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.
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 five simple tips to help you start well.
1: Be Warm
A proper warmup is so important, especially if your race is short! The shorter the race, the harder the start and the overall pace. Don’t let your body be surprised by the effort – get a warmup in that brings up your heart rate, wakes up the muscles, and gets your body primed for top performance.
Aim for at least 15-20 minutes of warm-up, starting easy then ramping up your power and heart rate so they’re close to race levels and you’ve begun to sweat. As a general rule: the shorter the race, the harder/longer the warmup.
For more on this topic, read Pre-Race Warmups on Zwift
2: Get In Early
The sooner you click to “Join the Event”, the closer to the front of the start group you will be placed. In a race of 50 riders or less this isn’t a big deal, but in a race of 100 or more it could mean the difference between grabbing the wheel of the front group or losing it!
So head to the start pens early. This gives you prime position to push hard at the front and create gaps, or if you think you’ll struggle to stay in the front group at the start it gives you more wheels to grab onto.
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 just once or twice if needed once 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.
4: Start Hard
New racers seem most surprised by just how hard the starts are. The first selection of every Zwift race happens in the initial 1-2 minutes of racing as stronger riders push the pace to try to drop as many hangers-on as possible. This hard start is typically more pronounced in flat races, while races with a big climb will have an easier start since riders know the big moves will happen on the uphill.
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.
5: Hold the Wheels
To make your start as easy as possible, stay out of the wind and on a wheel. That is: don’t be riding on the front of the group (in the wind). Keep your rider behind another rider so you benefit from the draft, which lets you move faster with less power.
Watch for gaps opening ahead of you. As riders on the front push hard to create a selection, gaps will open up, and riders left behind will lose the draft and fall off the group. Don’t let that be you! If you see a gap begin to open, hammer to close the gap if you’re able, then sit on those wheels and recover as much as possible.
For more on drafting, read “Drafting in Zwift: Power Savings, Tips, and Tricks“.
The Goal: Hang with the Front
The goal here is to make the front group selection. If you get dropped from the front pack by even 5 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.
Got Tips… or Questions?
Got more race start tips to share? Questions on how best to start a race? Comment below!