So you Wanna Race Zwift?!

When I first started cycling, Zwift was really all that I knew. I had dabbled with some IRL (in real life) cycling with my husband, but the bulk of my time cycling was on the trainer. It was nice because I could focus on one thing - putting my head down and laying down the power! I didn’t have a lot of bike handling skills at that time and riding in a pack seemed very intimidating to me. What I didn’t realize however, was that there are still quite a bit of tactics. In my first season of Zwift racing I found myself near the front of the pack, mostly because I was afraid of getting dropped and wanted to “see the moves.” I would look on ZwiftPower and be proud of having the highest w/kg compared to others. But, I quickly learned that bike racing is about conserving energy - even on Zwift, and ideally you want a lower power to weight ratio (watts per kilogram, w/kg) indicating you raced smarter.

Never be at the front!

My first word of advice - try to never be at the front, unless you are at the finish or going for some primes. If you struggle to get your avatar in the middle of the group it’s best to start doing some group rides just to practice controlling your avatar in the group and then also feeling the difference in effort in a variety of positions. This is by far the best way to understand the ever changing draft algorithm within Zwift. Try using the pace bots since there are generally large groups around them at any given time.

Timing is everything!

The other important thing about Zwift is that timing is everything. We all know that we have a certain threshold for how long we can maintain a certain effort. If you apply your “move” too early, others can sit in and benefit from drafting then easily ride past you as you fade away. It’s important in Zwift racing to know exactly where you’d want to make your move ahead of time and some of this is based on your individual strengths. Some people are better launching a long range attack and others have a strong sprint that they can use to their advantage. Your coach can help you identify this and help you come up with a plan. Timing is especially important for power ups and sprints. You need to understand the power ups in order to use them to your advantage. Pro tip: have a laminated sheet near your trainer of each power up and what they do and how long they last to help you time them in a race. For example, if you are doing a course with a climb, it’s important to understand the gradient of the climb. You want to apply the feather when the climb pitches up the greatest, while simultaneously applying a move for maximal benefit. If you deploy the power up on a flatter section of the climb, it won’t be as effective.

ZRL is not IRL

Lastly, Zwift is not IRL racing! Most of us know this, but I think it is important to embrace Zwift for what it is… a virtual cycling game View Zwift as a tool for IRL racing and for surviving bad weather seasons and unsafe road conditions. I also recommend celebrating the efficiency of Zwift, this is a big one for me! As a physician assistant, often working 13+ hour shifts, every minute is precious. There is minimal “admin” time to Zwifting since you just get on your trainer and go! If you are a busy working professional or have a busy family life - Zwift provides the ease of getting in quality training with a lot less time. Think of it this way - a typical gravel ride takes me an additional 90-120 minutes in route planning, bike prep and post ride clean-up. Watopia never gave my drivetrain a mud bath!

Get a Coach!

If you are planning on racing Zwift seriously, it’s important that you have a coach that understands the unique demands. Remember to aim for the lowest w/kg in a race with packs, stay off the front, understand timing of power ups and sprints and embrace Zwift for what it is! An experienced coach can help you navigate the virtual racing scene. And most importantly, have fun!

Paige Peters is a professional cyclist who specializes in gravel, time trialing and Esports. She has raced in Premier League on Zwift and adheres to dual recording and ZADA performance verifications. If you are in need of a coach with Zwift experience, please reach out to Paige!

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