Watopia's "Climber's Gambit" was originally designed for the Zwift Academy Road 2021 program as a fitness test of sprint, VO2, and FTP power. The varied landscapes and challenging Epic KQOM finish make this a popular race course, especially for events that track segment times such as Zwift Racing League.
Remember these top tips for Zwift racing (most apply outside as well!)
- Warm up because the start is a hard effort
- Use the draft to conserve energy whenever possible
- Attack every punchy climb to avoid being dropped
- Know the route so you can pace yourself, move to the front before important climbs, etc
- Save useful powerups and deploy them strategically
What follows is a detailed breakdown of Climber's Gambit from veteran Dutch Zwifter Onno Aphinan, who races for the TFC Thunderbolt team. Follow his tips to get your best result on race day!
27.1 km // 16.8 miles
671 meters // 2,201' of elevation
Onno introduces this course by saying, "Climber's Gambit has all the ingredients for great team points racing. With sprint, VO2, and threshold efforts, having a game plan that suits the team is really important."
#1: The Start
As with any race, a solid warmup is crucial before you head to the pens. Get that out of the way, then join the pens and wait for the clock to hit zero. Onno's advice here is simple: "The start will be fast as always. Just stay in the pack or your game is over."
#2: JWB Sprint Reverse
180 meters, 0% average gradient
Does your race include sprint points? This short, fast sprint with a downhill lead-in is all about positioning and timing. Onno says, "Ride it as efficiently as possible and start positioning yourself before going down. Create momentum and hit the small bump before the section starts with power. I like this one as you can still maximize speed without doing big raw numbers, if you time it perfectly."
Not chasing sprint points? You may need to be careful here as things tend to get strung out after the sprint. Onno warns, "As the speed is high and the pack stretched after the sprint, it's possible to hurt some who are saving for the last climb. If you didn't attack the sprint, don't get surprised here at the 900m drag slowly going up."
#3: Start of Hilly KQOM Reverse
600 meters, 5.3% average gradient
Following the super fast JWB sprint, you will roll through the Italian Villas and head toward the KQOM Reverse. The short rollers climbing out of the Italian Villas can be challenging if you're chasing back to the group after a hard sprint, which is another reason why properly executing your JWB sprint effort is crucial!
Stay with your group up the rollers, then enjoy a bit of recovery as you descend and cross the bridge to Hank's gas station where the loop's first climb begins.
Onno says, "This is also one you should never underestimate. You want to save energy but can't afford to get gapped. A short steep climb, especially mid-section, followed by a short fast descent. If you're out of the draft you can easily lose 5-8 more seconds, so if you're gapped make a decision to chase alone or wait for some support."
Super-tuck the short descent after this climb, then hopefully you can sit in until the Titans Grove rollercoaster begins!
#4: Titans Grove KQOM Reverse
910 meters, 4.3% average gradient
Turning right into Titans Grove, you'll be greeted with the start of what becomes a twisty, climbing road delivering you to the foot of the next KQOM. Save your energy here, because the important climbs are just up the road. It's all about timing your power, as Onno explains, "Titans Grove is a section to save energy if you're good at the up and down section. You have to play with your power and push at the right time so you'll hit each ascent with power and have speed when going down."
If a fast time up the Titans Grove KQOM Reverse is your goal, a feather or draft van powerup is helpful. It's not a steep hill, so drafting makes a big difference! (Pro tip from Onno: if you got the draft power up, use it at the start or the end, when the speed is high.)
After you finish the climb, "Now it's time to find a group and recover a bit," says Onno. "You will have 60-90 seconds of descending to recover, then it's about 3 km of up and down. It's a nice place to pace at the front and hurt everyone, but those in the front group can also save themselves for the final climb. Unfortunately, those who have to chase here will burn some matches they can't use for the crucial final climb."
#5: Epic KOM Reverse
6.2 kilometers, 5.9% average gradient
The Epic KQOM Reverse is the main feature of this course, and it breaks up nicely into three ~2 km segments, with short flat/downhill sections in between. Timing these fast sections correctly can save you a bit of time. Onno explains, "If you draft, build up speed, and hit the climb with power you can gain a bit compared to a steady pace."
#6: The Finish
400 meters, 0% average gradient
The final 400 meters of this course are flat, and they'll feel very fast after almost 6 kilometers of hard climbing. If you're near other riders, use the draft to save a bit of power, then give it all you've got to come around them to the line. (A helpful powerup such as an aero boost or draft boost doesn't hurt, either.)
Good luck, racers!
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.