The Art of Zwift Mastery
With Spring right around the corner, it is important to get focused on the most important part of the season: The peak of Zwift racing. We are in the last stages of people riding inside that don’t want to be there and soon the world of Zwift will be a ghost town populated only by triathletes. With that in mind, and the possibility Spring and Summer will never actual return, let’s talk about how to make the most of your time Zwifting.
Starts. Everyone’s favorite Zwift feature. The 5min Vo2 max effort where you question your life choices and eventually ruin the rest of your day with self doubt. But it doesn’t have to be like that. There are 2 easy tricks to improve your starts.
- Start at your Vo2 Max power. When the clocks strikes 0 you should be at 300-800 watts. Hold that through the initial surge and you will find everyone quits going hard at the same time because everyone hates it. But you won’t be dropped. Expect this to be a 30-60sec effort, tops. If you get gapped at the start, just quit racing and do your own thing.
- The early bird gets the worm. In big Zwift races your spot in the starting corral is first come first serve. So the sooner you join the race the further up you start. This can be the difference between getting dropped 1 sec in versus 10 seconds in. The reason most people join late is that Strava doesn’t give you credit for your warm up in the corral. Beat this by using your bike computer for your training file.
Staying with the pack. If you survive the start the next challenge is not getting dropped. In the outside world, it is easy to read the pack speed and its effort and when you get dropped it’s almost always that you didn’t have the legs. In Zwift, people get dropped doing PR efforts that would almost always assure you dropping people not getting dropped outside. The trick to this is knowing the courses, the flow of the pack, and the nature of the draft.
The Draft – Think of a Zwift pack as a peloton (don’t sue me) racing downhill. The guy on the front is constantly getting swarmed by people who aren’t even pedaling. That’s what happens in Zwift. The guy on the front can be jamming but the person behind is doing half the work and gets slingshot past by the enormous draft. It is a wheel suckers heaven. Instead of having to pretend to your fellow breakaway companions you are too tired to pull through, you pull through without trying! The effect this has on the peloton is that it reaches insane speeds without the appropriate level work at the front. This means if you get gapped you are dropped like Quickstep is on the front in the cross winds when in fact it is just Dave from accounting in his basement with 10 friends.
The Flow of the Pack – In Zwift, because of the power of the draft and the nature of wt/kg as the major input, any hill becomes the selection point of a race. So even those little rollers that look like nothing become key points in a race. So you have to race like a totally idiot and hit every roller with an anaerobic effort to stay with the pack. This is where it can actually be realistic. If you have the pack skills of someone such as myself, you are always at the back of a crit getting accordion sucker punched through corners. Basically being in a Zwift pack is like being at the back of a 100 person pack. Which is realistic for me because that’s where I would be anyway, but if you can actually handle your bike, this is your way of experiencing what that’s like.
The Courses – This goes hand in hand with the the previous point. Know the courses and you will know where to pre-accelerate into the rollers. So instead of repeated extended Vo2 max efforts to get back on you do one jump and sit in the rest of the time. Where you can screw this up is racing it like real and try to sag a climb. If you hit a roller on the front and expect to sag back safely, expect to be disappointed. By hitting the front you accelerate the pack and as you relax you lose your momentum. By the top of the roller you are going 5-10 mph slower than the front and you just real life tac-dicked yourself out of the pack!
The Finish. Once you master the flow of the pack you will find most races end in a small group finish. It is usually small because most people haven’t figured out my life changing Zwift tactics. Your finish result will be based on positioning > sprint power. The trick to these sprints is staying at the head of the pack but not on the front. Sound familiar? Kinda like real life without any of the bio-feedback or the impending fear of bodily harm if you crash. Generally, it is an uneven ramp up of speed in the last mile with random lulls in the pace. The goal is to keep your speed equal with the pack and not hit the front in the many lulls. The lulls are a trap to get you to jump too early and lead everyone else out. You want to start your jump as you let the overpowered draft take you to the front in the 200-400m to go range. The goal is to use the draft slingshot with your jump to propel yourself to victory. Also, hope your power meter is the most inaccurate at high torque, because that’s what decides the race for everyone doing the above strategy.
Cheating. Everyone is pretty sure their power meter reads low, their scale reads high, and everyone else on Zwift is faking their numbers. In actuality, it can be liberating to embrace that. It’s all a guess and there is no way to fully know if anyone’s value is true, even when there is no ill will. So with that, you get the freedom to try and fail. You can try and race like you are doing a workout. You can try a racing move you are too scared to do outside. If you fail, it is fake, if you win, it’s true! You get to use the virtual Zwift world to make yourself better in both body and mind through hard motivating workouts and a grounded reality.