Are you new to Zwift? Then it can do no harm to get prepared (physically and mentally) for what is ahead. What you are about to experience isn’t particularly easy. In fact, you may well experience much higher intensities of effort than you normally do when you’re out on the road. And that’s good, especially if you want to make the best use of your limited training time. So take full advantage of this indoor videogame and get prepared to hit the (virtual) road fully-equipped.
Towel, fan(s), ventilation
Zwift is hard going. Prepare yourself for a sweaty pain cave experience. Spread a towel over your handlebars, put an electric fan in front of your bike, and create some kind of ventilation in the room. However gently you think you are going to train/race/recover: you are going to sweat. More than you expect or want to.
Put everything within your reach
While the idea of cycling indoors seems very practical (with food, drink and even the toilet nearby), Zwift makes sure you never get off the bike. You want to get all the gold stars available during a training session, and getting off the bike for two minutes during a race is absolutely not done. In fact, it’s pretty similar to being out on the road. Do you have a long training session in mind? Make sure you have enough drink within reach. Are you going to ride a race? A bit of extra energy can do no harm. So? Keep those glucose tablets and dates within arm’s reach!
Don’t/do choose a time trial bike
Time trial bikes are different animal within the bicycle kingdom. These machines have extra-efficient aerodynamics and stiffness—two important factors if you are to get up to the highest speeds and maintain them when racing on the flat. So it’s no surprise that time trial bikes also have a different status in the Zwift world too. But what does that mean?
We discovered this quite recently by accident. When riding a a time trial bike in Zwift, you cannot ‘draft’ other riders. This means that you can ride directly behind other Zwifters as much as you want, but you won’t get the resistance advantage you get with a normal bike. Time trial Zwift races will insist you ride a time trial bike, but remember to check which bike you have selected, as you are allowed to ride a time trial bike in most other events. These bikes will likely give you a big advantage in flat races, but hamper you on climbs. However, since you can’t hide in the bunch anyway, you may as well go out on your own…
Also, if your event or training allows PowerUps (see below), you will only be eligible for so-called large (250XP) or small bonuses (10XP) for your rider score while riding a time trial machine. If your aim is to raise your XP in order to unlock new in-game goodies, then stick with the time trial bike.
Wait to use your PowerUps
The PowerUp—among the true Zwift fanatics this is basically the same as cheating. When you pass under an arch (situated at start/finish, after a KOM or sprint) you will earn a PowerUp. You can cash in these bonuses by hitting the spacebar on your computer or clicking on the Ride On button on the app (or clicking on the screen icon, but good luck with that). You will either be 7kg lighter (the feather, great for climbing), 25% more aerodynamic (the helmet, great for descents) or gain a 50% drafting bonus (the truck, good for riding in the bunch).
But, be warned, once activated, your PowerUps are only active for 30 seconds. Also, you often receive them a little bit earlier that you actually need them, so apply them strategically, like when you’re at the end of your tether. Or don’t use them at all, like the puritans at The Prologue. Many races don’t allow them anyway.
Be prepared for the worst
Racing on Zwift is nothing more than an functional threshold test (FTP), according to one writer at The Prologue. In order to get ahead of the bunch at the start, make sure you hit around 500 watts just three seconds before the start time. And keep that up for as long as you can, until settling in to the highest power zone you can handle for the time you estimate the race will take. And then keep an eye on the other riders of course—there’s no need to bust a gut if you are in a group of five riders going at roughly the same pace. The rest of the race is a case of keeping up with your rivals and making sure you keep the highest levels of power you can (theoretically) handle for that length of time.
Usually your 20-minute, 30-minute or 1-hour power will provide a good idea of how “deep” you can go. There is literally no rest during a Zwift race, in that respect the races are tougher than those on the road. You can simply never keep your legs still and freewheel. It’s heavy stuff. So prepare for the worst. Or use these races as the ideal FTP training. And if you are in a group, don’t forget to leave a tiny bit of fuel in your tank for a sprint to the line. One veteran at The Prologue recently dropped from 10th to 4th in the final 200m of an old-guys Zwift race—mainly, he suspects, because the rest forgot to sprint.