared on my screen but didn’t quite get around me… meaning I had taken the win!
Once I had picked myself up off the floor I was very pleased with the effort, not only because it resulted in a ranking point boosting win in the A category but also with the way I felt I had dug in to hold onto the pack.
It seems that a number of riders have been surprised by how they have been ‘catted up’ in the new category enforcement races, but I would encourage people to view it as a challenge and jump in, as you may find as I did that you have reserves you didn’t know you had and can learn to dig deeper and break through any fitness plateaus you might be experiencing.
As for me, I hit all-time HR PBs for the following durations:
- 203bpm 5min
- 199bpm 10min
I also hit 2nd-best all time HR for 1min with 207 and 5 seconds with 210. Now if that isn’t digging deep, I’m not sure what is!
Has the new category enforcement setup forced you up a category? How’s it going? Share below!