10 Tips for Sneaking Away in a Zwift Race

10 Tips for Sneaking Away in a Zwift Race

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!

#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?

For detailed route info, find the route on our Master Routes List and click for more info including Strava segments

#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.

#7: PowerUps

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!

About The Author

Eric Schlange

Eric runs Zwift Insider in his spare time when he isn't on the bike or managing various business interests. He lives in Northern California with his beautiful wife, two kids and dog. Follow on Strava

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Jer Walker
Active Member
Jer Walker (@jerwalker)
1 year ago

If given the choice in a sprint finish, would you rather an aero or draft powerup?

Yves
Yves
1 year ago
Reply to  Jer Walker

Aero

Craig Martin
Craig Martin
1 year ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

The van seems more risky because it requires racers to be ahead of you, so you have to time the sprint just right to draft those racers. for that reason I like the aero because I can push it and just put my head down until I hear the finish line.

Emil Gercke
Emil Gercke
1 year ago

Eric, I’ve refrained from Zwift racing because I use a ‘dumb’ trainer, how do you feel about that?

Ben
Ben
1 year ago
Reply to  Emil Gercke

Your zpower estimate might not be too far off. I started zwifting on a kinetic (dumb) trainer and when I switched to a Kickr my FTP didn’t change. Your heart rate will tell you a lot about your effort as well, just of course keep in mind that every race will be a ‘workout only race’ since your numbers will have validity only to you…and if you are destroying everyone then most likely something is off with your setup. I’ve sometimes thought of using the steel frame bike (for example) as a way to say ‘just in it for the… Read more »

Andy L.
Andy L.
1 year ago
Reply to  Emil Gercke

I race Zwift on a ‘dumb’ spin bike with power meter pedals, and I encourage you to give it a try. It’s tricky because in addition to paying attention to everything else going on, you have to watch the road gradient and be ready to put out extra watts on any climbs and let up on descents to stay with the pack. I find that if my concentration lapses even for a split second, I’ve lost the pack on a little kicker and then have to work extra hard just to catch back up. Knowing the course helps a lot… Read more »

Jack
Jack
1 year ago

The best one I ever had done was a suicide from about 3kms out in Watopia (flat). I pinned it to about 12 wpk for about 15 seconds and prayed that no one reacted in time to chase me or cover the gap. Then I TT’d the rest of the way between 5 and 7wpk… it was close but i managed to stay away by 4 or 5 seconds. I think it really boils down to how committed the group is. Some days they eat you up and other days they just shrug their shoulders… I recall it hurt a… Read more »

Paul
Paul
1 year ago

For point 4, could you not manually set your ftp to a very high number so that reaching double ftp isn’t possible? Just remember to set it back before doing a workout!

Chris Koch VISION
Chris Koch VISION
1 year ago

SOMETIMES, there is an interesting dynamic in the race. When you find yourself in a group ahead of the peloton and you feel no one wants to do the work on the front. It’s a great time to jump away. You will find it surprising that when you go off that maybe just one or two other riders try to follow. However, in scenarios like that people are looking around in the group and think of each other that the other rider will close the gab and does the work. That are the moments you have to use to get… Read more »

GREGORY L PATYK
GREGORY L PATYK (@gregpatyk)
1 year ago

#11. Yell(message) hey, what’s that over there! While every one is looking, Hammer down!’😂😉

Craig Martin
Craig Martin
1 year ago

This topic is super interesting in Zwift racing compared to IRL because there is so much data available, especially if you have another screen available to watch the race live on ZwiftPower. As a racer in a pack you have to decide when to chase a rider going off the front. You also have to constantly position yourself to even see a rider breaking away, which can be difficult on gravel sections when dust is flying or when the game awards everyone a PR and the screen is full of confetti. Another example is when a racer is not using… Read more »

Joy Murphy
11 months ago

Hi Eric I am a small female and race A women’s/ B mixed. I have recently been focusing on improving my race ranking and have read the ZP system for ranking a couple times. I think I have a good understanding of it but still trying to figure out when choosing a B race, how do I know the “quality ” of racers signed up? I did a Dirt Doozy B race and came in 3rd which I was incredibly happy with but my points weren’t as good as other races. There were over 24 B riders in the race.… Read more »

Chris
Chris
9 months ago
Reply to  Joy Murphy

On the ZP events page there is a ‘Ranking’ button at the top – it changes the powerups section of the list to show rankings instead.

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