Much has been written about racing on Zwift, including posts like How to Race on Zwift, Get an edge with these advanced Zwift racing tips and 5 advanced Zwift racing tips. But none of these posts focus on the most challenging part of the race for new Zwifters: the start.
Of course, your fitness level is the key determiner of how well you will start your race. But many Zwifters get dropped for reasons unrelated to fitness… and we can fix that. Here are three simple tips to help you start well.
1: Grab a Pre-Race Power-Up
A draft boost (van) or aero boost (helmet) power up is a nice way to take the edge off those fast Zwift race starts. The van increases the draft effect you are experiencing by 50% for 30 seconds, so be sure you stay in the draft while you use it. The helmet makes you more aerodynamic (reduces your CdA by 25%) for 30 seconds, so it helps whether you’re drafting or in the wind.
Some races do not allow power-ups, but due to how Zwift works you can still grab a power-up beforehand and use it at the start of the race. (This is a bit of a grey area rules-wise, but it’s an accepted practice as far as I can see. Many riders do it, no one complains about it, so I recommend it.)
Important: if your race does not allow power-ups you need to trigger the power-up before you ride under a start/finish banner, otherwise you will lose it.
2: Start Hard
New racers seem most surprised by just how hard the starts are. The first selection of every Zwift race happen in the initial one-two minutes of racing as stronger riders push the pace to try to drop as many hangers-on as possible.
Looking at a few of my recent B-category races, typically hanging with the front group means the first two minutes of the race average 350-400 watts, while the next two settle down to average 275-300.
3: Ramp Up Your Wattage Before the Start
This isn’t outdoors, where you wait to pedal until the whistle blows! Start pedaling decently hard 10 seconds before the race starts, and keep ramping up your power until the timer hits zero and you are around 150% of FTP.
This strategy eliminates shifting and game lag as factors in your race start.
- Shifting: it’s smart to not shift under full power, but if you start from 0 watts you’ll need to shift to harder gears as you spin up. Do this before the race starts, so you can shift smoothly and be in a high gear when the race begins.
- Game Lag: Zwift can take a little time (less than a second) to recognize changes in wattage output, and that’s time you don’t have when the race has just begun. If you’re already at high power when the race starts, this will be a non-issue.
The Goal: Hang with the Front
The goal here, of course, is to make the front group selection. If you get dropped from the front pack by even 10 seconds, you will not be catching them without an enormous effort. Instead of getting spit out the back, use these tips to start fast and use the power of the leading group to put time into anyone unfortunate enough to get dropped.