Zwift racing is a fun way to get in a really hard workout and test your fitness. Expect to be riding at or near your threshold with many burst over for the duration of the race. The shorter the race the higher the intensity factor will be. Most likely you will be full gas for the whole race. In Zwift there is no coasting or cruising in the group.
There are many races, racing leagues, Fondos, Tours, short races, long races, criteriums, time trials and etc to choose from. Knowing your category, which course you will be on and its elevation profile will help you determine which race maybe for you. Here are Coach Jake’s seven tricks of the trade to start zwift racing and watch his 6th place finish in the Cervelo’s Gravel Rush series:
Line up early – Some races will have only 10 – 15 riders, but some may have as many as 500+! You are lined up based on when you log in and join the event. Everyone is asked to auto join about 4 mins and 45secs before, so you will want to get logged in before this point. The bigger the event the sooner you will want to log in. Try to get to the start 10 – 15 minuets before hand. You can use your head unit on your bike to track your riding time, power and etc during the warm up.
Fast Starts – Zwift racing is known for their fast starts. You will need to be out of the saddle sprinting with 2 – 3 seconds to go before the start and hold it for at least 10 seconds, longer if you are at the back. Don’t immediately let up either as everyone will just go flying by you. Keep up the effort till the group or as its referred to on Zwift the blob forms.
Stay in the draft – Don’t just hammer away as hard as you can. You can take advantage of the draft. It may not feel like much of a help but if you stay in the middle of your group you can pedal up to 1 w/kg less. Just float around the middle. If you pedal harder you will get stuck “into the wind”.
Don’t Coast – You need to stay in the draft. This means staying within 5 meters of the rider in front of you. Zwift will let you know as you approach this point. The second you find yourself out of the draft it will be very difficult to nearly impossible to catch back on. You have to keep pedaling. There is no freewheel in Zwift racing. *Though some of the top racers may have found spots to ‘rest’ while maintaining in the group*
Know where hills are no matter how big or small – Anytime there is a little rise on the road you can expect everyone to sprint over it basically full gas. So be prepared for this. There are ‘flat’ routes that include 1 or 2 little punchers and you can expect to go as hard as you can just to stay with the group. You do not want to be on the front just before the hill as you want to use the draft of the group to help propel you up the hill. Also don’t let up as you crest the hill. The group will carry a lot of speed on the downhill and if you lose the wheel you will struggle to catch back on the draft.
Power ups – There are power ups on course you get every time you go through a banner, either sprint, KOM or lap banner. These can include a feather which makes you lighter, an aero helmet which makes you faster, a truck which improves your draft and a few others. You can use these at anytime, but only once and they last for 15 seconds. You want to save each for key moments. The feather is great for climbs and the aero helmet is almost a necessity to win a sprint.
Know the finish – Knowing when and how to hit the finish of each course can be really critical in your final place. It’s about knowing when to hit it full gas, from where and how to use the group as a slingshot. Each finish has a bit of a different lead in. Some have a small hill or rise in the final mile or two that you also need to be prepared for. Knowing when to follow the wheels, maybe try a long attack or let the group bring you back up to a lone attacker.
Remember you will most likely not be fastest in the race. Use it as a good workout. Don’t judge your fitness based on a Zwift result. Many factors come into play outside of just game play and riding such as accuracy of others power meters, trainers and the weight they inputed. Also as you go through the different levels by amount of time ridden you receive better bikes and wheels that make you faster in game as well. These races should be used as fun, motivators for a hard workout and a way to get that competitiveness out. Aka Training Races.
Limit your Zwift racing to once a week, twice at the most. Substitute a Zwift racing over top your plan’s ‘Hard Group Ride’ but otherwise #FtFP. Yes you can get strong from this but it will burn you out. Also you will not end up getting better at anything in particular. You rarely hold specific power zones long enough during a race to benefit from any physiological adaptations that would happen if you were doing intervals such as Sweet spot or Vo2 Max.
Watch Coach Jake walk the walk from talking the talk above:
Jake has been talking the talk and walking the walk [FasCat Core Value #7] for over 15 years. To get help with your Zwift Racing and REAL racing please fill out a New Athlete Questionnaire to schedule a Coaching Consultation with Jake.