Want to up your racing game? Confused about the different types of races and how to ride them? We're breaking down the most common Zwift race types to help you out.
The Race: Circuits and Rolling Courses
Criterium races outside can be chaotic. Riders surge out of every corner, ease up, then surge again. Each short lap might have a hill where attacks can fly.
We don't have to worry about cornering on Zwift, but some races can follow this surge-and-recover pattern. They're often on circuits or rolling terrain.
What Makes a Good Circuit Racer?
Most circuit courses on Zwift will be largely flat with some very short, punchy climbs. They tend to favor riders who:
- Are good at sprinting and short bursts of raw power
- Like to attack more than ride steady
- Can recover well after repeated surges
We'll take a look at some tips to help anyone have their best race on this type of course. This advice also works for courses with small, rolling hills.
Examples of short circuit courses include:
- Watopia's Volcano Circuit, Volcano Circuit CCW, and Jungle Circuit
- London's Classique
- Richmond Rollercoaster
- New York City's LaGuardia Loop and The 6 Train
- Yorkshire's Duchy Estate and Queen's Highway
- Crit City's The Bell Lap and Downtown Dolphin
Examples of courses with rolling terrain include:
- Watopia's Flat Route
- Greatest London Flat
- New York City's Astoria Line 8, Gotham Grind, and Park Perimeter Loop
How to Race on Circuit Courses
Here's some advice to get the best out of circuit races, provided by experienced Zwift racers.
Race the lead-in: If the starting pens aren't located on the loop you'll be racing, your event will start with a "lead-in" to get you to the circuit. This is not a warm-up. It's part of the race! (Unless the event description says otherwise, of course.) It also may add some distance and elevation you weren't expecting, so check the details for your route to see how long and hilly the lead-in is. Once you're on the circuit, a counter at the top will tell you the total number of laps and how many are left to go.
Be ready for attacks whenever the road goes up: Maybe it doesn't feel like much of a hill normally, but it will at race time! This is your chance to smash the pack to pieces. Most people won't win glory in a solo breakaway on this terrain, but groups will split more than in a purely flat race. Take note of where surges happen each lap, and where the group might get tired.
Rick Barbera says: "If feeling good, attack it with an 80% effort. Goal is not to get away but to split the field again. If you go out too hard, no one jump with you, and the 'blob' will swallow you up, leaving you open to a counterattack. If someone else beats you to the gun and attacks too hard and gets a gap, encourage the group to chase and when you catch counter it with an 80% effort."
Take the kick out of the kickers: If you hurt on punchy hills, there are some tricks to make them more manageable. Getting as much speed as possible into the base can help carry you up. Or you can "sag climb" by starting a hill at the front of the pack and easing your way back, allowing you to climb just a little slower than everyone else.
Hywel Davies says: "One of the simplest tricks with the kicker courses is to stay at the back of the group and accelerate through as you hit the bottom, this means you are overtaking on the bottom of the climb, hanging on and still in the pack by the top. With a relatively weak 15 sec and 1 min power, I have to do this to hang on in the fast league races and can at least then recover rather than need to chase. Works well on Duchy Estate, Gotham Grind, London Classique, and to some extent Innsbruck, but need a bit more effort for longer there."
Eugene Chan says: "On ramps, I make my way to the front beforehand and either sag if it's really short or stay ~3rd wheel if it's a little longer. I always keep pedaling when cresting a little longer than everyone else to ensure I get back into a safe position, but then I filter back to allow myself some recovery."
Don't give up: If you do get dropped from the front, try to group up with other chasers and work together. Use the draft to pull others along and then recover.
Sean Evans says: "I take my turn at the front and try and catch a group ahead if they're within 20 seconds and not pulling away. It's quite a good technique as your fellow riders think you are attacking so they respond. It only takes about 30% of the riders in a group to start pushing and you find the whole group starts to gain."
Choose an aerodynamic bike and wheelset: They will be fastest. You may not want to pick the heaviest options if hills give you a hard time.
Read our Garage Guide for tips on picking the best bike and wheelset for your event.
If your circuit has short laps, you may have several chances to get a PowerUp. It's still best to save useful ones for the moments when you really need them. A Helmet Aero Boost is always strong in a sprint finish, and racers often hold them until the end. It also can help you sustain an attack or catch riders who got away on a short climb. The Feather Lightweight PowerUp works well on steep ramps. The Truck Draft Boost PowerUp will help you get more relief from the draft. The Breakaway Burrito PowerUp can help you attack off the front. And the Invisibility PowerUp can help attackers sneak away before other racers realize they're gone.
Now you know the tricks of circuit racing on Zwift and are prepared for the punchy kickers and rollers that often come with them. Have fun attacking your next race!