Zwift Race Types: Mountain Climbs

on January 05, 2022


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: Mountain Races

Going up? Racing in the mountains means you’ll do a lot of climbing with very little rest. This takes some of the same skills as a time trial, like knowing how to pace yourself and holding your power steady for a long time.

These races are a challenge, but getting to the top after your best effort is sweet satisfaction. Then you can zoom down the descent, either for a ride to the finish line or a blissful cooldown.

What Makes a Good Racer in the Mountains?

Mountain races tend to favor Zwifters who:

  • Are good at long, sustained efforts around FTP (functional threshold power)
  • Have high watts per kilogram
  • Pace themselves well
  • Can recover from surges without dropping power too low
  • Can raise their power at the end of a long effort

You don’t have to match this list to be good at mountain races, though. Keep reading, and we’ll help you climb your best!

The Routes

Examples of mountainous courses include routes with medium mountains:

  • Watopia’s Mountain Route, Muir And The Mountain, and Three Sisters
  • Innsbruck’s 2018 UCI Worlds Course Short Lap, Lutscher, and Lutscher CCW

Routes with long mountains:

  • Watopia’s Road to Sky, Tour of Fire and Ice, Quatch Quest, Four Horsemen, and Über Pretzel
  • France’s Ven-Top and La Reine

How to Race on Mountainous Courses

Here’s some advice to get the best out of mountain races, from experienced Zwift racers.

Pace Yourself: Know the power you can hold for the length of the mountain and try to stay within that range. A group is still helpful on climbs, but don’t be tempted to follow attacks if you’re on your limit. Recovery is hard to find on a mountain.

Stuart Crawford: “If it’s a longer climb, ignore other riders and just sit at FTP.”

Hywel Davies: “I find it very useful to use [the] lap power function on the Garmin. For example, if riding Innsbruck KOM you are going to be very close to your 20 min best power so if you are averaging 20w above your best 20 min score, you are likely to blow up. Keeping under it gives you a chance to sustain, but have to weigh up staying in the draft vs backing off.”

Tom Gakes: “For the longer climbs, you will need to keep a steady pace from bottom to top. But don't underestimate the effect of the draft uphill. It's well worth trying to stay with a group. But make sure you don't blow up while trying to hold on to a group.”

Know The Climb: Is the gradient steady or varied? Are there flatter parts where you can rest and sit in the draft? Steeper parts that are great for attacks? Is the finish line at the top, or do you have a descent and some flat roads before the end? Pay attention to the mountain’s terrain so you can pace it well and use it to your advantage.

Lennert Teugels: “I would try to ride steady FTP and wait for other good climbers to make the first move, take profit off the draft and when I feel the burn, I know the others will feel it too - time to go.”

Stuart Crawford: “If it’s a hilltop finish, hold yourself at just under FTP so you've got a couple of minutes worth of VO2 Max in you for the end.”

Adjust Trainer Difficulty: Some like it high, some like it low. No matter what, you’ll still have to put the same power down. Unless the rules of your race say otherwise, find the setting on the difficulty slider that works best for you and your equipment.

Esko Lius: “In order to avoid getting left behind due to power fluctuation when gradient changes, with certain trainers (eg. Elite Direto) adjust ‘trainer difficulty’ to 0-20%.”

Hywel Davies: Personally, I climb better in high resistance, standing and watching the average power for the climb, got by using lap power. That's how I prefer to climb outdoors.”

Get Out of the Saddle: This can help you fight off fatigue and get a little boost of power when you need it.

Lennert Teugels: “Use your own body weight in a standing technique. I already do it a lot in road racing, but it's even more efficient in Eracing on a fixed trainer. I see other good climbers also doing it. Sitting position under FTP, standing on pedals over FTP, that’s my baseline tactic.”

Choose Lightweight Gear

Look for a bike and wheelset with as many “weight” stars as possible - this means they’re lightweight. Make sure the “aero” stars aren’t too low, because aerodynamics will help you on any flat or downhill parts. It’s risky, but some racers have been known to stop at the top of a climb and switch from a light bike to an aero one for the descent!

Read our Garage Guide for tips on picking the best bike and wheelset for your event

Using PowerUps

The PowerUp you want most for a mountain climb is the Lightweight Feather, which packs the most punch on steep sections. If your race has a descent, a well-timed Heavyweight Anvil can help you recover easily, catch up if you’ve been dropped, or make a brutal attack when everyone else is trying to rest. But make sure not to use that one while climbing - it will slow you down a lot!

Learn more about all the PowerUps on Zwift

Now that you know how to tackle the mountains, you can climb one in your next race with confidence. Enjoy the view!


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