I lose a lot of Zwift races. But sometimes those losses are… special.

Yesterday’s was the P Race–one of my favorite races because it ticks off all the boxes for me:

  • Fairly flat: long hills don’t lead to good race results for bigger riders like me
  • Double draft: this lets me sit in if I want, or push the pace over small rises to help drop a few riders
  • Longer: typically 30+ miles long, and I like slightly longer races, especially on Saturdays when I’ll be riding for a few hours anyway
  • Separate categories: I prefer races where each category competes separately. Never been a fan of trying to hold onto the A’s!

Zwift Companion said we were doing two laps of Watopia’s Waistband. This route is 15.8 miles long, but (and this is important) we also have a 1.4 mile lead-in to the start/finish banner. So the total distance should be 15.8+15.8+1.4, or 33 miles–which is exactly what Zwift Companion told me when I signed up.

Zwift had rolled out an update the day before which included in its list of bug fixes, “Fixed bug where event distance estimations were wrong.” I was happy to see this because there have been distance issues in lap-based events for a couple of months now.

I got on course, warmed up, then hit the start pens. Let’s race!

We began with 73 B riders, but that group was quickly whittled down to 50, then ~35. This race was feeling like most of my P Race experiences: challenging, but doable. While I was suffering after half a lap and wondering if I could do two full laps of this, I also knew I wasn’t on my very limit. It would hurt, but I thought I had a good chance of hanging with the front until the final sprint.

Knowing the distance bugs were supposed to be fixed, I had my eye on those numbers as well. I noticed that the distance completed on the top bar now matched the side bar (that’s good!), but I also noticed the distance to go seemed too low. Early in the race if I added the distance to go with the distance ridden it totaled 30.2 miles. Later on, adding those numbers totaled 30.5 miles.

And this is where I started questioning myself.

Was it 33 miles total? My glycogen-depleted brain wasn’t sure. Maybe they left the lead-in off of the distance we’d traveled? (A silly idea in hindsight, but race brain isn’t always the smartest.)

As we rode through the tunnel bridge toward downtown Watopia, I looked at the minimap. My distance counter said we had less than a mile to go, and I swear the start/finish banner in downtown Watopia had that blueish glow that you see when an event uses a custom finish line.

Was that our finish line? Were we not doing two full laps, but instead finishing here in downtown Watopia? My distance counter certainly indicated so, and the blue glowing banner reinforced it in my mind.

With 300 meters to go I jumped. Hard. Even with tired legs I gave it all I had, because I saw there weren’t many riders who had followed me. I crossed the line in 2nd, as the distance to go hit 0, having averaged 832 watts over 15 seconds.

But where was the finish screen? Nothing happened. And a few seconds later, the peloton flew past.

The race wasn’t over.

My distance to go now read over 10,000ft. Feet!? My legs were burning, heart pounding out of my chest, and the front was already 10 seconds up the road. My race was done!

I limped my way into the finish–demoralized mentally and completely drained physically. I probably wouldn’t have won, or even made it onto the podium. But I bet I could have finished in the top 10. Instead, I finished 38th (30th in the official Zwift Power results).

Companion app screenshot showing time-based, lap-based, and distance-based events

Don’t Make My Mistake

I’ve heard from lots of other Zwifters who have made the same mistake I made in this race. Here’s how to avoid it: know the race route!

Zwift events are run for a certain length of time, a certain number of laps, or a set distance.

Zwift races are always a certain number of laps or a set distance. (Time-based events are used for group rides and workouts.) Lap-based races end at the lap banner, unless you’re on a point-to-point route like Bologna TT or Road to Sky. I should have trusted what the app said: two laps of Watopia’s Waistband.

Next: trust the event distance. It used to be, the Companion app’s distance figures weren’t entirely reliable–I think perhaps they left off lead-in distances? I’m not sure. But I learned not to trust them, which is unfortunate. Because now they seem to be accurate! So pay attention to that event distance number when you sign up for the event.

One more tip: if you’re like me, you don’t make good decisions at the end of a race. Our brains aren’t quite getting all the glycogen they need, so while the legs are firing on all cylinders, the mind is not.

So take notes if you need to, indicating the start/finish point of the race and the overall distance.

It’s funny, but on Zwift, like outdoors, racing smart is really up to you. Sure, you can just hop in and race whenever you’d like–but knowing the course and devising a strategy beforehand will give you better results.

About the Bug

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that this distance bug still isn’t fixed. It’s been broken for two months.

That said, it sounds like Zwift’s QA team is pushing hard to get this distance bug squished, and that perhaps it’s only affecting specific routes. That’s good news!

(Kudos to the team at Zwift HQ, by the way. I know you’re juggling a lot of priorities and projects. When a company is growing quickly and building things out in many directions, stuff can get messy.)

Here’s hoping this fix gets rolled out very soon, since it’s affecting a lot of races and group rides.

More to Come

I’ll probably turn this into a series of articles, because I’m always devising new and interesting ways to lose a Zwift race.

Got inventive stories of your own? Have you lost your race by sprinting for the wrong finish line? Share below!