Race Recon: Watopia Hilly Reverse Route

Race Recon: Watopia Hilly Reverse Route

ON 13 gennaio 2020 by Zwift

The Hilly Reverse route is simply a reverse version of Watopia’s Hilly route. This loop was Watopia’s very first road, and its mix of punchy climbs, rollers, and flats have kept it a favorite among racers since the beginning.

Remember these top tips for Zwift racing (most apply outside as well!)

  1. Warm up because the start is a hard effort
  2. Use the draft to conserve energy whenever possible
  3. Attack every punchy climb to avoid being dropped
  4. Know the route so you can pace yourself, move to the front before important climbs, etc
  5. Save a useful powerup for the finish

What follows is a detailed look at key sections of this route with racing tips from an experienced Zwifter. Dutch rider Tom Gakes earned multiple national championship medals as an elite criterium specialist and tandem world cup racer. He is now dedicated to indoor cycling, racing for Bolt Race Team (BRT) on Zwift. With 450+ races under his belt, Tom’s knowledge of Zwift’s race routes and strategies is second to none. We know you’ll enjoy reading his tips for success on the Watopia Hilly Reverse route!

Length: 5.7miles // 9.1km
Elevation Gain: 354′ // 108m

Tom introduces the route for us:

Watopia Hilly Reverse is an interesting race course for several reasons. It has a bit of everything, but not a lot of flat roads. It’s draftable enough to keep a big group together since there are no really big climbs, but because it’s constantly up and down, there’s always the risk of the group splitting up. The course is hard enough to allow a breakaway if you are really strong, and also offers a lot of tactical options with three places to collect powerups (start/finish banner, sprint banner, and KOM banner) per lap.

#1: The Start

Although the biggest attacks will come on the KOM, be ready for a hard and fast start. Tom helps us get our bearings:

The start pens are located on the pier in downtown Watopia. You will take the right exit and immediately pick up your first powerup at the start/finish banner. The start is usually not flat out, but the real action starts right after the banner when the road slowly ramps up. It’s not very steep, so you can still benefit from the draft. But in the first lap, not all top riders will have taken their spot at the front yet, and some may not be warmed up. So this is a good section to put the hammer down and stretch the group before you get to the rollers and twists of the Esses.

#2: The Esses

0.8 miles // 1.3km, rolling terrain

“The Esses” is a section of twisty road full of short climbs and descents. “I like this section because it reminds me of one of my favorite training roads when I was racing IRL,” Tom says, “but also because an experienced Zwifter with good drafting skills can conserve a lot of energy here. The pace is always high in this section, and the group is always stretched. But typically the racing is not flat out, and except for the first lap, groups will usually stay together. But be careful, because when a team decides to go for it, top riders could be caught napping at the rear of the group!”

With three different banners per lap offering powerups, Zwifters should think strategically to maximize their advantage. Tom offers some powerup advice: “This is a good section to use your drafting powerup. Speeds may be higher at other points of the course, but this section is stretched out at high effort, and lowering your effort for 30 seconds may be helpful. If you have a feather powerup, you can either use it at the last and hardest climb of the Esses and hope for a new one at the sprint banner, or keep it for the reverse KOM section.”

#3: Sprint

180 meters, flat

Descend from the Esses and you’ll quickly arrive at the sprint which crosses the wooden JWB bridge. This sprint is short, straight, and fast as you hit it with a lot of speed from the descent.

Are you looking to bag the green jersey? Tom advises, “Make sure you start the timed section at the back of the group. Start sprinting and use your aero power up before you hit the green line on the road that marks the start. You want to go in with as much speed as possible because it’s over before you know it.”

Chasing the green jersey is different than chasing a race win, though. If you’re going for a race result, sprinting here may be the exact opposite of what you want to do! Tom explains, “If you aim for a race result, I wouldn’t recommend sprinting here. This is actually one of the very few places you could use to get some recovery. From the downhill exiting the Esses until the exit of Italian Villas is probably the longest recovery you can get on this course, so better enjoy it.”

#4: Rollers Out of the Italian Villas

500 meters,  ~2.5% average gradient

After the cobbles of Italian Villas, it’s time to get back into some climbing. Tom says, “Again, it’s not very steep, and the draft should help you to hang on to the group. But this section can be used to try to get a head start for the reverse KOM if you are unsure if you will be able to hang on, or put the hurt on the other riders to make sure everyone starts the reverse KOM section with tired legs, increasing the chances to break away.”

#5: Reverse KOM

1.6 miles // 2.5km, 1.8% average gradient

The main climb on the Watopia Hilly Reverse route is the timed reverse KOM section. This is where most of the action will happen, lap after lap. Tom shares his wisdom for performing well on this crucial portion:

After the bridge, you will see a gas station on your right. At the gas station, there’s a red dotted line on the road. I always try to be near the back of my group at this line, for two reasons. First, it increases my chance of taking the polka dot jersey for the fastest time on the sector, as I would only need to be near the front of the group at the KOM banner and not actually cross the line first. But more importantly, it helps me gain momentum on the first part of the climb building up for the steep section in the first right-hand corner. The climb starts with medium gradients where you can use the draft to move up from the back of the group to the front so you can start the very short 10% section in the right-hand corner at the front of the group, and with more speed than the riders drifting back.

Use your feather powerup here and put the hammer down, because the group will always split up. Fortunately for the non-climbers, this section is short. If you find yourself off the back, it’s not all over yet. The rolling roads coming up offer an opportunity for strong riders without the explosive uphill kick to get back to the group in front before the downhill starts.

The rolling roads are a good place to use your drafting powerup to relieve some pressure from the legs. If you have an aero powerup in the final lap, you will probably be better off saving it for the final sprint or for the downhill if you break away on the last uphill drag before the KOM banner.

#6 KOM Descent

0.6 miles // 1km, -5.5% average gradient

After you cross the KOM banner, put in a few more hard pedal strokes to get up to speed before entering recovery mode. Tom advises, “This descent is steep enough to really benefit from the super-tuck. But if you do, be careful of the flat section in the middle of the descent. Give it a big push here or you’ll lose a lot of speed. In the group, I usually prefer to soft-pedal to get the best recovery. You hardly have to apply any power to stay in the group, but pedaling keeps the blood flowing through the muscles.”

#7: The Finish

~300 meters, flat

Most races on this route end in a pack sprint, so knowing the finish, timing your effort, and having strong sprint power will all be important if you’re gunning for a win.

Tom walks us through the final meters of the race:

After you’ve finished the official KOM descent, it continues to go down in steps for a bit. This will keep the speed high and gives a solo breakaway a very hard time against a chasing peloton. But it also makes you enter the final sprint at very high speed, so you will probably want to start the sprint a bit further out than usual. But be careful not to blow up, because after the last turn the descending roads will become flat and the increased resistance will hit the tired legs extra hard, almost making it feel like an uphill sprint.

Wait until just the right time to make your move. Pop a useful powerup, and give it all you’ve got to the line. Ride on!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this Race Recon. The goal of this series is to explain the features that make each Zwift route uniquely challenging for racers. Looking for more? See our complete list of Zwift Race Recons.