Modeled after the most famous road in cycling, the Champs-Élysées route in Zwift's Paris was first raced as the final stage of the first-ever Virtual Tour de France in 2020. While the pros make it look fast and flat, racers know the slight, draftable climb up to the Arc de Triomphe every lap puts hurt in the legs and makes a great place to attack.
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 Champs-Élysées from London-based Zwifter Max Townsend. He's a father to new twins and races in Zwift Racing League with a band of other dads from London named "Sons of Irony".
6.6 km // 4.1 miles
40 meters //131' of elevation
Max introduces this famous course: "This is one of the best crit tracks in the game, a fine wine of a circuit that on the surface appears to be repetitive laps of a flat deck but whose tactical nuances grow with every race. People will be dropped every lap on the climb, plenty will be distanced in their complacency around the Arc de Triomphe, and the tense twists and turns of the finish will trigger plenty of misfires. A sprinters’ paradise yes, but there’s enough here for everyone and a great place to tune your finishing skills."
#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. Max's advice here is simple: "Get up to speed quickly, get in the draft, and let the front markers power you through the lead-in to the start/finish banner where you’ll pick up your first powerup. Enjoy this bit, the climb starts almost immediately after and shots will be fired every lap."
#2: Montée des Champs Elysées
1.3km, 2% average gradient
This shallow climb may not seem like much, but it's where the action happens on every lap. And it's "guaranteed to fly at a furious pace in races where sprint points are on offer," Max says. He adds, "There are no surprises in the gradient and it’s dead straight, just be aware that on cobbles you can drift back in the draft quicker than on other climbs. Don’t deploy your powerup before the sprint – just don’t."
#3: Lutece Sprint
150 meters, 3% average gradient
If your race has sprint points, you'll want to get familiar with the Lutece Sprint which sits near the end of Montée des Champs Elysées. The start line isn't easy to spot, and there aren't many helpful landmarks either. If you're unsure of where the sprint begins, Max says, "Focus on the map, your opposition, and remember to adjust your sprint distance for the elevation."
That's right: this is an uphill sprint. On cobbles. In a multi-lap race you'll need to choose your battles for maximum sprint points. Max says, "A slight plateau in gradient before the sprint means the winners will be going long. If you miss this one, save your matches, there are plenty more to come."
The stretch of road just after the sprint arch is where gaps open up and riders get dropped each lap. Max offers this advice to riders struggling to stay in the pack:
"Weaker riders: treat this as a 1-minute effort not a 15-second sprint. Deploy your powerup under the banner and keep hammering the rest of the climb, don’t expect attacks to stop as things level out. Try to surf the draft of riders taking their foot off the gas as you look to catch up to your target group. Do everything to manage your heart rate and maintain contact – as ever in Zwift, the fastest way to the finish line is in a group with someone else doing the hard pedaling."
#4: Arc de Triomphe
The climb finishes at the Place de l'Étoile, a flat roundabout before the descent. Max chose to highlight this section because "splits can happen again here. On some laps it will be benign; on others, people might look to light it up here as riders recover."
If you make it around the Arc de Triomphe in touch with your group, congrats. As Max says, "When the gradient goes negative you’re on cruisy street to cruisy town – get that heart rate back down and get ready to go again."
#5: Jardin des Tuileries Dip
This dip into the tunnel ends with a quick climb out. Look to the left to spot the Louvre, but don't look too long, especially on the last lap! Riders who don't fancy a pack sprint may use the ramp out of the tunnel to launch a final attack just 1.3km from the finish line.
Most early attacks are doomed, though. Max explains, "English people will lose their cool here, succumbing to visions of Brad Wiggins leading Mark Cavendish round the bend to glorious victory – before they know it they’ve missed the sprint and finished mid-pack. Don’t do that."
#6: The Finish
400 meters, 0% average gradient
Timing is key for this finish. Max offers some solid advice:
"If you don’t chase down the fliers, remember to ignore the corners, focus on the distance countdown and the orange watts of your opponents. It’s easy to go too early here. Some commentaries will talk about distances from the final bend – another distraction. Watch wheels, the power numbers going orange, and the distance counter going down, and you’ll deliver your best."
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.