How to Start a Zwift Race: 5 Tips

How to Start a Zwift Race: 5 Tips

Much has been written about racing on Zwift, including posts like How to Race on ZwiftGet 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.

First 4 minutes of a B race.

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.

A dangerous gap!

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.

Happy racing!

Got Tips… or Questions?

Got more race start tips to share? Questions on how best to start a race? Comment 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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Gregory S Harvey
Gregory S Harvey
1 year ago

Three times I’ve seen the word ‘selection’; should this be ‘separation’?

Chris
Chris
1 year ago

Selection is correct. A selection is when a split occurs and the stronger riders break free at the front. Watch a race like Paris Roubaix, riders constantly talk about ‘making the selection‘ on key parts of the course, ergo getting in the front group when it splits. 😊

naan
naan
1 year ago

Gaps right in front of you are one thing, but the really tough ones are gaps further ahead, especially at the start where the group often gets strung out before the blobs start forming. If you’re not paying attention, by the time you notice the gap isn’t going to close itself, you’re going to have to make a much bigger effort to close the gap yourself, rinse and repeat. So yeah, start as fast as you possibly can, as this of course isn’t an issue near the front of the pack. I would really like a neutralized start option for… Read more »

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 year ago
Reply to  naan

A neutral start would just move the initial push 30 or 60 seconds into the race; I don’t think it would really change the dynamics of the start much.

naan
naan
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Accelerating to race pace takes much less of an effort when starting from a compact blob at 30 km/h (or whatever) vs a standing start, making it more difficult to drop others with a maximal start, so it seems like a waste of effort and thus less likely.

(Of course it can also just be a matter of habit, I’m most used to bunch races on the track that generally start with a neutral lap.)

Guy
Guy
1 year ago
Reply to  naan

Most real world road races have a neutralised start so this is a worthwhile suggestion. For those novices who neglect a warm up it would at least give them a little prep time before the flag dropped.

Neal Fleenor
Neal Fleenor
1 year ago

Thanks for this article, Eric. My chance of EVER winning a race just got that much smaller. LOL!

Aoi Niigaki
Aoi Niigaki
1 year ago

Knowing when to do drop the wheel in front. This is such a hard one because that lead group is going to be riding well above category limits for the first 2-3 minutes. Unfortunately, some of that lead group are still going to keep riding well above category limits for the whole race, especially in C and D cats. You’ve got to know the point at which hanging on is going to be impossible and you have to drop back to a group doing a sustainable pace. It’s a difficult thing to do because you’re always thinking, “if I can… Read more »

Guy
Guy
1 year ago
Reply to  Aoi Niigaki

I think the start is where you need to be aware of what category of rider is up the road if possible. In a mixed ability race there’s no point in killing yourself to stay with A cats if you’re a C. Use the rider list and camera angle to assist your decision whether to try to hang on or drop back. As you imply, riders can start too hard and compromise their entire race.

tempocyclist.com
1 year ago

How to ride a Zwift race in 3 easy steps:

– Crank up 200% FTP off the start line
– Hang on hammering as hard and as long as possible
– Blow up and limp home over the finish

🙂

Rory Lade
Trusted Member
Rory Lade (@rlade1)
1 year ago

Worst part is blowing yourself up because you are trying to hang on the lead group. Just to find out in the end who you were trying to stay with was racing out of class. Racing C and some of these guys are averaging 3.8-4. By time you figure it out you are gassed.

TJH
TJH
1 year ago
Reply to  Rory Lade

And by the time you are able to have a shot at winning C, you are exceeding category limits, are bumped to B and never be close to winning a race again (without sandbagging).

Boy, do I love Zwift racing :’)

Pablo Gomez
Pablo Gomez
1 year ago
Reply to  TJH

I felt so related by you comment man. My first race I end up 3rd in far C (zwiftpower ranking) just to find out I now have to race in cat B

Adam Beevers
Adam Beevers
9 months ago
Reply to  Rory Lade

My experience exactly. I can keep up for a while and then suddenly they decide to turn on the aferburners and suddenly put 5 mins into me.

Hugh
Hugh
9 months ago
Reply to  Rory Lade

A lot of my recent races have been E (or open) class, which clouds things even more. How many guys do I let go up the road and how much do I keep in the tank? Really, FTP seems to be the best measure to me of measuring effort.

james ginn
james ginn
1 year ago

Doesn’t wattage depend on your weight ?

Adam Beevers
Adam Beevers
9 months ago

What I want to know is why I always get gapped in the corners no matter what my tactic, and why my avatar never holds the group line in the corners?

Michel van Dasler
Michel van Dasler
7 months ago
Reply to  Adam Beevers

Same here! When riding a corner in a group of 10 there’s always 9 guys holding each others wheel + me 2 meters on the outside eating wind all of a sudden. I can’t get it figured out how to stay in the group…

Chris G
Chris G
4 months ago

It may or may not be true – the delight of virtual reality – what you see isn’t necessarily what someone else sees – your avatar shows up with the correct kit on your screen, but for all you know to everyone else you’re riding naked! The same with positioning – it may be down to the way zwift positions and draws things (we may of course be really off to one side and going further around a corner)…

Stephane
Stephane
4 months ago
Reply to  Adam Beevers

Last week i did a race and we were like 6 riders in the front peloton, on the ranking board i was 1st but in the peloton my avatar was showing in the middle… it was weird.

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