One thing I really enjoy about Zwift racing is the ability to try new tactics without risking much. Whereas an outdoor race might cost me a $40 entry fee plus several hours of driving (and associated costs), racing on Zwift costs me almost nothing at all. The time commitment is minimal, there is no risk factor, and there’s no entry fee!
Sometimes I come up with hair-brained race tactics beforehand – I’ve written about plenty of those. Other times, the ideas strike mid-race, like some sort of divine lightning bolt. Today’s race was the latter. And the best part is: it worked! Here’s the story…
I grabbed just one piece of caffeine gum and rubbed some PR lotion on my legs. Then it was off to Watopia for a ~45 minute warmup before my race at 6:35am. This time around I hopped into a group ride led by my buddy Peter McKenzie because the stated pace (2.7-3 w/kg) was just right for a warmup, once I threw in a sprint or two.
After a nice warmup spin with Pete and crew, I headed to the start pens. Eight laps of “Bell Lap“, which is actually the direction I prefer on Crit City. Let’s race!
We had a mid-sized group with 42 starters in B cat. As usual, the start was hard and fast, and the selection was quickly made – halfway into the first lap a group of ~20 was off the front.
As we began the second lap, I noticed the rider on the front our group, one z-powered “J Kippen”, was holding steady between 5.5-6.5 w/kg. Some riders were struggling to hold his wheel as he kept pushing unrealistic power numbers, so I messaged the group: “Kippen is a flier. Let him go?”
The group seemed to respond immediately, letting Kippen drift off the front. Brilliant! I felt bad for the riders who had already been dropped off the front group thanks to Kippen’s Z-Power Ranger pull, but what do you do? That’s Zwift racing… for now, at least.
We had 18 in our front group, and the pace was pretty manageable. So I started putting in attacks with the help of whatever powerup I received each lap, just testing to see if others would go with me, or if I could thin the herd a bit.
As usual, nobody went with me. And I didn’t see a single rider drop from the pack either! And that’s when the idea struck, like a bolt of lightning sent from the Zwift gods: what if I announced my attack?
Crazy, right? But follow me for a minute.
“Anyone Want to Attack with Me?”
My experience in over 170 Zwift races has taught me that solo attacks rarely have much effect, at least until the final minutes of the race. This isn’t the case outdoors, so what’s different on Zwift? I have some theories:
- It’s hard to spot an attack on Zwift: compared to outdoor races, it’s harder to see when someone begins an attack on Zwift. Unless you’re looking closely at the right-hand list of power numbers, you won’t notice a rider attacking until they’ve drifted off the front – unless they’re foolish enough to really power up so their avatar changes to the sprinting position. Because attacks are hard to spot, your response to the attack gets delayed, so by the time you notice, it’s just not worth the effort to put in the dig to close the gap to the attacker. So you sit in the pack, knowing the lone attacker will get reeled in soon enough.
- High pack speeds: pack speeds on Zwift are higher than outdoors, especially in double draft events. This makes it even harder for a single attack to stay away from the group.
- We’ve been conditioned: after experiencing the lone attacker being unable to stay off the front, Zwifters have been conditioned to not respond to attacks, and not initiate them, either.
Whatever the causes, I think we can all agree that attacks are most fruitful on Zwift (and outdoors) if you can get at least a few riders to join you. But how do you do that, if you don’t have team members in the race on Discord?
What the heck. I’ll just announce my attack, and see if others want to follow.
Near the end of lap 5, I messaged the group: “Anyone want to attack with me?” Nobody responded for a bit, until one rider wrote “What’s the signal?” I didn’t have a signal, but I had a feather, and the twisty climb was coming up. So as soon as we hit it, I just wrote “Now”, activated my powerup, and hit the power hard!
A gap quickly formed several riders back. I messaged the group “PUSH PUSH” and we kept the power up for another minute or so, watching the gap grow from 3 to 5 to 8 seconds. We’d done it! We now had a front group of 8, and the chasers weren’t coming back. I couldn’t help but smile, even as I suffered. Type II fun, right?
With two laps left, our breakaway group was firmly established. We locked into a steady pace, and I held onto my aero powerup for the final sprint. No one attacked in any significant way on the final laps, so we moved into the final meters as a unit.
I activated my aero powerup just after the last left-hand turn, ramping up my power in a (rare for me) seated sprint.
I’ve been testing the Axxion Rocker Plate from Traxxion Dynamics, and I’m finding that my seated sprints are really strong due to its design/setup. My power numbers were really good for this sprint, averaging 876w for the final 13 seconds. I even had enough of a lead on the group to snap a couple shots!
My simple takeaway for this race is announcing your attacks may be a good idea. Certainly not something I would do outside, but on Zwift, I think there’s a case to be made for it, at least in certain circumstances.
I’d love it if some of you could try announcing an attack in an upcoming race, then comment below to let me know how it went.
Is “telegraphing your pass” a good idea in Zwift racing? Why or why not? Share your thoughts below!