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Racing

Race Recon: Whole Lotta Lava

on February 21, 2020

Watopia's Whole Lotta Lava route is a truly challenging race course, alternating laps of the Volcano Circuit CCW with climbs up the volcano. Riders with high watts may be able to drop some of the lighter climbers on the fast flat circuit, but the climbers will come back with a vengeance up the volcano climb.

A single "lap" of this route includes a counterclockwise trip around the volcano circuit followed by a climb to the top and a quick descent. Many races here are multi-lap events, so be sure to check your race details beforehand.

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 one of the world's top-ranked Zwift racers. Austrian Stefan Kirchmair is a former pro bike racer and the coach and founder of Kirchmair Cycling. He has generously shared some tips to help you get your best race result on the Whole Lotta Lava route!



Length: 7.6miles // 12.3km
Elevation Gain: 524' // 160m

#1: The Start

Stefan gives positioning advice for the very beginning of your race: "Try to start in front - or at least try to improve your position in the group as soon as the start kicks off." All of the smartest racers will be trying to do this, so the first 2-3 minutes will be very intense. Make sure you enter the start pens nicely warmed up and are ready for a hard effort as soon as the clock hits zero.

Stefan continues, "The first kick before turning right to the volcano is important. Don't lose too many positions here, but also don't waste all your power - you will need it later! As soon as you turn right and head over the bridge to the volcano, the first groups will form and gaps will open between them. Try to sit on fast wheels to make it up front as far as possible. On the first kilometer of the flat volcano circuit look to find a good group and recover a moment during the short switchback descent."

Riders will complete approximately 1-1/2 laps of the Volcano Circuit CCW before beginning the volcano climb. For most riders, it is wise to save your energy in this early portion so you can go harder on the climb.


#2: Ramp Into Volcano

200 meters long, ~5% grade

Positioning is important on this next quick climb, as Stefan explains. "After reaching the bottom of the short descent it is important to move forward again and prepare for the next hurdle: the ramp to Volcano Circuit banner! As soon as you turn right (not straight to Italian Villas) the road ramps up to take you into the volcano. Everybody will show their cards here for the first time, so try to be in the front positions and don't lose too many spots before entering the interior of the volcano."

The pace will stay high through the Volcano Circuit banner, so work to maintain your position and close any gaps which may open up ahead. Once the group exits the volcano it should calm down a bit. Take a breath, surf the wheels, and prepare for the climb just up the road.


#3: Volcano Climb

2.3 miles // 3.7km, 3.2% grade

The volcano climb is where the big moves will take place. It can be roughly divided into two parts - the first, slightly flatter portion followed by the second portion which is more steady and steep.

"After a little bump we reach the first section of the climb," Stefan explains. "Not very steep with 4-5% gradient, but still painful. You can smell the sweat in the air and everybody is getting nervous. Shortly before entering the volcano the road flattens out, which you won't recognize really. Inside the volcano it is only 0-1% gradient, but you can not really recover. Try to be in front, but not in first position, because drafting is essential on this faster portion of the climb!"

As soon as you leave the volcano, the second part of the climb begins. Try to sit in the draft and improve your position as much as possible. Stefan warns, "This part will be painful, as the finish seems to always be near! It's hard to see if the end coming, the road is turning constantly without any view ahead. But you still have the wooden bridge ahead, which is the last chance to get a breather before the final kick to the volcano KOM banner."

The steepest part of the climb is the final 200 meters, and this is a crucial point in the race as riders will attack hard up and over the top. Stefan gives us more advice: "As soon as the gradient kicks up to 6-8% you know it's time to go all-out to stay in the group over the top. BUT: save something for the short flat section after the banner (and probably a good powerup, too!) It is at least 500m flat on top before you begin the downhill. If you are in danger of losing your group, it's worth giving everything you have left in the tank to reach the tail of the group to have the draft in downhill."


#4: Volcano Descent

2.3 miles // 3.7km, -3.2% grade

The descent from atop the volcano should provide some solid recovery if you play it smart. Stefan says, "The volcano descent can be fantastic if you are in the draft of a large group and spinning easily to get the lactate out of your muscles. Be warned: the gradient is only 3-4% downhill, and some parts are flat or slightly uphill, so it is very difficult to reach the needed speed for the super-tuck position here."

If you are alone on the descent, look to get in the wheels of nearby riders so you can descend faster with less effort. Getting in with a group catching you from behind can be tricky on a fast descent, as Stefan explains: "The group will pass you with high speed. You will have to sprint and hope to grab the wheels, so keep an eye on the minimap and be prepared for a hard sprint if a group catches you from behind."


#5: Ramp Into Volcano

200 meters long, ~5% grade

After descending the volcano you will make your way along the flat circuit, then turn left once again to hit the ramp into the volcano. If this is your final lap, riders will be hitting this climb especially hard. Try to follow their wheels, but stay out of the wind - there's still a few hundred meters of slightly uphill road left to the finish line, and many racers blow up early on this finish!

If you have a feather powerup, this is a brilliant place to use it so you can conserve more energy for the final sprint.


#6: The Finish

250 meters,  ~2% average gradient

This is one of the most technical finishes in Zwift. Here's what Stefan has to say about it:

"The finish is once again inside the volcano and will show you how much power is left after the climb! There may be a short wait after entering the volcano, as the group wonders who will open the sprint. This can be a chance to come back to the front. As the gradient kicks up again for the last 200-300m the cards will be thrown down for the final showdown to the banner."

Many riders go too hard too early on this sprint since the distance to the line is difficult to gauge. If you can't practice the finish before your race, just work to hold the wheels of the front riders, then go all in as the road kicks up on the final left-hand turn.


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.

 

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