Just like racing outdoors, racing on Zwift involves some advanced strategies and tricks which can help you get an edge. Here are five advanced strategies to help take you to the next level.
Note: if you’re new to Zwift racing, be sure to read “How to race on Zwift (strategy, tips, etiquette and more)” first, which covers the basics!
Attack in the Dirt
Watopia includes several dirt sections which not only bump up the base resistance on smart trainers but more importantly kick up dust, limiting visibility. Another way to look at it: these dirt sections essentially behave like small climbs, with the added benefit of reduced visibility. If you’re feeling good and want to make an attack, consider the dirt!
Attacks in the dirt are what dropped GCN’s Simon Richardson from the leading pack in the “Si vs the Volcano” race a few months back. The lesson here is: if you’re barely holding onto the pack and about to hit a dirt section, try to start near the front of the group and be ready to put in an extra dig to avoid getting dropped. Unless you’re near the front, you won’t be able to see more than a few bike lengths ahead in a large pack (unless you change the camera angle–hit 9 on your keyboard for an overhead view without dust.)
Power Through the Sticky Draft
The wizards at ZwiftHQ have put in a lot of work to make drafting as realistic, intuitive, and functional as possible… and that’s no small feat when you consider the lack of braking and steering! A big part of what makes drafting work on Zwift is a bit of “stickiness”: when you get behind another rider the game makes you “stick” in their draft just a bit.
This is a nice feature when you’re trying to draft, but if you’re trying to move past a rider it’s no fun at all. It is especially noticeable at slower speeds like you’ll find on a steep hill climb.
Here’s how to beat the sticky draft:
- If you are already sitting in the rider’s draft, increase your power significantly (by ~100 watts or more) so Zwift knows you don’t want to draft anymore. You’ll move past the rider in short order.
- If the rider is a short distance ahead of you, make sure you are moving significantly faster than the rider you are passing, and Zwift will let you pass them without sticking.
Don’t Over-Power It
Since Zwift’s draft is a bit sticky, there is actually a wattage range which will keep you in the draft. That is, if you are drafting behind someone who is pulling at 300 watts, you will stay in their draft if you do 250 watts… but you can also stay in the draft at ~225 watts. So why put out the extra wattage?
Racing is all about conserving energy, so pay close attention when drafting and try to maintain the minimum wattage necessary to maintain your desired position in the pack.
Know Your Draft Status
Paying attention to whether or not you are currently drafting helps you know how much power you need to put out. Zwift uses the visual cue of having your avatar “sit up” on the hoods to indicate when you are in the draft. (Your avatar will also sit up at slow solo speeds, but in a race situation this doesn’t really apply.)
If you are moving at 33kph (20mph) or more and your avatar is sitting up, you are in the draft. If you’re hunched down in the drops, you are out of the draft and probably working harder than you want to be.
Drafting in Zwift actually introduces some randomness into group riding, as the game positions you right to left automatically. Sometimes this means you get moved out of the draft–when this happens and your rider crouches down, be prepared to work a little harder to keep pace with your group until Zwift takes you back into the draft.
Take a quick breather with a supertuck
If you’re on a long enough downhill section and only want to keep your position in the pack, consider not pedaling. If you’re putting out 10 watts or less on a decline of 3% or more at 58km/hr (~36mph) or more Zwift will put you into a “supertuck” position which lets you coast down the hill fast and hang with riders who are still working. You get to rest a bit while maintaining your position in the pack!
Warning: the supertuck works great until you hit a flat section or slow down and the game sits you up. At that point, if you’re sitting in with a group that is hammering, you’ll get dropped very quickly. So pay attention to the road and start pedaling if you see it flattening just ahead.
Many of the advanced race strategies that work outdoors also work in Zwift. Ian Murray of Team ODZ holds a weekly SkillZ and DrillZ ride which covers many of these topics in detail. Those rides are then shared on Zwift Insider, so you can browse Ian’s articles here to gain more advanced racing insight.