Now that we’ve got that out of the way.. racing on Zwift is fun, motivating, and exhausting. Sure there are lots of folks who have the it’s-just-a-game mentality but it’s hard not to take Zwift racing seriously if you’re at all competitive; especially after that first race. You either crush it or you bomb it. Both scenarios probably motivate you to do better and come back for more. We’ve put together some tips and tricks and a few key workouts that will help you improve your Zwift racing results:
Managing Effort & Making Use of the Draft
If you’ve raced or participated in a Zwift group ride, you know that your avatar tends to shift and move around the group regardless of whether your effort or the efforts of those around you change. It’s important to remember that what you see and what others see can be vastly different. You might see your avatar sitting on the front while to someone else you might be sitting middle of the pack. It’s important to gauge your effort so that you don’t exert more than you need to in a Zwift race.
Use the rider list to keep an eye on the efforts of those around you. Try to match their efforts and focus less on your position within the group. If you see your avatar moving toward the front or back without any surges or dips in efforts from you or the pack, don’t panic. Don’t stop pedalling or soft pedal if you hit the front, and don’t surge hard if you see yourself dropping back. Make micro adjustments to your effort if needed, but pack dynamics don’t work the same on Zwift as they do in real life. You can’t soft pedal!
If you find yourself off the back or falling off the back, a short burst of power can often be the only thing you need to get back on. There is a small lag between your effort and the resulting speed increase of your avatar –and it works both ways! You don’t need to hammer until you’re back on. Just take a few short hard pedal strokes and then back off and watch your avatar kick it down. You’ll likely roll right up to the group.
Similarly, if you’re a little further off but haven’t snapped the elastic quite yet, gauge your effort so that you reel in the group but you don’t overtake them. Many riders don’t spend enough time practicing effort management and will catch a group, roll through, out the other side, and straight off the front. Practice timing your efforts. Sure there is nothing wrong with blowing past the group –better than having them blow past you!– but it also means you expended just a little more energy than you needed to. Don’t underestimate how much those extra little bits of energy can affect your staying power in a race.
Fight! Dig! Hang on!
Races aren’t lost at the finish line. And they’re certainly not lost in those lulls during the middle parts. They’re lost out of the starting pen, on the first big climb, the second climb, and/or during that big hard acceleration/attack. Anyone who has ever been dropped from their group in a race knows this. It always seems like those hard bits last about 10s longer than you can hang on. It happens all the time. You’re suffering in those first few minutes of the race, you’re at your limit, you’re seeing red, you think to yourself, “I can’t hold on another second,” and you ease off the pedals for a bit of relief. Off the back you go! When you’re just out of reach of the pack, you look over at the rider list and see that the entire group has eased down to the same effort you’re putting out now. But it’s too late. You’re alone and would have to put in a monster effort that you just don’t have right now to catch them. Just a few more seconds and you’d have stayed on and been recovering a little bit in the group.
Unless you are strong enough to dictate the race and set the pace, you need to fight for every inch of pavement. Chances are that you (and possibly others) falling off the back was the reason the pack eased. Stronger and more experienced riders know how to manage their efforts. They want to ride just hard enough and just long enough to split up the group and drop some weaker riders. Anyone still left after those splits form are probably not going to get dropped. There’s no reason for them to continue to drive the pace if no one else is going to crack anytime soon. So if you hang just a little longer than the other weaker riders around you, you’re alright. Think of the bear scenario: you don’t need to outrun the bear, you just need to outrun your friends, or in this case the other riders suffering around you.
If you start seeing riders getting shelled, or people starting to open gaps, make sure you’re ahead of them, and make sure to keep pushing even if you think you have nothing left to give. It’ll be over soon! Don’t give in!
Use Power Ups Strategically
Power ups are controversial and some races don’t allow them. “There are no Power Ups in real life!” That’s true. But in real life I can steer, position myself wherever I want to be in the pack, see my opponent’s expressions, communicate easily with my teammates, gutter people in crosswinds, take advantage of tailwinds, etc. Power Ups are a great way to make up for some of these lost racing strategies and tactics. Remember that while Zwift racing is based on real life bike racing, it’s not real life bike racing. It’s almost an entirely different discipline and power ups are a part of that. Use them tactically and you can make your race more interesting and exciting.
If you’re on the attack, the aero helmet can be used once you’ve opened a small gap to really open it up further. Try not to use it until you’re just off the front otherwise you’ll be towing riders behind you along for the ride. Don’t let anyone else benefit from your power-up!
If you’re on the defense, the aero helmet is a great way to reconnect on a downhill section after a tough climb. Lighter riders can leverage the aero helmet on flats to make up for a lack of absolute watts.
Obviously you want to employ the feather on climbs. But when? At the base of the climb? Near the top? Typically the hardest part of any climb is the last bit. This is when everyone’s power starts to wane a little but also when the attacks come. Knowing when to use this power up is actually more complicated than just using it on a grade. You need to know your own ability, the ability of those around you, and know how to read a race.
If it’s a short non-decisive climb but still a threat to you because of your size or lack of punch, you might want to use this power up at the base of the climb when everyone punches hard and hope they have settled down or eased up by the top to an effort that is reasonable for you.
On decisive climbs where you’re equally matched with your competitors, the last little bit of the climb is where you want to unleash this beast. Smart attacks on climbs always come near the top. The feather will allow you to hang on and better respond to those attacks. Similarly, you can use the power up to attack near the top of the climb. Don’t be afraid to waste some of this power up. Riders know how long the feather lasts and generally get a sense for when to use it so that it runs out at the end of the climb. If you are planning to attack and time the power up to finish at the top of the climb, count on 2-3 other riders doing the same thing or watching for that very move. Maybe wait a little longer or go a touch earlier when it’s less expected.
Some climbs have two stages, the main climb, a little flat spot or levelling, and a second punch. If you suspect a flurry of attacks to come on the main climb, fight it out without your feather. When you get to that little punch or second step in the climb, use it there and go hard. Everyone who attacked on that first section is probably cooked.
The Draft Truck
Not the most useful power up for Zwift racing unless you’re trying to pull or preserve a teammate. The one scenario it can be used to your advantage is if you find yourself riding with one or two other riders and you want to get rid of them. Get on the front and set a hard pace. Now use the truck. Maintain your tempo and watch as the other riders ease up slightly as they gain the draft advantage. As soon as the power up ends, attack! Maybe go a hair before it drops. If you go hard enough, the rider behind you needs a bigger acceleration to account for the bigger discrepancy in effort to follow your wheels. It might just be enough to snap that elastic.
Tips and Tricks can only get you so far. Racing is about fitness. We’ve put together some workouts that we built with Zwift racing specifically in mind. Check’em out!
Classic VO2 max workout designed to improve your power at threshold, develop fatigue resistance, and roll with surges.
(Right Click and Save As) Download .ZWO file
This workout is tough but effective. Each interval starts with a super threshold burst followed by a hard sub threshold effort. Intervals gradually reduce in volume but pick up in intensity. Get lots of rest after this one!
(Right Click and Save As) Download .ZWO file
Full gas and hang on –the start of every Zwift race. This short workout will help you better manage the start of Zwift races with efforts that are a little tempered but still tough. You’ll complete two race start sims and then ride at a solid sub-threshold effort.
(Right Click and Save As) Download .ZWO file