Zwift’s “Johnny Rocket” has earned that nickname for a reason. If Jonathan Giron is with the front group at the end of a race, he can shoot past them to take a podium or even a win. And he’s learned to do all he can to make it to that sprint. Sometimes that means waiting patiently in the draft, and other times it means shaking things up.
Jonathan is the founder of Team Finesse and one of the organizers of the “Finesse + REVO Puncheur Series Race.” He recently talked to us about his thoughts on Zwift racing, including how to hang with faster riders and how to stay motivated when you can’t.
Zwift: How long have you been racing on Zwift, and how did you get started?
Jonathan Giron: I’ve been racing on Zwift since spring 2016. After doing my first few races, I had come to the conclusion that Zwift racing was unrealistic and too hard. That was because I was trying to keep up with the likes of Tim Cartwright [and others who were Zwift’s top racers]. I literally would get dropped from the front pack time and time again.
This was also due to my lack of knowledge on how to draft and when to push the hills. Due to all this, my motivation to race dropped so I decided just to do workout mode until about 6 months later when I gave it a try again. This time around I rode as a C category rider and then quickly up to a B rider which felt much more realistic since that was more at my level of fitness.
Do you have experience racing outdoors? How does it compare to racing on Zwift?
JG: I raced outdoors during my college days as a collegiate C rider. In 2016 I did my first domestic road race after riding on Zwift all winter long. I came in 1st for the category 4/5 road race and continued through that season placing well. By end of the season I had upgraded to cat 3. I would say this is all thanks to using Zwift that previous winter.
As for how it compares, I would say it’s pretty close in my honest opinion when you are strictly talking about road races. The overall efforts are hard with lots of sustained power throughout.
As for crit racing in real life, Zwift does not prepare you for that if you strictly Zwift race. I found this out the hard way in the 3’s. Essentially the power is there on Zwift for the efforts but the back to back efforts are not close enough to prepare you outdoors. Outdoor crits you have to be able to recover in time for efforts over and over again for 30, 45, 60 minutes depending on your category. On Zwift at most you get a few spikes and then plenty of recovery or you get a long effort such as Box Hill. There is no route that forces you to do back-to-back efforts in such a short period of time for that long of a duration.
As for the bike handling/cornering, that's a given, but once you reach cat 3 and above you would have some level of proficiency at these. So all and all, I'd say the hardest transition for me from Zwift to outdoor crits is more the ability to repeat efforts with only 15-30 seconds in between each one.
Pro tip: Zwift’s “Crit Crusher” training plan features at least one workout per week focused on producing the repeated, strong “microbursts” Jonathan refers to above. Check it out under Training>Plans.
What’s your favorite Zwift race course and why?
JG: My favorite route has to be Figure 8 because it is a good balance of flats and hills. Since I am on the heavier side for Zwift racing, I stick to shorter hills. If you put me on Box Hill, I would stand no chance against the upper-level A’s.
Do you have any pre-race rituals? How about post-race?
JG: I honestly don’t have any race ritual aside from taking caffeine 20-30 minutes before and typically showering off. My girlfriend always finds it odd since I am just going to get sweaty riding but honestly, it’s a great way to clear the mind and warm up the muscles.
As for actual warmup I am literally one of the last ones on the bike before the race starts. I may get 3-5 minutes of actual warm up in on the bike if I am lucky.
For post-race the first thing I do is check all my data on Wattboard, ZwiftPower, and Xert. I love looking at data post-race, especially if I think I may have hit a PR. In addition, if I stream, I like to rewatch some of the hill efforts and the sprint at the end. I think examining race footage is a great way to get better at racing on Zwift.
You have a knack for doing well in races where you seem outmatched. How do you manage that?
JG: For Zwift racing I always pick races that are on flatter routes or lack any hills longer than Watopia’s Reverse KOM. I do occasionally do Volcano Climb as well since it has points at which I can recover. I think it’s very important to understand your strengths and weaknesses since selecting races that will suit you is a big thing.
Also, as everyone knows I am a huge “wheel sucker” in races. The only time I ever am in the front is on a climb or when going around a turn. I always start these 2-3 seconds early and keep a sustained hard effort the full duration. This is much easier than having to surge to match other riders. Plus, this way you let momentum take you into the hills and turns.
Lastly, streaming allows me to have more accountability. I hate being dropped on stream while other people are watching. That’s why I find it so motivating to keep on going even when I really want to drop.
What are some ways people can "race smart" on Zwift?
JG: As stated before, I think it is very important to know your strengths and weaknesses. When you race it’s important to be realistic on what you can and can’t do. If you just go in as hard as you can and expect to win, then you are in for a rude awakening.
Knowing when to pick it up within the pack and when to recover is extremely important. That’s where experience comes in. Once you learn a route really well, you have a good understanding of when to pick it up and where you can just sit in.
The same goes for the final pack sprint. I am extremely good at certain routes while others I still have difficulty knowing when to go. Typically, though, I find that right about 400-500 meters is a great spot to start your sprint and pop your powerUps.
Do you have any favorite workouts that help you in races?
JG: I actually hate doing indoor workouts. I do obviously do them throughout the winter and outdoor season though. If I had to say a workout that I find helps me the most it would be 15/15/15. This is 15 seconds at 150-175% [of FTP, or Functional Threshold Power], 15 seconds at 95%, and 15 seconds at 55%. You would do this for 10 minutes of intervals and then take a longer recovery and repeat again 1-2 times. This is good for both indoor and outdoor race training.
Pro tip: use Zwift’s workout creator to create a custom workout like Jonathan describes above.
What do you like most about Zwift racing?
JG: The ability to race and ride with people much stronger than myself. It’s very hard to find rides of this caliber locally, so being able to just log onto Zwift and join an event is great.
What do you dislike most?
JG: The downhills and turns on Zwift are not realistic. If there was some auto-braking involved on turns, this would make Zwift racing much more exciting because riders would need to accelerate out of the turns in order to stay in the pack.
What type of races do you do best in, and how do you try to make sure they go your way?
JG: I do best in flat or punchy races. In a flat race, it’s almost impossible to drop A riders so it always ends in a bunch sprint. As for punchy races I like to drop as many riders as I can in the first 15 minutes while I am fresh. From then on, I sit in the entire way.
As long as there is a rider who I know is strong and will make it to the end with me I do not feel I am in any danger. For example, if I am in the pack with riders such as Casey Schumm or Greg Leo then I am not worried if a few riders blast off the front. I know these two riders will always close it down if they feel it’s a threat so when they do go, I make sure to follow up within their draft. This secures my ticket to the finish with either a bunch sprint or small lead pack.
What's one thing you would tell new Zwift racers to help them perform their best?
JG: I think it’s best to find a race time you can do weekly. This way you get to know the racers in your category. After you get to know who you are up against, you can have a better gauge on who to follow and who may be out of your league.
Then when you do finish your race, base your results against riders you normally finish with. If you start beating riders who you normally lose to then that’s typically an improvement. It’s much better to do this than be set on what total placement you got. It can be discouraging looking at overall placement, especially when you are at the bottom half of your category. So, build those friendly rivalries and “Ride On!”
See “Johnny Rocket” in action in his Zwift race livestreams on the “Team Finesse - Streaming” Facebook page!