7 Tips For Great Zwift Races

Zwift racing tips how to win

This article was written by former USA Masters National Road Champion Scott Shaw of Denver Colorado.  

We’ve been snowed in for a few days here in Denver.  If the roads are good, we usually try to pre-burn some calories on Thanksgiving morning.  This year, an ill-timed snowstorm kept most of us inside. To help me get motivated for an indoor training session, I lined up for a Zwift race.  I really don’t do them enough to provide a lot of insight on how to win. That said, I have learned a few things have helped me survive and finish with the lead group.  The good news is if you plan on including virtual racing part of your winter training survival plan, riding the CINCH way will help you survive, place, and maybe even win.  Here are a few tips…


TIP 1 : Set up your Zwift station.  This includes fuel, fan, towels.  Everything you need/plan on doing the race must be within easy reach once the flag drops.  Plan on fueling for an HC ride with an extra water bottle. Short races are carb-monsters and long races will require some kind of real food and extra water.

TIP 2: Get a good warm-up in.  Just like race day, do a couple 5 min High-Mediums and a least one 5 min ramp.  These races go fast from the gun then tend to settle down after about 4 or 5 minutes.  So a solid warm-up should help you weather the storm at the start.
TIP 3:  As you’re waiting in the starting pen, double-check your preparations.  Pick the best equipment you have available in your virtual garage. Search the Zwift forums for the best frame/wheel combination.  I’ve heard that even helmet choice even makes a difference, but haven’t seen it verified. Set your weight and your height accurately.  They both matter. Weight is more of a factor in hilly races and height can change the draft benefit you get. Another hint is to choose a jersey that isn’t very popular.  That way you can easily identify which avatar is you and have better situational awareness. Finally, calibrate meter or perform a spin-down of your smart trainer.
TIP 4: The Start - With about 10s to go, begin increasing the power so that you get to your 30s power as the countdown timer ticks over to 0.  Stay near but not on the front. Choose view 1 or 2 so you can see your avatar and the riders around you. If your avatar is in the drops, you’re in the wind.  If your avatar is on the hoods, you’re getting a drafting benefit. The main objective during the first few minutes of craziness is to stay in the lead pack.

TIP 5: The Race - You should be able to sense when things settle down and you’re really racing.  Drink some water, wipe your brow, and start learning. The first lap should tell you a lot about what’s in store.  Pick out the “players” and people you need to stay close to. Figure out the attacking points on the course. Most races have a few laps so you should be able to see where the challenging parts are (hills) and when you can drift to the back and draft.  In my opinion, anticipation is a big part of being a successful Zwift racer. When you see a strong guy start to move up, be ready for an attack. When there’s a hill coming up, prepare yourself mentally to use your threshold zones to arrive at the top with the leaders.  Follow your fueling plan.

TIP 6: Flow - As you know, a big part of CINCH training is knowing your zones and using them.  Since there’s rarely an opportunity to really recover in a Zwift race, you want to flow between water and fire.  Ideally, you’ll find yourself surfing most of the race. Smooth out the surges and power spikes. If a rider goes off the front, move up to the front of the group and just follow wheels until the escapee is brought back.  If you need a breather, wait for a flat or down-hill section and use view 6 to see how far back you float so you don’t lose the draft. Then move back to the front before the next hard effort.

TIP 7: The Finish - Honestly, I really don’t have this part fully figure out.  Especially when power-ups are allowed. That said, my advice is don’t lead out and patience usually pays off.  If you’ve followed the strategy described above, you’ve saved all your lightning to get the best finish possible.  So just stay near the front, drafting as long as possible, then when you decide to go (300m - 500m), commit ALL IN until the finish.  Sprinting on a trainer is weird and can be hazardous...Just do your best and be careful. 

Bottom Line:  Plan, prepare, anticipate, surf/flow, hide, be patient, and commit fully to the sprint.
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