First Look: Completing a Zwift Academy Baseline Ride

First Look: Completing a Zwift Academy Baseline Ride

Yesterday I jumped into the first scheduled Zwift Academy Road Baseline Ride, scheduled for 11am PDT. Completing a Baseline Ride is a requirement for ZA graduation, so I wanted to get this out of the way quickly. But I was also super curious about the ride itself.

Intro to Baseline/Finish Line Rides

This year’s ZA program includes a required Baseline and Finish Line ride. The idea here is to test your fitness over three different intervals:

  • Sprint
  • VO2
  • Threshold

Riders will do that by hitting particular timed segments during the ride at maximum effort. Then you should ease up between the segments to recover as fully as possible so you can hit the next segment hard.

Baseline Rides are only available as group rides, and they are scheduled every other hour through September 27th. That’s over 320 time slots as of the publish date of this post, so you have plenty of chances to get your Baseline Ride in – or even do it more than once if you’d like.

Standard or Advanced?

Riders have two options for these rides: a “standard” route, or the “advanced” one. I chose the “standard” Baseline Ride option (category C), which uses the new Legends and Lava route. The big difference between the standard and advanced option is the threshold effort: standard uses the Volcano KOM, while the advanced version is held on the “Climber’s Gambit” route which uses the longer Epic KOM.

For me, the Volcano KOM takes around 8 minutes at max effort, while the Epic KOM is more like 22 minutes. With a Zwift Classics race the next day, I opted for the shorter effort, hoping it wouldn’t burn up my legs too much.

I knew the route details, but there was a lot I didn’t know going into this ride:

  • Would the UI be different from a typical group ride? Would we see messages with instructions, or custom leader/results boards, etc?
  • Would we all be on the same bike/wheels?
  • Would drafting be enabled?
  • What would the results screens in Zwift Companion look like?

Poking around on ZwiftHacks and popping into the start pens early answered a few of my questions:

  • Drafting is disabled
  • Bike selection: you can pick whatever bike you’d like, including a TT bike if you’re so inclined

A Word About Bike Choice

I selected the Specialized Venge S-Works frame and Zipp 858 wheels as my virtual rig for this ride. I’ve done a lot of riding with these, and figured all that matters is I use the same frame and wheels for my Baseline and Finish Line rides.

That’s something riders should be clear on: use the same frame and wheels for both rides, otherwise your times for the rides won’t be an apples-to-apples comparison.

It would get especially bad if you chose a TT rig for one ride, and a standard road race setup for another. That would really throw the numbers off.

Segment 1: Titans Grove KOM

Soon enough the timer hit zero, and we were off, with over 550 riders in my group! A good number jumped off the front early, for reasons I can’t explain. But I just spun my legs in zone 2, chatting with friendly Zwifters and making my way through Titans Grove toward the first segment.

This first segment is one I’ve actually enjoyed attacking a few times in the past. It’s one of the rare KOMs whose leader’s jersey I’ve actually worn!

I knew that an all-out effort would see me finishing in under 2 minutes, so that’s what I paced myself for. It was a real adrenaline rush to be hammering out watts and passing a lot of the riders who had jumped off the front. As the road flattened a bit near the top and the KOM banner came into sight I shifted, got out of the saddle, and went all-in for the final seconds. The leaderboard popped up as I crossed the line, showing me in 4th place with a 1:44.6 time. I’ll take that!

It was nice to just spin the legs out after that first effort. I’m so used to Zwift races where you have to hammer on the climbs, then keep the effort up afterward. The change of pace and unhurried feel of things was very welcome.

1:45, 466W average

Segment 2: Watopia Sprint Forward

Next up was the sprint segment. Honestly, I wish Zwift had picked a shorter segment to test peak sprint power, as the Watopia Forward sprint is one of the longer ones in the game – so long that I can’t actually push peak power for the duration, because I’ll blow up before the line.

According to Strava, I’ve completed this segment over 530 times. Wow! One thing I’ve learned after all that practice is that getting a fast time on this segment requires ramping up your watts while you’re still on the cobbles of the Italian Villas, so you enter the sprint at a high speed. That means you end up with a 10-15 second ramp up, plus a 20-25 second sprint. That’s a long “sprint” effort!

Anyway, I gave it all I had. I stayed seated, trying to keep my watts pretty even.

23 seconds, 692W average

PowerUps Enabled?

One fix Zwift probably needs to make to these rides is to disable PowerUps. They were enabled for my ride, and the problem I see with that is riders were using the PowerUps on the test segments.

This will artificially shorten a rider’s time, then when you do the Finish Line ride to test yourself on the same segment and don’t use the same PowerUp on the same section you won’t get that boost, and your time will be affected.

So here’s my simple advice: if PowerUps are enabled for your Baseline Ride, just ignore them and don’t activate them. Alternatively, you could “burn” them by using them outside of the timed segment, or using the option in Companion or in the action bar on screen to trash the PowerUp without using it.

Segment 3: Volcano KOM

The third and final segment was the one I was dreading the most. The Volcano KOM and I have never gotten along well, because it always feels a bit too long. Regardless, I wanted to give it my best shot. So as the start line approached I ramped up my speed, then tried to hold around 340W for the duration, making sure to bump the watts up a bit more on the steeper sections and ease off a bit on the flatter parts.

I felt I was able to keep my pacing fairly steady, and had just enough in the tank for a standing max effort on the final steepest pitch. I was the 59th rider over the line, and ranked #5 on the leaderboard.

8:07, 333W average

Oddly, the ride didn’t actually end at the KOM banner – it was a virtual finish line five hundred meters down the road. I’m not sure why Zwift set it up this way, but it’s no big deal, either. I just soft-pedaled my way to the finish, then kept soft-pedaling for another 15 minutes or so to make it an hour-long ride.

See my activity on Strava >

Watch the Ride Recording

I kept this recording silent, but if you want to see how the ride unfolded, including group banter, it’s all here!

Companion Results

New for this year, the results of the Baseline and Finish Line rides show in Zwift Companion. And our friends at ZwiftHQ tell me if you do multiple attempts, those different results will show as well. Here’s what the screens look like:

Tracking my times in Companion is a nice new feature, but data-loving zNerds like myself will immediately want more. The biggest thing I’m missing? Average power over the segment. I don’t really care about my segment time, in fact – power over a particular interval is a much more accurate gauge of fitness.

So why doesn’t Zwift show power?

I’m not sure. But my guess is the tracking of segment times is already built into the game/database, while the tracking of segment power is not. So this was a much easier solution to implement.

How’d I Do?

Some riders may find that they finish the Baseline Ride with more questions than answers. Me, for example: I finished the “Long” segment (Volcano KOM) in 8:07. What does that mean? Am I destined to be a star Time Trialist, or should I stick to sprinting?

Zwift’s text for each of the three segments in Companion ends with, “If you are strongest here, relative to the other segments, you fit the [ ] phenotype.”

But how do I know which segment I’m strongest in? The answer is: I don’t. And even if I take extra steps and look at my power numbers on Strava for the segments, that still doesn’t tell me my strengths or weaknesses.

Of course, I know there are other apps out there that will show me this info – like the Breakaway app I recently reviewed (which just received a Zwift integration update). Or XERT, which I have yet to review but whose metrics and methodology I find fascinating. ZwiftPower also profiles your power to help you understand your strengths and weaknesses.

But many Zwifters (especially n00bs) won’t have access to those tools or understand how to use them. My opinion: if Zwift could do a little more hand-holding by giving more guidance, especially to less-experienced riders, everyone wins.

Conclusions

Last year’s ZA introduced “Segment Rides”, where riders put in max efforts on two segments during the ride. This year’s Baseline and Finish Line rides are the next generation of that idea, with the segments more targeted at specific power systems and Companion integration tracking your efforts.

I just wish Zwift had developed the idea a bit more.

There’s so much Zwift could add to these segment rides to make them more engaging on the front end – like instructions for new users who don’t know when segments begin (there were plenty in the ride I joined), or progress bars on the segments so you know how much you’ve got left to do, or custom leaderboards that show how your efforts rank against other riders. And there’s so much that could be done after the ride to better educate riders and help them easily track training progress.

With all that said, I must add that I really enjoyed my Baseline Ride experience. It was a pleasant, chatty group of riders, and the hard efforts were difficult by not murderous. It was a fitness test that didn’t feel like a test, and that’s a good thing.

I’m curious to see what the Companion results look like after I complete the Finish Line ride at the end of ZA, and I’m hopeful that Zwift will keep developing and refining this idea for future events and training programs.

Your Comments

Have you tried a Baseline Ride yet? How’d it go? Share 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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Daz Ellis
Daz Ellis
16 days ago

My base line ride went well
1st workout riders disappointed and reappear ,erg mode not working properly
Disappointed

Patrick Tan
Patrick Tan (@cyclistsg)
16 days ago
Reply to  Daz Ellis

You can either sign up again via events or do it solo with Workouts setup. Do have good rest between efforts for optimal performance.
Good luck!

Daz Ellis
Daz Ellis
16 days ago
Reply to  Patrick Tan

Hi Patrick
I train in blocks of 2 with 2 rest days
If this keeps happening I will do the workouts on my own

PRSboy
PRSboy
9 days ago
Reply to  Daz Ellis

Best not use erg mode anyway in this instance as you will want to vary your effort over the ride.

Renato Nardello
Renato Nardello (@renato-nardello)
16 days ago

Thanks for the review Eric, pretty much spot on about what Z could do to enrich the experience. I did the long (advanced?) one today. Let me add a couple things: they could activate the progress bar for the three segments, so that each riders know where (s)he is are with respect to their personal best (I know this is disactivated for events, but this is kind of an all-by yourself event). If they want riders to repeat the performance, Z could customize (or eliminate) the power-ups, so that on the finish-line event each rider will benefit from them in… Read more »

Adam
Adam
16 days ago

Not sure why they had power ups enabled. Some people used them for the timed segments, obviously creating a scenario where they won’t likely have a apple to apple comparison with their finish baseline.

Matt 3595
Super Member
Matt 3595 (@straightlineboy)
16 days ago

Interesting as I have my baseline ride in a few hours time. I was kind of expecting it to tell me what kind of rider profile I fit best, so it’s a shame if it doesn’t. It’s not a big surprise that people are doing it wrong if there’s no prompts and you’ve just got to know what to do. I’m also a bit surprised to read that your choice of bike and wheels influences the result, but hey ho looking forward to it and the rest of the ZA activities anyway.

Matt 3595
Super Member
Matt 3595 (@straightlineboy)
15 days ago
Reply to  Matt 3595

I did my ride yesterday and most people were clueless about how it worked and what they should do. I turned off the chat within the first 10 minutes because after answering a few questions, the same questions were just getting repeated on a loop it seemed. I think at the end of ZA there’s going to be a tiny minority of people who have got meaningful data out of it. On one hand maybe Zwift could have done more, but on the other perhaps if you hope to get selected from it, then maybe it’s worth 5-10 minutes of… Read more »

Tim Perkin
Tim Perkin (@tperkin)
16 days ago

Being short on time and not reading ZI, I thought the Baseline event was factored on your overall time, so I basically rode a 30km TT. Clearly, I will have to do it again, but this time, target each segment like you are supposed to! I would have avoid this mistake if I had 1) Read the instructions (but like I said, I was rushing) 2) They had text explaining what you needed to do. Oh well, it’s a fine route so will just have another go after I let my legs recover, as literally I went full gas, thinking… Read more »

John C
John C
16 days ago
Reply to  Tim Perkin

I started out strong for the same reason until I saw someone message during the ride that only the certain segments were being measured. There were a lot of others doing the same thing. Based on the messages I read during the ride, there were quite a few people looking for additional guidance and instruction during the ride. I chalk this up to a rookie mistake on my part but Zwift could have done a better job with some in game instruction and guidance.

Patrick Tan
Patrick Tan (@cyclistsg)
16 days ago

Another year, another quirky set up for participants. Nevertheless, we should be coming out of it fitter with a strong sense of self-belief.

Nejc
Nejc
16 days ago

Will there be baseline ride option also in the following week or we have to hurry to do it? I would like to start on academy rides in couple of weeks. Thanks for the answer!

jacques greeff
jacques greeff
16 days ago

I take it the finish banner is after the KOM banner, to make sure that ZwiftPower captures the segment and not ignore it like a lot of people AdZ times.

C.L.F.
C.L.F.
16 days ago

In the orientation rides, they mentioned an additional training app you could use for free for the duration of ZA and which apparently is customised for ZA, too. Personally, I don’t plan to register for another app (and it also sounds a bit like a free trial/subscription trap), but maybe it would give the missing info on power and personal strengths by comparison with the other riders as advertised.

Daz Ellis
Daz Ellis
16 days ago
Reply to  C.L.F.

It is a trap 6 days free then £14 per month

Peter Higgins
Peter Higgins
15 days ago
Reply to  Daz Ellis

Thanks for letting us know!

Jim
Jim
16 days ago

Maybe they expect people to use Today’s plan to see which section they did best at? I saw that they offer free use again with ZA.

Jim
Jim
15 days ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

Need to use the website – go to Dashboard -> pick ride performance then look for the Ability Graph. Peak power, sprint, long sprint… But you would need to look right after your baseline ride… Not perfect.

Jimmy
Jimmy
16 days ago

Just finished my standard ride and went pretty well. My only complaint would be it’s confusing for some (a lot on the chat were confused) where the efforts are. Proper arches signifying each start/finish would have been good, maybe even text to warn the section is approaching.

Hanno Stamm
Hanno Stamm
16 days ago
Reply to  Jimmy

This. I completely missed the first sprint.

Xavier
Xavier
16 days ago

I completed the baseline ride yesterday. Until I read this post, I was not aware how it was supposed to be done. I rode it as any other ride. I did enjoy the Legends and Lava route though, nice combination. Then I joined the WO #1 from the main screen in the game but it did not behave as a workout except I did have the up & down arrows in the companion app and the vertical orange bar next to hud: https://www.zwift.com/activity/892831745366322688?__znl=fr-fr I did the ZA last year and it had big issues, and it’s still not working properly… Read more »

Adelino Lindo
Adelino Lindo
16 days ago

Not a very good experience in the Base line ride. I was lost for the entire ride and pull out before end. Not very happy with the first ZA i’m doing. And think i gonna quit, with Half of Paris this weekend and trip for 3 weeks next weekend i don’t think i gonna make it to the end.

Alistair Flack
Alistair Flack
16 days ago

Perhaps combine the new route progress bar in the UI with locations for each segment?

John C
John C
16 days ago

Hello Eric, thanks for the article. I tried the baseline ride yesterday and as a newbie to ZA, I was a little frustrated with the lack of guidance during the ride. Based on the extensive chatter on the message board, I was not alone. I tried to get some follow up guidance from the Zwift help desk but they just repeated what was written on the companion app about the ride. Can you provide some additional information on when during the ride we can expect to see each of the segments being measured? I’d like to know at what mile… Read more »

John C
John C
15 days ago
Reply to  John C

Eric-thanks for posting the new follow-up article today. Clears up much of the confusion. Very helpful. 👍

Peter Ricc
Peter Ricc
16 days ago

Rode the advanced baseline yesterday but admittedly was not aware of the three segments that required my best effort. That alone may artificially make my final ride appear most improved.
Oh, and I kept getting bonus points instead of power-ups for all banners, so artificial boosts were not an issue on this ride. However, thanks for the advice. Will follow it for the final ride.

Chris
Chris
16 days ago

Signed up, read the ZI article 😉 completed ride doing my best on each segment, saved it and no sign of it in companion or zwift academy webpage. Sad to say I’m not really surprised.

Peter Ricc
Peter Ricc
15 days ago
Reply to  Chris

On Tuesday afternoon (Eastern time) there was an Amazon Web Service issue (Zwift uses AWS for its cloud-based hosting). All kinds of login and/or ride save problems.

Reach out to Zwift support, as the ride you did may be able to be salvaged properly.

Ken Warner
Ken Warner
16 days ago

I agree, I wish there would have been a bit more to the results and the ride. The ride could have had popups to show when the segments were coming and the results could have at least a power curve for the segment.

Jarred Kirk
Jarred Kirk
16 days ago

Thanks for the article and video walk through Eric. As someone relatively new to Zwift, I think like many others, found the detail completely lacking around the baseline ride. Glad I know what to do in that first baseline to allow an apples for apples comparison with the end baseline.

Shimano6000
Shimano6000 (@brenton-pobjie)
16 days ago

Hey.

I did the baseline ride but didn’t know about the segment efforts. I finished the ride confused about what the ride was actually for. Oh well. I agree, on-screen “prompts” would have been good – or even optional to activate or deactivate. I feel like I just turned up, rode and achieved nothing from a baseline reading perspective.

Kerry Rose
Kerry Rose
16 days ago

I completed the C baseline ride and the only result I have is the volcano KOM. No results for the sprint or the short climb.

David Barndollar
David Barndollar (@barnwani)
16 days ago
Reply to  Kerry Rose

The Zwift server seems to be having massive problems (I got several mid-ride notices on the Companion app that the server was undergoing maintenance, so I assume they know of the problems). It took a long time for me even to get into the starting pens for the 4:00p EDT C ride, and even longer for the ride to show up in my Activities feed on Zwift after completion. I’m showing only the long and short segments but not the medium.

J D
J D
15 days ago
Reply to  Kerry Rose

My results aren’t showing yet either. The leaderboards were also broken during the event (first hill had me as 1 of 2), very few names were on them. I only road hard up the segments, so there were definitely plenty of people up the road.

I had to look at Zwiftpower for the results. You can navigate to segment times and check how you did there.

John M
John M
15 days ago
Reply to  J D

Tired of having to connect to or look at third party sites (Zwiftpower, Strava, ZRL, Today’s Whatever) to be able to use Zwift effectively. I understand that Today’s Plan is paying Zwift to be part of the Academy and market their app.. but Zwift has $500M in funding! Stop spending it on building a Peloton knock-off and put it into the game! Such a fun game and so frustrating at times.

Craig McAlister
Craig McAlister
16 days ago

I love the idea and agree with your conclusions. It was my first time and I didn’t know when segments started and ended. I actually sat up during the power climb segment at the 500m Zwift sign as I was passing riders and thought segment was to start in 500m not finish. Overall good experience with some minor improvements would make it a great one

Snails Pace
Snails Pace
16 days ago

It was a first for me and I found it tough. I started cycling with a trainer 3 months ago and love zwifting. After every ride, I tell myself I am not cut out for this but the next thing you know I am riding again another day…Always in the last 10 or 20 positions in any group ride… goal is to always finish , that’s all…. so far so good.😅

Mike Tighe
Mike Tighe (@mbdtighe)
16 days ago

Is bike and wheel choice relevant as it’s all about watts? Was chatting
with a friend about this today and wondering about this and drafting. Hmmm…

J D
J D
15 days ago
Reply to  Mike Tighe

Drafting is disabled for the event. You can also stop and swap bike and wheels if you’re inclined.

Mike Tighe
Mike Tighe (@mbdtighe)
16 days ago

The best thing about this, reading everyone’s comments, is you can do it again and again!

Jim
Jim
15 days ago

I did the standard one as well, but I only see short and long times – no medium recorded. What the heck…

Rutger Michiels
Rutger Michiels
15 days ago

Hi Eric, great article!
I was in the same ride so it’s nice to see my name pop up in the screenshots😅. It was great having you there as the celebrity of the bunch😂.
I didn’t know what to expect from this ZA as it’s the first time for me. I’m just taking it as the ideal step to step up my performance and hunt some PR’s 😎

Nick
Nick
15 days ago

I did the shorter Baseline Ride yesterday. As a relative ‘n00b’ whilst I enjoyed the overall experience I was surprised that there were neither pop-ups nor ‘arches’ (as I’ve experienced in structured workouts) to warn of impending segment starts. Whilst it’s arguably less important in the longer climbs it would seem to be critical for the sprint. For the finishing ride it’s likely I’ll do much better on that simply by knowing when to put the effort in. Thanks for the article, Eric. Anything you can do to influence improvements would be greatly appreciated.

Toni
Toni
15 days ago

Creo que es ilógico medir los progresos por el tiempo en cada segmento, ya que ahí influye la velocidad a la que entras en dicho segmento. Lo que se intenta es ver la potencia que soy capaz de desarrollar antes y después de la Academia, para ver si mejoramos. Es sencillo hacer mejor tiempo, en un sprint sobre todo, entrando más rápido al segmento, aún moviendo menos wattios que en otro esfuerzo y eso no significa que haya mejorado. Me parece un error por parte de zwift.

Fabio
Fabio
14 days ago

Actually, I think there is a way to understand where you did better, my segments are sorted “medium-short-long”, and not “long-medium-short” like yours

abcd
abcd
14 days ago

This title let me realize that zwift doesn’t have a FR LOOK bike frame yet

Paul Mann
Paul Mann
14 days ago

I did the legends and lava route. First effort I missed the start of the first two segments. I had assumed, incorrectly that there would be a message giving warning that the segment was coming up, or better still an illuminated archway like during a workout. Consequently I abandoned the ride before the volcano and re-rode it the next day.

Allan Georgiou-Park
Allan Georgiou-Park
14 days ago

Wow @Eric Schlange, our results are almost identical. I went 1:40, 0:24, 8:05. Maybe you’ll be able to tell me where we sit within the spectrum, as that’s one thing missing from Zwift at the moment. It’s great them telling us what it means if I’m better at one type of effort, but I can’t see a way of knowing that. I get the whole idea is to set a benchmark and then do the training course, re-test and see the results. But it would be good to know now where my strengths/areas I need to work on are.

Rkast
Rkast
13 days ago

Well i did the baseline ride but when checking in the companion app i only got stats for Long and Medium , Short is missing. Anyone got an idea why?

Pandak
Pandak
12 days ago

Hi, I’m a noob and the sort baseline ride was the first non erg ride I’ve done on zwift. Did it all wrong – had no idea when the segments were starting and took a while to get my head around the changes in load due to gradient. Being old and fat and still blown from a week’s worth of gym work didn’t help (excuses, excuses). Enjoyed the ride, though and an going to do it a few more times after a recovery ‘scouting’ ride I’ll do today. Agree with all the article’s points and wish I’d read this first.… Read more »

Ryan
Ryan
11 days ago

Eric your site was helpful as always going into the Advanced Baseline Ride! An additional frustration with the app is that for the Watopia Sprint Reverse segment which is relatively short, it only shows my effort as “00:00:11” which is both inaccurate and seriously imprecise! My actual time was 11.97sec which, like Strava, seems to have been rounded down. It at least should show 12sec to be more accurate. If not, and I improve to 11.00 for the final ride, that will be an 8% improvement even though the app won’t show any difference. I shouldn’t have to go to… Read more »

Jon W
Jon W (@jon-walters)
10 days ago

Hi Eric, great article,

Interestingly for me, my times are almost identical to yours. I got 1:43 on Titans, 24s on the Sprint and 8:08 on the Volcano… I have no clue what this means in terms of what type of rider I am, other than one like you!

Thanks for all you do for the Zwift community!

chris bishop
chris bishop
2 days ago

Hi, I’m just about to start the baseline ride (BR) and reading thru these comments and your BR narrative at the beginning of this, what is not clear is how the segment starts and finishes are shown on screen or am I missing something here ? Great article though – thanks !

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