Racing on Zwift has evolved into a cycling discipline of its own. As such, racers are learning strategies and tricks which can give them an edge. Here are five intermediate-level tips for next-level eRacing on Zwift.
If you’re new to Zwift racing, be sure to read “How to race on Zwift (setup, strategy, and more)” first, which covers the basics.
#1: Attack Dirty
Watopia includes several dirt sections, and even though it’s virtual, riding in the dirt is different than riding on tarmac! Dirt has a higher rolling resistance on Zwift, so your smart trainer’s resistance will increase a bit on dirt sections. Additionally, dirt sections are dusty, which limits 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 famous “Si vs the Volcano” race in Zwift’s early days. The lesson here is: if you’re barely holding onto the pack and are approaching 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.
This also gives you better visibility, because unless you’re near the front, you won’t be able to see more than a few bike lengths ahead in a large pack. (Pro tip: for visibility, you can also change the camera angle–hit 9 on your keyboard for an overhead view without dust.)
#2: 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 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 at all.
#3: Don’t Over-Power It
Since Zwift’s draft is a bit sticky, there is actually a wattage range that 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 may also be able to stay in the draft at ~225 watts. So why put out the extra wattage?
Racing is all about conserving energy so you’ve got the watts when you need them most. So try to maintain the minimum wattage necessary to hold your desired position in the pack. This will require constantly adjusting your power output, but once you’ve spent some time doing it, this becomes second nature.
#4: 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. Two key exceptions:
- Your avatar will also sit up at slow solo speeds (but in a race situation, this rarely applies).
- When riding the Tron bike your rider will never sit up, even though it is drafting.
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.
#5: 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.
Result: you get to rest a bit while maintaining your position in the pack!
The supertuck is faster in race events than freerides or social rides, because Zwift changed how it behaves in races back in May 2019.
A word of 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 can get dropped very quickly. Pay close attention to the road and start pedaling hard if you see it flattening just ahead.
Share Your Tips
Got some advanced racing tips of your own? Share them below!