Episode 11: How To Captain A Zwift Team Of Strangers

Zwift Team List

Somewhere in London

I’d been the captain of my cycling club’s B category Zwift racing team for two seasons. The second season didn’t start well. ZRL (Zwift Racing League), the organisation hosting the online event, sent an email, which I completely misunderstood. I thought I could sit back, do nothing and my clubs team would be re-registered for the new season. Unfortunately, the opposite was true and my team went into the 2022 season unregistered. Consequently, we weren’t able to race the first event. Thankfully, after much grovelling to the squad and pleading with ZRL, I managed to enter the team into the next week’s race and the rest of the schedule.

…And recruit we did…

As is the way of it, life gets in the way of people wanting to race. So, inevitably, as the season progressed, fewer and fewer riders were available. We eventually reached the point where only two out of a possible twelve of us entered the last two events. As a result, the team didn’t do so well in the league table, coming close to last in their category. This, coupled with the fact that some people were looking to ride in C cat, where they believed they would be more competitive, led to the decision that the club would start a C team. Ultimately, this meant we needed to recruit more riders from outside the club to fill the new C team roster. As a bonus, we might also swell the numbers in the B and A teams.

Then, only a few days before Season 1 kicked off we saw a trickle of interest.

Getting organised

So, when the Autumn schedule was announced, the club sprang into action and started making a plan. We had one club member who’d been riding for an online team called Sisu Racing over the last few seasons. These folks had loads of teams and had honed that process of running Zwift racing squads down to a tee. During that time, he learned a lot of tips and tricks he wanted to port across to our club.

It made sense to have him oversee things and implement some of those lessons. I soon found myself the captain of the C’s – being a C category myself – that went by the name of “Chimera”. We gave all our teams Greek God names; we called the B’s “Griffin” and the A’s “Pegasus”. For someone like me, who is averse to change, this was unsettling… That said, I found comfort in discovering our god was “a fire-breathing she-monster having a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail”… Coolio! We were set. All that was left was to go and recruit…

Recruiting the team

How not to ride in a TTT formation in Zwift.
How not to ride in a TTT formation in Zwift..

…And recruit we did… We first encouraged members of the club who’d done Zwift races previously to sign up, which they did. This gave us something to start with. However, with three new teams requiring a total of 36 riders, we soon found ourselves short on manpower. We obviously needed more people.

All this was harder than anticipated.

ZRL runs a Facebook group, under the acronym WTRL. It informs teams and their riders about upcoming events and other general race-related chit-chat. It’s here that other teams post to let people know they are recruiting. You’ll also see individual riders posting that they are available and looking for a team. So, with a few weeks to go before the racing kicked off, we put out some feelers.

Picking up riders

Our original posts were plain and simple, text-only affairs. Nothing came back, zilch – not a squeak of take up, so we tried again. This time with added graphics and the odd comment. We even stooped as low as liking the post ourselves, for good measure…. Still, nothing – zilchio. This continued off and on until a few weeks before we lined up for the first time. Anxiety started creeping in and we began holding ‘Plan B’ discussions about merging the teams we had, in order to consolidate all the riders to have enough to race. Then, only a few days before Season 1 kicked off, we saw a trickle of interest. That trickle became a river, and before you knew it, that river became….. Well, not exactly, but enough to have my anxiety shift from having too few riders to keeping track of what was happening.

This meant the private sign up link for the race was released last minute.

Thankfully, most people simply followed instructions: “Announce yourself on our Discord server, wait for someone at our end to step you through the process, accept the email inviting you to the squad, and sign up to race”. Others, however, required a lot more hand holding; asking questions, not following the process, and generally acting in a way that would break the system we had devised to ease them through some of the slightly complex processes. This meant we were still managing the riders right up until the last minute.

Into the start pen

The first race was about a week away, so to get people—essentially strangers—to bond, we tried to encourage everyone to join in a couple of targeted group events before the flag dropped.

It was a challenge to communicate what it meant to be part of a Zwift team. Many of the new recruits had little racing experience, so inevitably had a fair few questions as well as anxieties. As it turned out, we were now also oversubscribed! To be fair, this was not a bad problem to have.

That section alone promised to take up a chunk of the race time.

The first race was upon us. These races are by private invitation only. The organisers had their hands full dealing with the changes since the last event before the summer; updates to the Zwift platform, revised rules, new protocols for the events and the sheer numbers of contestants all contributed to the pressure. This meant the private sign-up link for the race was released last-,minute. There I was in a situation where we had more than the allocated 6 riders wanting to pin a number on. I now needed a strategy for whittling it down to the 6 who would go to the start pen.

Sitting it out

This first event was a cruel and intensely tough one that favoured those skinny folks with an ability to hill climb. It was rolling but doable to begin with; however, the last 6 to 7 km were straight up. That section alone promised to take up a chunk of the race time. It was not a ride that suited me at all. The consolation was there were two segments in the earlier part where you could, if you had the legs, score some decent points for the team.

Add to that the idea that you could say the right thing over race radio at the right time and what I suffered was abject chaos! Lol

One was a short 200 metre sprint, the second was a longer 1:30, slightly draggy uphill effort. Armed with this info, I decided to research the individual team members’ previous results and make some sort of decision as to who to leave out. It wasn’t easy, but eventually I resolved to sit on the sidelines along with a couple of others I had to disappoint. The idea was that I could take on the Director Sportive (DS) roll, ensure everyone was where they should be, make strategic calls. and generally shout encouragement.

Driving the team car

This was my first DS experience. In theory, you can view your riders as they race and see how they are placed, see what’s coming up and how they can make the best of the situation they’re in.

One poor soul had an Apple ear pod drop out that was promptly eaten by the dog!

All this came with some technical challenges, resulting in me watching the race whilst frantically poking my finger at an iPad screen and not knowing what the hell was going on. Add to that the idea that you needed to say the right thing over race radio at the right time, and what I suffered was abject chaos! LOL

Pouring your heart into it

As things turned out, the team produced an effort that had me bursting with pride. Ultimately, it was a great laugh. Yes, it was an intense effort for the riders that put their heart and soul into it and turned themselves inside out. Comically, one of them had an Apple ear pod drop out that was promptly devoured by the dog! And before you knew it, it was all over.

People analysed the fine details and chatted over the bits they’d learned.

We did OK; in fact, we were sitting near the top of the league! It was a great experience for everyone and a crash course on riding for a Zwift team. I ended up learning a huge amount about our team’s strengths and weaknesses. Importantly, everyone seemed to enjoy it. Once people had caught their breath, they thanked each other for the ride and signed off the radio, then went on their way to rest, recover, and enjoy what was left of their evening.

The results

As for the results… There’s normally a delay in them being published as they need to be verified first. The conversation continued over on Discord as the numbers trickled in.

Zwift results are in...
Results.

People analysed the fine details and chatted over the bits they’d learned. If there was one encouraging and heart warming take away for me, it was seeing the riders discovering their contribution actually meant something.

It’s a wrap… until next week…

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