If you haven’t tried racing on Zwift yet, you should.
It’s fast, furious and fun (if you call screaming in agony fun!).
I started racing late in 2021 when a member of my cycling club posted saying that a new season of team-based racing was about to begin and did anyone want to enter the team.
I’d always been a bit indifferent to Zwift, preferring more ‘training’ based apps like The Sufferfest.
But racing, and especially team racing really appealed to me.
It’s been a really steep learning curve and I’ve made so many mistakes, so here are my top tips for beginners.
- Start riding
- Learn to draft
- Race notes
- Start fast!
- Stay sharp
- Join a team
- Have fun!
Start riding Zwift today
In many respects, Zwift is a really simple app. Just connect your devices and ride!
However, Zwift is actually very deep and full of interesting features and quirks.
There is a lot to learn about the interface, options, in-game upgrades, power-ups, etc. And just by riding in the game you’ll start unlocking achievements and building up valuable ‘drops’ so that you can buy new bikes and wheels.
I wouldn’t let any of this hold you back from entering your first race, just be aware that without a good few Zwift miles under your belt, you’ll probably be missing a few tricks!
One of the most important Zwift skills to learn is ‘drafting’.
Learn to draft
‘Drafting’ is the effect you get when riding behind another cyclist. The rider in front does all the work of pushing the air out of the way and you get sucked along behind.
If you ride outdoors in groups you’ll already be familiar with this effect and it’s exactly the same in Zwift…except it isn’t.
Although the Zwift team have done a really excellent job recreating the draft effect in the game, it does have some ‘interesting’ quirks.
To start with you’ll probably find yourself getting dropped, trying to catch up, shooting off the front, slowing down, getting dropped, and on and on in an endless, energy-sapping cycle.
There are a few reasons why drafting is more difficult in-game than in real life.
Zwift bikes don’t have brakes, so if you catch a group in front it’s really easy to shoot right past them.
Zwift bikes (mostly) don’t have steering either. How does this affect drafting? It means that the app needs to try to figure out your intentions. Was that little power surge an attempt to go around the rider in front, or was it accidental?
Without steering, you have to really push hard to break out of the draft.
When you’re outdoors on the bike and you tuck in behind another rider, you can instantly feel the drop in resistance. Zwift doesn’t do this. You have to decrease your power output to efficiently stay in the draft.
Start practicing your drafting, it will save you loads of valuable energy during your races.
Preparation is key to a successful race. I break down my race prep into three parts:
Preparing your body
I’m not an expert here, but I try to do the basics such as staying well hydrated, eating at the right time, getting enough sleep, resting and warming up.
Preparing your bike
‘Bike’ is shorthand for all of your kit! I have a list on my phone with all of the stuff that I need to get ready before the race:
- Bike on the turbo
- ANT+ key
- HR monitor
- Ear pods
- Water bottle
A little anecdote: I was excited to race with my new Neo 2T, so excited that I didn’t tighten the quick-release properly. Halfway through the race the bike came loose from the turbo and I had to get off and fix it while I watched my competition riding off into the distance. 😭
Preparing your brain
This is maybe less obvious but really important. The biggest tip that I can give here is to get to know the course you’ll be racing.
What type of race is it? How long is it? How many laps? Where are the sprints? Where are the KQOMs? Where is the finish line? What are the key attack points? What power-ups will be on offer, if any?
The most successful races of my (admittedly very short) career so far have been the ones that I’ve researched and then written up some race notes for.
This deserves it’s own section because it’s a game changer.
Researching your race is important, but unless you’ve got amazing memory recall in stressful situations, it makes sense to write down your findings in a way that will be easy to see and understand through all the sweat and pain.
You’ll want to know distances to all of the key points (mainly sprints and hills) and the way that points will be decided (e.g. FTS, FAL).
It’s a good chance to motivate yourself with a few words of encouragement too.
This is one that you’ll probably learn the hard way, but Zwift races start fast. Really fast.
Unless you come out of the starting pens at full-tilt, chances are, your race will be over within 30 seconds.
Once you’re dropped it’s almost impossible to get back to the front group, so don’t hold back.
Put the hammer down from the very start and hold on for as long as you can. It will soon calm down and you’ll settle into a more manageable pace.
I usually start revving up to full power at about 5 seconds to go so that I’m putting out (relatively) big watts from the very first second.
Races are won and lost on split second decisions.
You can lose a wheel while taking a drink or a quick rest after a sprint or climb and that can be the end of your race.
In most of my races so far I can point to the exact moment when I lost a bit of concentration and lost the race.
Moments to watch out for:
- The start – If you’re not ‘at it’ from the first second say goodbye to your podium finish.
- Sprints – the pace will pick up considerably through sprint sections, don’t get left behind.
- After sprints – Need a quick rest after your big effort? NOPE! Keep the speed up!
- Hills– see ‘Sprints’ and ‘After sprints’ – the same applies to the KQOM sections
- Downhills – these deserve their own section (see below), just don’t expect to switch off.
This is by far the weakest aspect of may racing so far.
When you get to the top of a hill you have to stay alert to what’s going on around you.
There will likely be a fragmented peleton after a climb and the way groups form on the descents can decide the outcome of a race.
The most important part of a descent is the top. Don’t let your tired legs mean that you drop the riders around you. Work hard to stay in a group. The 5 seconds of agony to get back on a wheel is much easier than the 20 minutes trying to chase down a group that’s got away.
If you’re travelling at a certain speed (~59kph) and at a certain gradient (~-5deg) then you can active a ‘supertuck’ by stopping pedalling.
This will put your rider into a very aero position that allows you to descend very fast without putting in any effort.
Sounds great, right?
Well, it is but you have to use it very carefully. If you try a supertuck when it isn’t available, you’ll just slow right down.
If you activate a supertuck and forget to start pedalling when the gradient/speed changes you’ll be left behind.
Join a team
I don’t think I would have started Zwift racing if it wasn’t for the team element.
There isn’t a built-in ‘Teams’ feature in the app, you need to do it through ZwiftPower (AFAIK). There’s a good guide here.
I race in the Zwift Racing league on WTRL which organises structured, weekly races split in to seasons with league tables, promotions, etc. It’s great fun.
Speaking of fun…
I know it’s cheesy but it’s important to remember why we do these things in the first place. Zwift is essentially a game and it should be fun. Don’t take it, or yourself, too seriously!
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