I wrote a post recently about Zwift and how it’s got me riding and doing Zwift races indoors a lot this winter, avoiding all the wind, rain and ice. Some people use Zwift for solo workouts, to ride with pros, others for social group rides, but a huge part of what it can offer is racing. It feels quite similar to real life racing, but there’s a couple of little tips and tricks to bear in mind to eek out your best possible result.
Riders race mainly solo, but there are teams to race with and a few websites to track all your results. In this post, I will try my best to pass on some tips and tricks!
Zwift Races – The Start of the Race
Everyone starts at the same point behind a virtual gate, waiting for the countdown for the race to tick to zero. Once it hits zero, all hell breaks loose. People like to start-off very very quickly and if you’re not expecting it, you’ll be on the back foot from the word go. It’s best to start pedalling at your race pace at around 3-5 seconds to go before the start to give the sensors a chance to pick up your current actions – there is always a tiny bit of sensor lag of a second or two. My tip here is to try to set off as fast as you are able and find yourself a group that you’re comfortable in. The draft effect will then carry you along.
Zwift Races – The Middle of the Race
Once you’re happy you’re in a good group, make sure to keep pace with them. You’ll be able to see at a glance what w/kg they are riding at but this is misleading as a measurement particularly in flat races. Heavier riders are riding with more watts and go faster on the flat but will show as a lower w/kg. Conversely, a lighter rider will be showing as a high w/kg in order to keep a similar speed.
At this stage of the race, it’s worthwhile pushing a bit harder than feels comfortable (or higher than your FTP if you know it) as the draft effect will pull you far away from other riders who have fallen out of the group. You should see the time gap to riders behind increase quite a lot in this stage of the race, provided you’ve made it into a group.
You will know if your rider is successfully drafting because the Zwift avatar will sit up, a rider without a draft will look like they’re riding down in the drops instead. If you start to fall away from the group, Zwift will pop up and tell you to pedal harder and show you how close you are to regaining it.
As this stage of the Zwift race presses on, feel free to drop out of one group if you are unable to continue at that pace but try to make sure that you can sit in the next group behind for as long as possible. The longer you manage to match pace with a group, the better your result, especially when just starting out.
Zwift Races – The End of the Race
The end of the race can go two ways, if you’re isolated then the goal is to either try to catch or fend off chasers. If you’re in a group then you’ll get the fun of a sprint finish!
On your own, the end of a Zwift race becomes a case of race management. Seeing how much you have in the bag to the rider behind, checking on what pace they’re doing and then adapting. If a rider is gaining hard, then you are best putting the hammer down to discourage them. If a rider isn’t catching then you can ease off a bit and save those legs a touch. If you reckon the person in front is gettable, have a crack. Near the end of the race some people are really struggling and it can be surprising how quickly that time gap will tumble.
In a group, it’s important to try to get the sprint finish right. The drafting effect is still in place when sprinting, so once someone starts sprinting, if you can follow them and keep the gap tight then you will gain a big advantage. In some ways, this works as you would think in real-life racing. Some races allow the use of power-ups and this is a key time to use one, particularly if you have the Van Draft or Reduced Aero ones to use. Zwift will tick down the last 2km by the metre, so you’ll be able to gauge the effort needed to smash it to the line.
Zwift Races – Equipment
A Zwift website tested which bikes are the quickest depending on rider weight, watts and elevation. Your choice does make a difference!
Currently, the Tron bike is the quickest but requires a lot of commitment to get hold of. To get this bike you need to complete the Everest challenge and then climb another 41,150 metres, tough!
In order, the next quickest bikes are the Cervelo S5 (Level 24), Trek Madone (Level 20), Canyon Aeroad (Level 22) and Zwift Aero (Level 13) bikes. For a comparison, the Tron bike is 16 seconds a lap quicker than the Zwift Aero bike on the Watopia Figure 8 loop.
The quickest wheels are always the Zipp 808s, which are available at Level 10.
Other Zwift Race Tips
There are a number of keyboard shortcuts that can be used whilst racing on Zwift. These are used to change the camera angle and communicate with other riders. Useful for seeing who’s around and behind you, especially at the end of the race when you’re trying to sprint away from someone!
In races that don’t assign you a jersey, I find it’s best to pick one of the less popular jerseys to wear. I’ve found that jerseys such as Road.CC’s one (Promo code: Road.cc) or the Bicycling Magazine (Promo code: BICYCLINGMAG) ones are distinctive but rare. Wearing these will help you identify yourself more easily, particularly when in a big peloton.