Call me a sucker or a sheep, but around a month ago, Facebook popped up an ad for an intriguing app, and I took the bait.
(Incidentally, this is how I discovered Zwift back in 2015. So I’ve learned to pay attention to Facebook ads, as they’ve turned into a nice discovery tool for all things cycling, including terribly ugly jerseys from oddly-named overseas companies.)
The app is called “The Breakaway” (breakaway.app) and it bills itself as “The Ultimate Cycling Training Companion”. They summarize the app like this:
The Breakaway analyzes your power data and provides Insight with actionable next steps. We break your efforts into Power Skills, and then show you the 12 Power Intervals that you can work on. We offer Challenges to help you improve specific skills and we track you and keep you honest on getting the work done.
Where Do I Stand?
There are two kinds of cyclists: those who constantly compare themselves to others, and those who don’t. The first group would call themselves “competitive”, and you’ll find them racing on the weekends and chasing Strava KOMs whenever the wind is favorable. The second group would call themselves “non-competitive” and say things like “the joy is in the journey” and “I’m just trying to be the best me I can be” while taking exploratory gravel rides and hunting Zwift route badges.
I’m firmly in the first camp, and have a hard time even understanding how someone can live in the second camp. Here’s what’s fun, though: The Breakaway appeals to both camps.
When you first install the app and hook it into your Strava account, it will read in your historic data and display a chart ranking your performance using The Breakaway’s proprietary metrics. Here’s what my charts look like:
This is fascinating stuff. First, the chart shows your power not just on a simple 20-minute interval (or ZwiftPower’s 4 rider phenotype intervals), but on 12 different time intervals (The Breakaway calls them “Power Skills”):
- 15 seconds
- 30 seconds
- 1 minute
- 2 minutes
- 3 minutes
- 5 minutes
- 10 minutes
- 15 minutes
- 20 minutes
- 30 minutes
- 45 minutes
- 60 minutes
Then it shows where your power numbers theoretically place you in the universe of cyclists. I’m firmly in the “elite” camp, which is the 5th of 8 levels that shake out something like this:
- Level 8 – World Class
- Level 7 – National Star
- Level 6 – Semi-Pro
- Level 5 – Elite
- Level 4 – Sport
- Level 3 – Athletic
- Level 2 – Intermediate
- Level 1 – Beginner
The data nerd inside me immediately had questions. I loved the sound of being “elite”, but what did that actually mean? Is an elite 42-year-old as strong as an elite 24-year-old? Are age and weight figured into the equation?
I reached out to The Breakaway, and founder Jordan Kobert wrote back. Jordan is a lifelong cyclist who was one of Strava’s first employees (employee #8, Strava user #30). Here’s how he explained the level rankings:
Our benchmarks are the standard for performance across male and female efforts in our 12 defined PowerSkills (15 seconds all the way up to 60 minutes). So when you see your ranking, this isn’t against anyone else, or a leaderboard, but against what’s possible. We built this by looking at male and female world-class performances, then adjusting for performance/age degradation and accounting for body weight. The beauty of this is it’s a standard way of measuring, not a leaderboard of thousands.
We look at the percentile breakdowns for each category and as we developed this, checked it against other sports, benchmarks, and current and former professional athlete data. We are continuing to dial this data as we learn but we’re incredibly confident in the results and we continue to stress test this with new results, data, etc. Some areas are easier than others. For example, we can look at age-group data for certain things like track events, timed criteriums, etc. The reality though is that there isn’t a benchmark or “defined standard” for what a 46-year-old man or woman can do in 45 min power. So we’re inventing this as we go to create a fun and engaging way to stay motivated and track your progress.
Defining ‘Elite’ is different if you’re 35 vs 65. Watts are also a meaningless number if they’re not looked at on a weight-based standard. Leaderboards are great but more and more, if you’re not in the top echelon they lose meaning. What we’ve heard over and over again from customers is they want to know how they’re doing against themselves, people like them, and their inner circle of friends/training partners…
That’s a solid answer. And of course Jordan is right: there simply is no objective standard available which says “If you’re a X-year-old male and weigh X your 15s power of X places you at the semi-pro level.” The closest thing to such a standard may be Coggan’s chart which shows rankings based on 5-second, 1 minute, 5 minute, and FTP. But that chart doesn’t take age into account, and it ranks me somewhere between a Cat 5 and a Cat 3.
So I’m going to go with The Breakaway’s “Elite” status. It feels much better.
What The Breakaway’s level says to me is that I’m performing at an Elite level for my age. And they take weight into account as well, so if I dropped 10 pounds but kept my power numbers the same, I’d move closer to the higher “semi-pro” level. Which begs the question: how many cookies am I willing to skip in order to be a semi-pro? (Answer: not enough.)
How Did I Do?
While knowing where you stand in the universe of cyclists may not appeal to the “non-competitive” types, The Breakaway analyzes every Strava ride you post, and alerts you when you get a PR, 2nd best, or 3rd best for any of the 12 Power Skills. Even if you’re only comparing yourself to yourself, seeing that you set a new 2-minute power PR feels good.
Screenshots from my Achievements page:
It’s worth noting that you’ll only see new PRs if you pay for the app. (You can also sign up for the free month-long trial to check it out. More on that below.)
What Should I Do Next?
So The Breakaway can tell you your “Level”, and track new PRs. But neither of those features tells you how to improve. And this, dear reader, is where I see massive potential for The Breakaway.
They’ve already created a “Challenges” feature where you can choose to work on a particular power interval in order to level up. For example, the app tells me if I added 25 watts to my 15-second power, I would move up to the semi-pro level. And if I decide to set that goal, I’m now given a screen with video tips from founding team member Christian Vande Velde as well as recommended workouts.
Here’s what my screen looks like:
The “Challenges” idea is a good one, and well-developed in the app. But the biggest weakness I see is a lack of training direction. Christian’s videos offer some very high-level tips focused on how to perform best when testing your power, but they don’t tell you how to train to improve.
There are some recommended workouts listed which vary depending on which Challenge you take on, but they seem to all be pulled from Peloton (*gasp!*) – you would need to manually create them in Zwift in order to execute them in ERG mode.
It’s early days for The Breakaway. But if they could integrate the app with Zwift so you could click a button and pop the recommended workout into your Zwift workouts folder, it would be a killer training tool, as long as the workouts were solid.
I would also love to see them add more videos from coaches – explaining key principles for training 15-second power, for example. I think we’ll see this eventually, as Jordan explained to me, “…we are very early and we have a lot more coming in recommended workouts, content, and more.”
Free vs Paid
You can install the app for free, and it will read in your Strava history, showing you your current level based on recent activity. But that’s just scratching the surface of what The Breakaway was created to do.
In order to have it read in your activities moving forward, you’ll need to pay (or sign up for the free month trial). Cost is $7.99/month, or $89.99/year. It is only available in the Apple App Store at this time (sorry, Android users).
More Coming Soon
The Breakaway team started working on the product in mid-2020, with the motivation of “looking at this opportunity for how we can do more with all of the data people are generating across platforms like Strava, Zwift, and Peloton.” I’d say they’ve built an impressive product in that time – and the future is bright.
I asked Jordan if they had any upcoming features he could tell me about. He explained that they are working on a lot of ideas right now, some of which need to remain secret. But one thing they’ll be rolling out is the ability to create a “Team” to see how you stack up against your friends. Jordan says:
This isn’t another social network, but a way to invite/follow your close training partners and see how you rank. What makes it fun is you can do this with people all over the world, and at different levels. Christian here can tell you about his feelings of being ‘beaten’ by me on our internal leaderboard…
Clearly Jordan, Christian, and the rest of the team are having fun building The Breakaway. Kudos to them!
Zwift: Please Take Note
Many Zwifters seem to endlessly clamor for more roads, new maps. And I get it. We all love new roads. But wouldn’t it be amazing if Zwift could flesh out our rider profiles, displaying metrics like The Breakaway?
Don’t get me wrong – I love what The Breakaway is doing, and I hope they keep up the good work. But Zwift competitor The Sufferfest features their 4DP (4 dimensional power) profile which includes 5-second, 1-minute, 5-minute, and 20-minute power numbers. Why shouldn’t Zwift offer all that, and more?
Imagine completing a Zwift race and getting a popup notifying you of a new 2-minute power PR.
Then imagine Zwift taking it a step further by allowing you to set a training goal and recommending workouts to meet that goal. Want to boost your 20-minute power by 10 watts? Here are 5 recommended workouts to make it happen. Better yet, here’s a training plan that will help you get it done in 4 weeks.
The possibilities for this sort of “virtual coaching” are massive, and Zwift hasn’t even scratched the surface. Yet. Whether or not they’ll develop these features or leave it to third-party apps like The Breakaway remains to be seen. But I’d sure love to see it in-game. And I think you would, too.
Have you tried The Breakaway yet? How stoked would you be if Zwift could offer some quality virtual coaching tools along the same lines? Share your thoughts below.