One of the best features of the Zwift world is that you can ‘race’ other users around its various virtual worlds. The creators have made it really easy to join an event and race people from around the world (you may even end up racing against a pro rider). There are plenty of videos online taking you through the process step by step so if you’re unsure it’s best to take a look on YouTube. Using the Zwift app you can sign up for a race and then when you log into Zwift prior to the event it will direct you to the start line when the race pens open (via the ‘Join Event’ button)
So after two months of racing on Zwift I wanted to give you some insight into how I’m doing and how I hope it will improve me as a cyclist in the run up to September. First up though I have to warn you that the racing is hard (I’ll come onto that later) and will push you (especially if you’re as competitive as me), but like all things you get out what you put in. I’ve been trying to race at least twice a week, however I’ll be honest the run up to Christmas has pretty much put an abrupt end to any cycling activity.
Before racing it’s advisable to set up an account on ZwiftPower.com. Once you link your Strava account and Zwift ID to ZwiftPower your race performance will be automatically uploaded and ranked after the event when you can return to ZwiftPower to see the full race results.
Each race event has race ‘categories’ based upon your w/kg so if you know your FTP and your weight you simply divide one by the other to get your watts per kg and then you place yourself in the correct sub-race. I’m currently smack bang in the middle of Cat D and so that category is the one I always enter. Obviously as my weight decreases I’ll have to change my cat, but for now (and because over Christmas I have eaten my own body weight in chocolate) I’m sticking with the Cat D racers.
ZwiftPower is really clever in that if you enter a Cat D race and then your race performance exceeds the Cat D w/kg limit you will be DQd and your results won’t show on their website. You sometimes get a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ if you just ‘push’ the limits, but in most cases a smashing of the cat w/kg will result in an automatic Cat upgrade. But isn’t that what we’re all doing it for – To get better?
I soon found out that there are two types of racers on Zwift – There are those that enter a race with the sole aim of crossing the line first to record the ‘win’ smashing the w/kg limit in the process or those that want to stick to the watts to kilo ratio and get the ‘official’ win on ZwiftPower. I fall into the latter category and so my races are more tactical as I try and balance my power output with my position in the race.
Now some of you may think that it’s a cop out and that essentially I’m bringing an F1 mentally to Zwift in the fact that F1 racers don’t actually ‘race’ either. It’s the job of the likes of Lewis Hamilton to manage the car, fuel and tyres in order to cross the line first whilst I’m managing my ‘efforts’ in order to stay within the race limits to get my win. This will probably change in time, but that’s how I’ve decided to start off racing on Zwift before I get into my full throttle training regime in the new year.
So here are my results so far:
The first race at the end of October was a real baptism of fire. I’d been told that the start of any Zwift race is total carnage. Right from the gun everybody is going full gas pushing out 400+ watts to get into the front group and from that point the race usually settles down.
From my point of view what happened next was pure race suicide on an industrial scale! I managed to get my start watts up and found myself in the front group, but looking at my screen I could see that I’d already maxed out my heart rate. From now on in it was a case of hanging on to the group and hoping I could make it to the finish line. To put it simply I didn’t. After 3 laps I’d been dropped and felt like I was going backwards. The last 3 laps of the race I was just trying to stay ahead of the chasing pack, but riding solo was tough and I could see my lead coming down slowly. Somehow I managed to stay out in front of the pursuers and cross the line, but I was dead.
Although I’d been taken to the cleaners in my very first race I’d learnt a very valuable lesson – If people are smashing the w/kg limit from the start let them go (it’s easier said than done) and race the race that you feel comfortable with. It’s easier to keep something in reserve and catch people later then burn all of your matches at the start and spend the next hour trying not to collapse off the bike.
Over the following weeks I raced more and more increasing my FTP, becoming more confident with tactics and knowing who to look out for in the races (It’s surprising how often you see the same names in your races). The races didn’t get any easier or any less frenetic week on week. I was always on the rivet, pushing myself further to stay with groups or reeling back in an attack. The most important thing though is that I enjoy it, in fact I love the racing and my aim for next year is to move up through the categories to see if I can mix it with the Cat B/C riders.
The racing on Zwift is now so popular the races are streamed live on YouTube with commentary supplied by the likes of Jesper Anker and Nathan Guerra. They have the rather unenviable task of trying to follow and commentate on 4 sub races within a race, but do a superb job explaining what’s going on. I highly recommend subscribing to their channels and taking a look at some of their race commentaries – They’re very entertaining and well worth a watch.
So here are my top Zwift racing tips
- Make sure you have everything with you (water/towel/phone/earphones)
- Get to the start line at least 30 minutes before the start so you can warm up
- Decide on what kind of race you want to ride and stick to it
- Stay as close to the front of your group for as long as you can
- Draft as much as possible
- Use your power ups wisely
- Put in a few efforts to see who closes you down and take note
- Don’t start the sprint unless you know you can see it through to the end
- Give it 100%
- Enjoy it!