Claudia Behring first came to Zwift as a triathlete who didn’t think about virtual racing. She didn’t know there were races on Zwift until she took part in the Canyon//SRAM Zwift Academy in the fall of 2017. But once she tried her first race, she was hooked!
By early 2018, she had earned the title of Zwift National Champion for the United States of America. She went on to take second place in two separate live CVR World Cup League finals held on Zwift that year. This spring, she raced in the KISS Super League on the Zwift All-Stars team, which placed first on the overall podium. This race series included several professional cycling teams and finished on April 9.
She’s also an experienced road and triathlon racer. Claudia has won both the ITU Long Course World Championships and the USA Triathlon Long Course National Championships.
Claudia spoke with us about her top tips for Zwift racing, her experiences as a female competitive cyclist, and the workouts she uses to build her race fitness.
Zwift: Tell me about your outdoor racing experience and how it compares to racing on Zwift.
Claudia Behring: Outdoors, I race as a category 2 on the road. I started racing outdoors in 2017 then focused more on Zwift racing in 2018 and am looking to focus more on outdoor racing in 2019. As a category 2 cyclist, I can race some of the big races with pros in real life, so I will be able to compare my experiences there versus racing against them in the Super League races.
I would say that Zwift racing gives me an incredible base and top end fitness, and I have seen huge gains in my 1 to 5-minute power with all of this racing on Zwift. But drafting in Zwift is entirely different than IRL (in real life) – and I feel like positioning is definitely more difficult IRL since I can’t go through people!
What’s your favorite Zwift race course and why?
CB: I enjoy the Watopia Figure 8 course because it can get interesting with the KOMs (King of the Mountains) in there, and it really shows a person’s fitness because the course almost always is painful at the end with a late breakaway or sprint off.
If you could invent a Zwift powerup, what would it be?
CB: If I could invent a powerup, it would reduce everyone else’s power by at around 10%. I realize that other people could use this against me too. But I am experienced enough to know how to not get dropped. I think.
Do you have any pre-race rituals? How about post-race?
CB: Prerace, I always make sure I eat something a couple hours beforehand. And have some chews or something sugary in case I feel like I am fading or need a pick me up in the race. Other than that, no crazy rituals. I am not even consistent on my warm-ups. Ha! A
Postrace, I am fairly religious on doing a 10-minute cooldown. And then having a protein shake right away and a tall glass of water.
Do you have any favorite workouts that help in Zwift races?
CB: Well I am a big fan of 40/20s (repeats of 40 seconds hard, 20 seconds rest) or 30/30s (repeats of 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds rest). I've done up to thirty 30/30s in a row without any breaks. Wicked hard session and takes a bit of mental strength to get through it. It is just like Zwift racing, though. You settle in and then attack or someone else attacks… great for getting more comfortable with being uncomfortable.
You’re a strong sprinter. If you’re wanting a Zwift race to come down to a sprint, how do you ride?
CB: Haha – thanks for the compliment. I actually prefer winning a race from a breakaway. But that doesn’t happen as often as I would like. I rarely start a race and think that I want it to come down to a final sprint. More risk this way and while I can hold over 11 watts a kilogram for 15 seconds, that hardly wins most races against the guys. But I like to stay as close to 4th wheel the entire race because believe it or not, Zwift positioning matters as much as it does when racing IRL.
In that case, how do you try to win from a breakaway?
CB: Winning from a breakaway is similar but different. You need to sit in mostly until it is your time to pounce. You always need to know the course ahead of time and have a couple of places in mind where you could potentially break the elastic from the peloton and solo to the line.
And you always reassess as you are in the race based on how you are feeling. Some days you may not feel like you have it in you to solo the last 5k to the line and decide to try at 1K instead. And other days you want to gamble and go even sooner. Breaking away and trying to solo to the line takes guts. And sometimes the biggest risks have the biggest rewards!
Do you approach women-only races differently than mixed-gender races? If so, how?
CB: When racing in the Super League races, I approached those the same as mixed-gender races because those women could put out power as good as the A category men.
When doing women’s races, most times we are all in the same category and there are a lot of different abilities. 40 women doing a race that can all put out that kind of power is not yet a regular occurrence in Zwift races. Most races have just a handful of A category women racers and most of those ladies I have raced against. So, I know their strengths and if they have any weaknesses. I am constantly thinking while racing them of how I can win the race.
What challenges have you faced as a female racing cyclist, both on the road and on Zwift? How have you dealt with them?
CB: Racing outside and on Zwift, some races just simply do not have enough competition or enough ladies in the peloton. And a lot of races outside have smaller prize pools for the ladies, most times because fewer women show up.
I wish there were also more opportunities for women to turn pro with equal pay to that of the men and as many women in the pro pelotons as that of men. I also wish there were better coverage of women’s bike racing, especially here in the USA. I feel that if women’s racing was easier to watch, more ladies would be interested in racing.
If any woman ever has any questions about racing, I am always open to talk. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made as it’s amazing how riding a bike can give my life a sense of purpose and fulfill my competitive nature.
For women who want to race on Zwift but are unsure about it, what advice would you give them?
CB: Race! What have you got to lose? IRL I have to pay to register for each race and most times the prize money for first place pretty much covers just the cost of registering. In Zwift, to race, it is included with your monthly fee and you have nothing to lose by racing. Take a chance. It is way more exciting than doing your 2 x 20-minute threshold intervals and on top of all of that, there is a whole close-knit racing community on Zwift. You might just make friends with ladies you race against and with from around the world.
What's one thing you would tell new Zwift racers (of any gender) to help them perform their best?
CB: If you want to be good at Zwift racing, just like IRL, you need to know the course. Know not to be off the back on the little rollers and climbs. Know what your strengths are and how you can use them to potentially win the race. And believe in yourself. Zwift races are hard and you will question if you are strong enough to win. You have to believe you can win the race first before it will become a reality.