Racing is a big reason for many people joining Zwift. In this article we will explain what Zwift racing is, how it works, and what to expect in your first race. We’ll also give you some tips and tricks to help you get a good result!
Finding Zwift Races
There are lots of Zwift races everyday, making it easy to find something that fits your schedule and ability. There are several ways to find races – the best are either on the Zwift Companion App or Zwiftpower. Zwiftpower also allows you to see rankings of who you will be racing against.
Although you can find races on the Zwift App itself we find the companion app easier to navigate. Once you find a race, sign up on the Zwift Companion App by clicking the + sign next to your chosen category (more on that below). Once you’ve done it will be added to your calendar and Zwift will notify you 30 minutes beforehand.
Zwift Race Categories
To cater for different abilities most Zwift races offer a range of categories. These range from A to D as well as separate women’s races.
To know which category you should enter you need to know your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and your weight. Divide your FTP by your weight in Kilograms. The resulting number (known as W/kg) will tell you which category to enter. Generally anything above 4 W/kg is Category A, 3.2-3.9 is B, 2.5-3.2 is C, and 1-2.5 is D.
Your FTP is the maximum watts you can hold for an hour, and is a popular measure of cycling fitness. If you don’t know your FTP Zwift has some FTP tests you can take that will calculate it for you. Your FTP will then be updated by Zwift as you race, train or just ride.
Make sure to enter the right category. Too hard and you might find yourself dropped very early on. Too easy you are likely to find yourself penalised or excluded from results for cheating.
In order to be included in the official results you’ll generally need either a power meter or turbo trainer with inbuilt power measurement, and in some cases a heart rate monitor as well.
Types of Zwift Races
There are several different types of Zwift races, and then many other elements of a race to consider. Pay attention to these when picking races to give yourself the best chance or to meet training needs.
The official types of races are standard races, time trials (TT) and team time trials (TTT). In standard races you all start together (or at least with others in your category) and you can draft to save energy (see more on this below in The Race section).
For time trials you are on your own, no drafting, no group start and no sprint at the end. However, you can use time trial bikes, which are more aerodynamic. Time trials are more about who can sustain the highest speed over the course. Team time trials are similar, except that you have some team mates you can draft – but you can’t draft other teams that you are competing against.
Aside from those three race types, there are other things to look out for when selecting a race. These include:
Some Zwift races start all categories at the same time, while other races stagger them so categories are separate. Neither is better than the other, but they do have different benefits. If you are strong relative to your current category, then starting all together is a great way to see if you can keep up with riders in the next category up in preparation for entering races in that higher category. However, if you are towards the lower end of your category, it may be better to choose staggered starts since the stronger riders may be able to draft higher categories and your chances of making it to the end in the main group for your category will be diminished.
Some races are very flat, some are very hilly. Since drafting has a bigger impact when you are going faster, sticking with other riders will be easier on flat races (particularly if you are heavier). However, flat races tend to end in a big sprint, so if your sprint isn’t your strong point try entering a hilly race and see if you can solo to the line!
Length is fairly straight forward. Longer races tend to happen at a steadier pace, with most riders aiming to save energy by drafting. Generally on the longer races you will spend most of the time 5-20% below your FTP. Shorter races tend to be more manic and you’ll find yourself at or above your FTP for much of the time.
Zwift Races: Race Day!
Finally, the day has arrived. You’ve picked the perfect race, got a good night’s sleep and are ready to pit yourself against Zwift’s finest.
As long as you’ve signed up for the race on the Zwift Companion App or Zwift itself joining is easy: just go onto Zwift before your ride and select any course, once it’s time to join the race Zwift will notify you and you can just click ‘Join’ to be taken to the start line.
The earlier you join the event the further forward you start. In smaller races it doesn’t make a huge difference, but when there are lots of people taking part you don’t want to be stuck at the back for the start.
Make sure you sign onto Zwift at least 15 minutes beforehand to get a proper warm up – the starts are fast (as explained below)!
Zwift Races: The Start
Zwift race starts are not like outside cycling race starts – there is no easy rollout. If you have ever done cyclocross then it is more similar to those starts. Basically everyone revs up theirs watts before the start and sprints out the gate. Expect to hold 150% of your FTP for the first 30 seconds to make sure you stay with the front group. After 30 seconds to a minute it starts to calm down and you’ll be back to FTP or below.
There are some good training sessions on Zwift to deal with these fast starts, but if it’s your first go just make sure you start putting out higher watts 5-10 seconds before the start.
Zwift Races: The Race
So, the manic start is out the way and you’ve settled down in the pack. Now it’s all about conserving energy for the end of the race. Drafting is key here. On flat ground drafting means you need to put 25%-30% fewer watts to go the same speed. On climbs this is lower (but still saves you some energy) and higher on downhills.
Try to stay in the pack so that you get the benefits of drafting and save energy. However, you don’t want to be towards the back (especially if it’s a large pack) as the reaction time once someone starts pushing at the front or when you hit a climb can mean you have lots of ground to make up.
Watch out for upcoming climbs – other riders will tend to push harder on climbs. You should expect to have to up your effort to stay with the pack.
If other riders try to get away from the group (and they will) keep an eye on them, but don’t immediately chase them down. Most of these breakaways fail (particularly early in the race) so you don’t want to spend a lot of energy chasing them. However, if it’s a few riders breaking away and they look strong, then maybe it’s worth trying to go with them – working out what should do will come with experience.
Zwift Races: The Finish
Once you get to the final kilometers it’s time to start thinking about how you can cross the line first. In these final kilometers there will be more breakaway attempts. You should pay close attention to these and try to follow any that look particularly strong, or even better sit on someone’s wheel as they follow them. With these breakaways and the finish line approaching the pace will increase and the peloton may start spreading out, so make sure you are close to the front.
The final sprint will generally start ramping up with 500m to go (but this does vary depending on route and group size). Don’t go all out straight away, it’s unlikely you will be able to sustain your sprint for 500m. Ramp up the power and try to follow wheels until 300m-200m to the line and then unleash everything you have.
Zwift Races: Results
Once you’ve crossed the line results from the Zwift race will appear on screen. These aren’t always final results as riders get filtered out or category adjustments are made. After the race head over to Zwiftpower to see the full final results and how they impacted on your rankings.