Why Zwifting @VC Venta is a Team Event

For many riders lockdown and winter gloom has seen them trade their mudguards in for a subscription to Zwift instead.

Toby Leyland chats with Andrew Cowie and Ben Gibbs who have been leading the charge in getting a large number of club riders involved in weekly events and E-Races.

Ben, what is the Zwift WTRL all about? Explain this for a non Zwift user and why they should get involved?

WTRL run races on Zwift.  These include the Tuesday Zwift Racing League (ZRL) and Thursday Team Time Trial (TTT).

The ZRL is a series of 8 races where teams try to score points in both scratch and TTT races.  1,780 teams of 6 riders compete across several time zones.  The scratch races offer points for intermediate sprints, KOMs and, of course, the finish.  It is first and foremost a team event, and as we’re finding out, being competitive in the intermediates pays dividends overall.  With meaningful points strewn all over the course, the racing stays interesting from start to finish. Within your team it is best to target different sections to maximise your scoring.  It’s not like a lot of Zwift races which feel like an FTP test followed by a 30 second max effort.

The TTT events follow the same format. The goal here is to get 4 riders from your team across the line in the shortest time possible.  To do well requires cooperation and communication.  It’s no good finishing on your own, so there is every incentive to help others if you are feeling strong.  On an off day, to avoid letting the side down, there’s that extra bit of motivation to dig deeper.  Lockdown and the Northern Hemisphere Winter have seen this event really grow and last week saw 986 teams with 5,735 riders taking part.

Why should you get involved?  It’s really good fun.  We’ve got people of all ages and abilities riding.  Personally I’m far more motivated by chasing a wheel than a blue bar, and it makes time in the garage fly by.  Zwift has been instrumental in building and maintaining my fitness over the last few years, and the WTRL races are up there, as some of the best events on the platform.

Andrew, how long have you been racing on Zwift and what sort of races do you really enjoy?

Like many Zwifters I started at the beginning of lockdown (March 2020).  Although the outdoor weather was good I was returning from injury and lacking the confidence to get back on the road.  With the prospect of no events on the horizon it was difficult to motivate myself to get back on the turbo.

Ben (and my 9 year old son!) convinced me to give Zwift a go. We chatted about how Ben had used the group rides and events to almost create an unstructured training program to maintain his fitness.  Several other friends joined the Zwift platform at the same time and we all entered the Tour for All races which were held over several weeks and stages. With many other countries in the world locking down these events saw huge numbers participating.  As my fitness and confidence started to return I was looking for more races to try to see if I could maintain my improvements.

The WTRL Team Time Trial on Thursdays is my favourite race format and the one I will always try to do each week.  Rather than feeling like a direct race against other teams you are trying to get the group round as fast as possible.  Depending on the abilities in the team and peoples form this can range to desperately trying to hold on to taking turns driving the pace on the front. Although not able to replace outdoor rides it provides the element of teamwork with friends that makes me push myself harder than I would normally be able to on the turbo.

Ben, tell us about the work that has gone on behind the scenes to get a number of VC Venta teams entered into weekly races on a Tuesday and a Thursday night. How many riders are involved on a weekly basis?

I owe a debt of gratitude to Andrew who has been tirelessly organising Thursday’s TTTs since July last year.  It started out with a couple of us, and some weeks it was touch and go if we’d get enough people to record a result, but has grown over time to where we are today.  Last outing saw 38 riders braving the Richmond course!  There is a bit more flexibility in the Thursday rides, as we are not locked in for the season, and can accommodate new riders far more easily.  We have a pool of approximately 50 people who’ve joined the Thursday TTT’s.

On Tuesday we currently have 5 teams of 6 riders: 2 C teams, 2 B teams and 1 A team.  There has been great uptake for this (it’s almost as if people have nothing better to do at the moment!).   Most weeks we have been able to field full teams, and have only had to disappoint a couple of people.  The next challenge we face will be around team composition.  As people are getting stronger and fitter we’ll need to rethink the team composition as you can race down a cat – B riders can’t race in C teams.

Andrew added, as always, Ben is being modest about the huge amount of work he has put in.  His spreadsheet which automatically tracks rider upgrades (affecting the classification they are in), availability and various other parameters which we have to comply with has peaked and is a wonder to behold.  Beware any future fantasy Tour/Giro rivals!

Riders are given categories based on their power/weight W/Kg, do you think this is fair and does it mean you can race with riders of a similar ability?

Zwift racing is categorised according to a riders FTP in watts per kilogram (w/kg).  This is calculated from your best 20 minute efforts in Zwift events.  This gives 5 categories in the mixed racing; A+ (4.6 w/kg and >300w FTP), A (4.0w/kg and 250w FTP), B (3.2w/kg and 200w FTP), C (2.5w/kg and 150w FTP), D (<2.4w/kg and <150w FTP).  Ladies only events have slightly different criteria.

This is a basic way of classifying riders but provides a good starting point for those new to Zwift racing.  Like all parts of life there are those who game the system but a website called Zwiftpower Zwift Power – *  has gone to a lot of effort to try to legitimise performances and filter out riders who are ‘sandbagging’ (riding in a lower category than they should).

Algorithms are underway to develop a classification system, similar to that used in British cycling, in which points are used to promote and match similar riders according to the abilities of those in each event.

Ben, do you have any tips for heavier riders when racing indoors?

Choose flat courses! As a heavier rider myself the hills are horrid. Even little kicks can be a challenge, but racing on flat courses plays to my strengths.  I can hold on to a really fast group on flat routes such as Tick Tock or the Volcano Flat.  I try to avoid anything with “After party” in the title!  The TTT is also worth checking out.  On a flat TTT, a rider with big watts but a modest W/KG can be a real asset to the team.

Are there plans to continue post lockdown and in the summer?

Andrew has kindly agreed to continue putting in teams for as long as people want to take part.  Longer term we may look to continue the Tuesday night Zwift Racing League over winter months and the Thursday Team Time Trials year round.  I hope to be out on the Tuesday night Venta ride when light & work permits!

Where can riders who are interested find more details and sign up?

The best place to start is on the members Facebook group. If you don’t do Facebook then the Venta racing email will put you in touch and we can forward on the details.  We welcome riders of all abilities and have a space for everyone who wants to take part.  We currently run mixed teams and would be happy to support a ladies team if the demand was there.

Final question, what do you think are the best aspects of racing indoors for riders who would normally only ever ride outside?

For Andrew the indoor races provide a great way to fit in sessions when weather, work, family commitments or a global pandemic get in the way of outdoor rides!  Everyone has different motivators but I would look at the Zwift races, which are many and varied, as a way to supplement your training for your goal events in whatever format that takes.

A huge thanks to Andrew and Ben for their time and for their answers. If you would like to get involved or even just give it a try then please look at the Venta members Facebook group or email racing@vcventa.co.uk.  If there are other topics you would like to ask a coach then please get in contact. coach@theendurancehabit.com

Toby Leyland, Race Manager VC Venta