The team at Sports Tours International are a competitive bunch. So, each year, when winter comes around, and the racing calendar slows down for a few month, it’s time to seek an alternative.
Our team have recently taken to the world of virtual cycle racing, and they LOVE IT. So, if you’ve been joining our Virtual Zwift Rides and have been tempted to give racing a go yourself, why not take a look at the helpful hints and tips from our team below. You might take away a few bits of great advice, and it should certainly help you avoid making the same mistakes!
The start of any Zwift race is always FAST. It’s a good idea to join the race early ( say at least 10 – 15 mins). This will give you the chance to warm up thoroughly, check all of your equipment is connecting properly, and also, the earlier you arrive to a race, the further forward you’ll be positioned in the start pen.
Position can be everything at the start of a Zwift race. By being toward the front of the pen at the start, you have a better chance of getting in one of the front groups and less chance of getting stuck behind one of the dreaded gaps that form in the first minute or so of racing. Equally, if you’re having an off day, being towards the front of the group gives you a lot more wheels to catch a draft off, if you start to slide back through the pack.
Zwift races start hard, as riders push for position in groups, and try to form break away packs. So, you can expect to be pushing a much higher power than usual for the first few minutes (maybe 5 -6w/kg). After a few minutes of hard racing however, things should calm down, and you can find a group of riders, of a similar pace to yourself, to work with on the road.
Just like in ‘real world’ racing, riders in Zwift can take some advantage of drafting. That is, sitting behind another rider (or riders) to conserve energy for later in the race. Sitting near, but not on, the front of a pack, can be an advantageous position, as you can benefit from drafting, but still keep an eye on what your competitors are doing, and you’ll be in a great position to respond to any attacks, or breaks that may start to form.
There are five performance-enhancing power-ups that can be used to your advantage when you’re racing on Zwift. Each has its own special ‘power’ that can really give you the upper hand, at pivotal moments in a race.
Featherweight reduces your weight by 9.5 kgs for 30 seconds, so is great for launching an uphill attack, or keeping up with a group on a tough climb.
Truck Draft increases the draft effect you are experiencing by 50% for 30 seconds, so it’s great to use at higher speeds on flats and descents especially when you’re in the draft of a fast rider!
Aero Helmet Boost makes you 25% more aerodynamic for 15 seconds, so is great for use on the flats and descents when there is no one around to draft, for example when you’re trying to catch a group. The aero helmet can also be used, to great effect, to implement a downhill attack.
Breakaway Burrito makes you undraftable for 10 seconds, so ideal to use when attacking, as it means your competitors have to work harder to keep up with you.
Invisibility (Ghost) makes you invisible to other riders for 10 seconds. This gives you the chance to launch a surprise attack, and try to get far enough ahead that your rivals do not have the chance to catch on to your wheel.
Zwift races are different lengths and all take place on different courses. Just as in the real world, it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the route before your event. This can help you properly pace yourself, help you respond strategically to what is going on in the race, and, most importantly save your legs for a big sprint finish.
Using the onscreen map can also help with your strategic planning as, if you know the course, it can help you be aware of what is coming up on route. It can also help you to see where other groups of riders are; if you are catching up, or in danger of being caught behind a dreaded gap.
It might only take 5 seconds to turn your fan on, but in the fast and furious world of virtual racing; that can be the difference between the lead pack and hanging off the back. Ensure that you have any drinks and race nutrition (especially for longer races) prepared in advance, and make sure your laptop/ watch are fully charged before your race (it is soul destroying to start a race, put 100% effort in for x amount of time and then come away with nothing.)
Have a strategy in your mind, and (while it is important to be adaptable) try to stick with it. It is very easy on a Zwift race, to get carried away, especially at the start, when you see your competitors pushing out 6 or 7w/kg. But remember, it’s important not to go too hard too soon. Save yourself for the all important big finish.
FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power. This means your ability to sustain the highest possible power output over 45 to 60 minutes. FTP is usually calculated as 95% of average power you can put out in a 20 min all out effort. Yes they are absolutely horrible, but it will gives you a good idea of what category to enter for your first race. Alternatively, if you want to go straight to racing, go for category D, and then move up the categories based on your watts per kg.
Some people do better on the climbs and not so good on the flats in real life, but (for me at least) it’s completely the other way around on Zwift. This could be to do with racing different riders, from all over the world. Or simply one of the vagaries of virtual riding (after all everyone will have different tech, and e different turbo set up etc.) After a few races, however, you’ll know what kind of courses suit you, and you’ll be able to select your races accordingly.
Even with all the crazy things that come with virtual racing (i.e: riders coming past like they are on motorbikes, minor tech disasters, or realising half way through a race that you’re on a much hillier course than anticipated), if you manage to get in a group of riders with a similar ability, you’ll enjoy great racing. So, ignore your overall position, and instead concentrate on racing the group you are in. Then, if you win that sprint, well you’ve won a race (of sorts). This is exactly the beauty of virtual racing and, I suppose, taking part in great amateur events around the world. You’re never riding for the win, but you can still ride hard, with great, like minded cyclists. And, the main thing is, you’re still having just as much fun.
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