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: Hilly Races
When the road turns uphill, the intensity turns up in Zwift races. Hilly races feature significant climbs - and often descents. Even if you’re not riding up a mountain, small to medium hills can pack a big punch.
These climbs can push you to your limits and help you get the best out of yourself. They’re also great places to break away and go for glory!
What Makes a Good Racer in the Hills?
Races with short or medium hills tend to favor Zwifters who:
- Are good at medium-length efforts, often at VO2 Max
- Have high watts per kilogram
- Pace themselves well
- Can attack or sprint at the end of a big effort
Maybe this describes you, or maybe you think you’re more of a flatlander. Either way, read on and we’ll help you bring out your inner climber!
For tips on racing long hills, check out our guide to mountain races.
Examples of hilly courses include routes with short hills:
- Watopia’s Hilly Route, Hilly Route Reverse, and Sand and Sequoias
- Richmond’s 2015 UCI Worlds Course and Cobbled Climbs
- Yorkshire’s 2019 UCI Worlds Harrogate Circuit and Tour of Tewit Well
Routes with medium hills:
- Watopia’s Volcano Climb and Whole Lotta Lava
- London Loop, London Loop Reverse, Greater London Loop, Greatest London Loop, and London’s Surrey Hills
- New York City’s Grand Central Circuit, Rising Empire, The Highline, Lady Liberty, and Knickerbocker
- France’s Casse-Pattes and Roule Ma Poule
How to Race on Hilly Courses
We asked some experienced Zwift racers for advice on how you can ride your best hilly race. Here’s what they had to say.
Go Full Gas On Short Hills: For hills that will take you less than 5 minutes to race, it can be worth it to go all-out. Heavier riders can climb well this way. If you’re a lighter rider and there’s a descent coming up, you may want to save a little energy so you don’t get dropped downhill.
David Brady: “I used to try and keep something in the tank and not kill myself on the shorter, sprint-type climbs the first times up. However I have now realised that I can use the downhill and flat bits to recover and go all in each time. First and last times are normally the quickest, 2nd and 3rd laps are normally ‘easy enough’ so can kill yourself the first time and then use the middle of the races to recover.”
Tom Gakes: “On the shorter climbs, you really just need to sprint uphill. Every climb is a max effort. In between climbs you should do as little as possible to get maximum recovery.”
Pace Yourself On Medium Hills: Tom Gakes: “Box Hill and NY KOM fall in between the long and short climbs. This makes pacing really difficult and it requires experience. You will have to find out (and mess up a few times) yourself before you can find the best pacing strategy for you on those climbs. Yorkshire is interesting because it doesn't have big climbs. The KOM is pretty similar to the Watopia KOM, so full effort. But then there's a lot of sections of road that are not really steep, but they are uphill and might force you to go over FTP for extended periods of time.”
Draft When Flat, Surge When Steep: Hills on Zwift are still draftable at higher speeds, which usually happen on flatter sections. Attacks are more likely to stick on steep parts. Want to catch other racers off-guard? Try waiting to attack until just after the hardest section.
Lennert Teugels: “I generally attack on 2 criteria and that's 1 it has to be steep enough (7-8% or more) and 2 (especially for shorter climbs) better be not the first attacker, you have to attack after a very hard moment. That's also how I won the Premier Division in Yorkshire. Everyone expected an attack on the Pot Bank wall steepest part of 17% but we already hit around 10 w/kg there for about 40 sec, you just can't ride away there. After that, just at the moment everyone sits down, that's the moment you want to pick.”
Tom Gakes: “Believe it or not, I treat the Volcano as a flat section of road with a short climb at the end. So sit in the draft and when the gradient goes double digits, sprint for the banner and keep sprinting until you actually hit the downhill.”
Hold Power Over the Top: Don’t let up right when the gradient does. If you keep pushing until you’re at speed on the descent, you could drop some racers who are struggling - or grab onto the back of a strong group.
Know the Finish: Is the finish line at the top of the hill? On flat ground? After a descent? A flat finish might end in a traditional sprint. A descent gives racers time to recover and regroup, and it’s harder for an attacker to stay away. A hilltop finish means you won’t get a rest, and it could go to a sprint or a breakaway.
Tom Gakes: “If you are a sprinter, you will want to do just enough to hang on to your group up the climbs if the finish is not at the top. For shorter climbs, this could be a sub-max effort. If you are not a good sprinter, you will want to drop the other riders. For a long climb, you will want to give another max effort just before the top if that's the finish, but if you have to go down again it's useless to try to break away from the group just before the top so you won't do the extra effort.”
Lennert Teugels: “I really have no sprint. If you’re a little bit more of a puncheur instead of pure climber, (the type of finish) can make a difference. Then you can try just to hang on and sprint if it flattens out. While I will have to drop all the others on the climb, regardless of the finish.”
Choose Your Gear Wisely: On longer and steeper climbs, lightweight frames and wheels will give you an advantage. But on shorter and shallower climbs, or routes with a lot of flat ground to cover, aerodynamic gear usually still gives you the fastest time. Can’t decide? Pick your frame and wheelset based on where you need the most help, or alternatively, where you can make a winning move.
On climbs, the obvious choice is a Lightweight Feather PowerUp. But hilly routes can give you good opportunities for other PowerUps. If the finish is flat or the gradient eases up, the Aero Helmet PowerUp will give you the best boost in the sprint. The Draft Truck is a good choice for flat sections and shallow climbs. The Heavyweight Anvil will help you quickly drop down descents - just don’t use it going up a hill!
The tips in this guide will help you crush the climbs when you hit the hills. Have fun in your next hilly race!