Most Zwift races end in a pack sprint – but it doesn’t have to be this way. What if you could break away from the pack and solo to victory? Every racer’s dream, right?
Successfully getting away in a race requires a few abilities, namely fitness, timing, and smarts. We call it “sneaking away”, but it’s not like you’re invisible to your competition. Rather, sneaking away means you get away from the group without causing a lot of commotion, bringing only yourself or perhaps a select group of friends along. And if you do it right, in a large enough race, some riders will even forget you’re off the front!
Here are 10 tips for successful sneaking in Zwift races. Good luck!
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#1: Know the Route
The better you know your race route, the smarter you can race. Course knowledge lets you take calculated risks, perhaps attacking on a certain climb because you know you’ll have adequate recovery afterward.
The two most important things to know about your Zwift race route are the locations of any climbs, and how the finish lays out. Climbs are important because efforts will always ramp up there, and you need to know how long and hard the climb is so you can dose your effort appropriately, especially if you’re planning an attack.
Knowing the finish is important because you need to know how to best deploy powerups and time your final effort. Is the finish on a long flat, a long climb, or something else? Do you feel confident contending against a pack of riders in a flat-out sprint finish, or will you fare better by sneaking away early?
#2: Use Your Slingshot
This technique is used in outdoor racing to some extent, but can be used to greater effect on Zwift because we can “ride through” riders ahead of us.
First, ease up on your power a bit to slide backward in the group, 5-10 bike lengths from the front. Then begin your attack from that position, benefiting from the draft effect as you accelerate. By the time you hit the front of the group, you want to be traveling fast enough that you rocket away from the pack, making it harder for them to respond quickly enough to grab onto your wheel.
#3: No Orange Numbers
The rider list on the right side of the screen displays everyone’s watts per kilogram, and if you hit 8.0 w/kg or higher your number turns orange. Experienced Zwift racers always have the rider list in their peripheral vision, and when orange numbers pop up, it gets their attention!
If you’re trying to sneak away (perhaps beginning with a slingshot maneuver), keep a low profile by staying out of the orange while you’re accelerating through the pack or off the front.
#4: Stay (Virtually) Seated
Another visual signal racers watch for is the out of the saddle sprint. Much like the orange numbers, out of the saddle sprinting is a sign that a rider is going hard, because the animation only kicks in when you’re doing twice your FTP wattage or higher.
So try to stay below that number as you accelerate through the pack. This will help you avoid unwanted attention.
#5: Know Your Draft Mode
Zwift has three drafting “modes”: no draft (used in time trials), standard draft, and double draft. Most races use Zwift’s standard draft. It’s important to know what draft mode your race is using, because it’s more difficult to solo away in double draft mode.
This is because the pack moves faster in double draft mode. Riders aren’t working as hard while drafting, then they charge to the front and bring the group’s speed up, only to slide back and rest again. This continual churning at the front drives up pack speeds noticeably in flatter races, while solo rider speeds are unchanged.
You can still get away in double draft mode, but it works best as a group effort. Additionally, keep in mind that in double draft mode, launching off the front fast without letting anyone grab your double draft wheel is even more important.
#6: Jump on the Climbs
As demonstrated in our w/kg speed tests, climbs are where you can create the biggest gaps by hitting the power hard. It’s just physics! This is why Zwifters hit every incline extra hard.
You can often catch riders sleeping on small rises or short kickers if you’re familiar with the course and they aren’t. Use this to your advantage if you’re trying to sneak away! Keep your momentum high by hitting the power hard just before the climb begins. Then keep the power up all the way over the crest until you’re moving fast on the other side.
For an extra boost, deploy that feather powerup as you hit the climb.
PowerUps give you small “boosts” and, if used smartly, can help you sneak away in a race. (If you don’t know the basics of Zwift powerups, read Your Guide to Zwift PowerUps for a complete rundown.)
Four of the powerups can be used to help you sneak away in a race, but they need to be used smartly. Here are some notes:
- Lightweight (feather): reduces your weight for 15 seconds. Use this just before you hit it hard to drop others on a climb (see below for more on that). You can also use it to help you accelerate a bit harder if you’re jumping off the front, although the feather icon over your head will make “sneaking away” a bit difficult.
- Aero Boost (helmet): makes you more aerodynamic for 15 seconds. If you aren’t planning on a final sprint, the aero boost is a very effective way to go off the front of the group, since its use blunts the loss of draft effect you would normally feel when you stick you nose into the virtual wind. But again, that icon over your head will draw attention!
- Burrito: makes you undraftable for 10 seconds. The burrito was made for exactly this situation – when you want to go off the front and not have others follow on your wheel. This is best used on flat ground, where the draft effect is very helpful to chasers.
- Cloaking (ghost): makes you invisible to other riders for 10 seconds. At last, we arrive at the true “sneaking away” powerup. The toughest thing about the ghost is that it only lasts 10 seconds – so you need to make the most of it! Use the slingshot technique described above. Start several riders back in the pack and accelerate smoothly (no orange numbers!), then deploy the ghost when you hit the front of your group. You’ll disappear from their view and can go hard into those orange numbers for 10 seconds before reappearing.
#8: Buddy System
Just like racing outside, it’s really tough to stay away from a large pack of riders if you’re working alone. If you’re looking to attack off the front and form a small breakaway group, consider enlisting the help of one or more buddies to attempt a coordinated attack then work together to stay away. (Here’s a story that explains how the Fusion Dev team executed a team attack perfectly in a Crit City race.)
Sometimes this happens naturally – if you see an attack on the front and you follow that wheel, you may be able to get away and stay away with the other rider(s). You might also attack and get a few riders who come with you.
#9: Surprise Attack
All of the tips above are sensible, even predictable. This last tip is not!
Sometimes, the surprise attack is the one that sticks. If you jump off the front at a spot in the race where attacking doesn’t seem to make sense, other riders are more likely to let you go. That’s exactly what happened to Ribble Pro Cycling’s Ed Hopper in round 2 of the KISS Super League on the Innsbrucking route. Racers who knew the circuit expected the pack to split up on the leg snapper climb, or perhaps at the sprint point – but Ed just bumped his power up and rode off the front as the group made its way down the flat, open road to the lap banner, 9km from the finish.
Watch Hopper’s race here (he goes off the front at around 38:30):
Sometimes the surprise attack surprises even you. That’s what happened to Hopper. After this race he said:
I just kinda drifted off the front, then when I saw I had a one sec gap I thought I’d just see what I could carry in to the climb. Thought I was going to get caught for sure...
#10: Practice, Practice, Practice
One wonderful thing about Zwift racing is you can try out different strategies without feeling like you threw your race day “investment” away. While participating in an outdoor race usually requires hours of driving and a good chunk of cash, Zwift races are always available just a click away, for free!
So go ahead and try that crazy attack, just to see what happens. Enter a race solely for the workout, attacking at regular intervals. You’ll build fitness along the way, and you’ll add some new tools to your racing toolbelt.
Summing It Up
Getting away and staying away is the ultimate win in bike racing. It requires a strong body, sharp mind, and a good sense of timing. Hopefully you can use the tips above to animate your next race and maybe, just maybe… solo to victory!
What About You?
Have you ever snuck away in a Zwift race? Share your story below!