Krystle Simpson’s favorite races are the ones where all categories share the spotlight.
She has participated in more than 400 events in her three years on Zwift. Those include more than 20 races called “AHDR The Chop” or “The Lamb Chop Race.” These "handicap" or "chase" races have a different format than most races on Zwift. (Another long-standing example is “ZHR Hare and Hounds.”) Racers enter categories based on their ability, and each category group sets off separately.
But there’s a twist: Everyone races each other for the win. The groups are staggered in reverse order so that they’re chasing each other down. First the D category sets off, then the C category, then the Bs, and finally the As. Their goal is to catch the groups in front while staying ahead of the ones behind, and then be the first person to cross the line. Each group’s start is carefully timed to try to give anyone - from any category - a chance at victory.
Learn more about this style of race by reading "All About Handicap Racing on Zwift"
Krystle has a few Chop podiums under her belt as a C rider! She recently let us in on her race strategy and what she enjoys about these group handicap races.
Zwift: How did you get started riding and racing on Zwift?
Krystle Simpson: Many people have a similar story to mine: I’ve been cycling for about 10 years, but with a baby on the way my husband Ben knew I wouldn’t get out on the bike much. He purchased a Wahoo KICKR and subscribed to Zwift (under protest from me), but it’s turned out to be one of the best investments we’ve made.
Ben and I quickly became involved with AHDR (Aussie Hump Day Ride) and joined the leadership team. I’m proud to now be one of the Captains of the AHDR Ladies racing team, “The Purple Armadas,” who have over 50 ladies actively racing on Zwift. I’m also one of the C grade Chop leaders. [The “leaders” in The Chop give each category a beacon to gather around and encouragement toward their goal.]
Krystle leading an AHDR ride
Do you have any outdoor racing experience? If so, how does it compare to Zwift racing?
KS: I’ve raced MTB (mountain biking), crits and duathlons, but only at an amateur/club level. Things like drafting, tactics, positioning, knowing the courses, knowing your opponents – they all play a role in both Zwift and IRL (in real life) racing, but how you apply these is different.
What do you like most about races like The Chop?
KS: With handicap races like Chop, you have the chance to race against all grades, and the handicaps level the playing field. Whether you’re an A grade racer or D grade racer, your “grade” can win. There aren’t many formats where you get that chance. I also love the sense of teamwork, even though you’re still in it for yourself, there’s a collective drive to do well as a team (C grade Chop are the champions though, just saying).
What is your typical strategy for a "Hare and Hounds" or "Chop" style race? How is it different from the way you'd race a normal mass-start event?
KS: No matter what race I’ve done, Zwift or IRL, it’s always fast out of the pen. I’m prepared to launch hard and back off as needed, rather than trying to chase down the pack.
I try to group up quickly on Chop, balancing wanting to take my turn pushing on the front, but knowing when I need to sit in and recover. I have to push harder on the rises, so I will ensure I’ve settled mid-pack and lift my pace on the approach to a climb to ensure I don’t get dropped.
How do you know when it's time to work with your group and when it's time to go for the win?
KS: Most grades on Chop will encourage teamwork until the last 1-2 laps, depending on the course. A bunch will always be faster than a solo rider. I race with my grade, and when there is an attack, I am ready to go. If a chasing grade starts to catch my bunch early, I will lift my pace and try to jump on their wheel. If there is no attack or chasing grade and it’s just my “team,” I will work with them until about 500 meters to go, and go for a long sprint (and hopefully drop a sneaky aero PowerUp!)
Racing at Eastern Creek Raceway
What’s your favorite Zwift race course and why?
KS: Volcano Circuit CCW has a great mix of flats and rises, and is a perfect distance for crit/ handicap style races. There are lots of places to launch attacks and the final sprint, being uphill, is an advantage to a lighter rider like me.
Learn more: read the Volcano Circuit CCW Race Recon
If you could invent a Zwift PowerUp, what would it be?
KS: I know Zwift tries to keep the PowerUps “realistic” but would love a Teflon PowerUp, to slide past when you are stuck on someone’s wheel that is falling out of the group.
Do you have any favorite workouts that help you in races?
KS: One of my recent favorites is the Zwift Academy 2019 #7 VO2max Development workout. I really love the high-intensity ones. It’s hard and it’s challenging, but that’s what it’s designed to do.
What's one thing you would tell new Zwift racers to help them perform their best?
KS: Practice drafting. You can do this in group rides and races. Learn how much power you need to stay in the draft, and how much you need to break free of it. Also, to quote a great friend of mine, “We’re not racing for sheep stations!” Race hard, challenge yourself, but remember to have fun.