Zwift: How to prepare for your first race or group ride

Switch up your training and challenge yourself

This is a sponsored article in association with Zwift..

Bored of doing workouts or riding alone? Group rides and races are a great way to mix things up on Zwift.

The training game, which can connect you to cyclists around the world from the comfort of your own home, adds a variety of aspects to make it feel more like you’re riding outside, plus group rides and races offer the chance to meet new people.

Finding group rides and races

Joining a Zwift race or group ride is simple — just open the Zwift Mobile Link App for a full list of race or ride opportunities, then register in advance.

Zwift's Mobile Link app
Zwift's Mobile Link app

Alternatively, you can explore Zwift’s event page, where you’ll find details about the races and group rides available.

In the top right corner of the start screen, you can also see all the events in game.

Picking your category

Group rides and races are organised by rider categories, which are based on your fitness levels — measured by watts per kilogram (w/kg) — and your functional threshold power (FTP).

Your fitness and FTP will dictate which category of rider you are
Your fitness and FTP will dictate which category of rider you are

The A group rides are the fastest, while D riders race at more modest speeds. Some group rides and races set the categories off at slightly different times, so look out for that.

A few good ones to begin with include the ODZ Coffee Ride, the Aussie Hump Day Ride (AHDR), the TGIF Group Ride, and the WBR, KISS and Zwift sponsored races (indicated by the Zwift logo).

Get warmed up before the event

Make sure you give yourself a good 15 minutes to warm up before a group race or ride begins, because most of them go hard from the offset.

This is also a good time to make sure all your connections — heart rate monitor, cadence and trainer — are working properly and that your trainer is calibrated correctly.

You’ll get a notification when your event is about to begin, so you don’t need to worry about losing track of time while you’re warming up.

Make sure you’ve got plenty of water and a dry towel to hand, and that some sports nutrition is within reach (at least for longer rides — most Zwifters don’t eat during races shorter than an hour). And don’t forget a cooling fan!

Group ride and race starts

Just like in real life, all participants are excited and on top form at the start of an event, so be ready to pedal hard from the get-go. You might even have to produce watts above your category level for a bit as the pack settles in.

This initial burst tends to only last for the first mile or so, after which point Zwifters begin to find riders of a similar level to work with.

Other important things to note for your group rides/races are drafting and your avatar’s weight.

Riders can take advantage of drafting on group rides and races
Riders can take advantage of drafting on group rides and races

To better mimic cycling in real life, you should take full advantage of drafting, where you can stay on someone’s wheel and put out less power. This means you can rest a little while someone else does the work.

It’s a clever tactic to use but don’t expect anyone to let you sit on their wheel for an entire race — they’ll expect you to pull too, once you catch your breath.

Weight, meanwhile, impacts your ability to go up hills. You’ll see Zwifters put out massive watts on hills, but get overtaken by riders putting in less effort — this is because lighter riders ascend easier than heavier riders and need less power to do so. Keep this in mind as you try to catch someone going up the Watopia mountain!

The difference between group rides and races

The point of a group ride is to cycle as one group, taking full advantage of the benefits of riding in a pack or peloton. Stronger riders will be at the front pulling the group, while the weaker riders stay close behind, utilising the draft.

The ride leader has a yellow beacon over them and will be sending out messages to encourage people at the back to catch up, and riders at the front to slow down. Stick as close to the ride leader as possible to get the best benefits of the pack.

A group ride in Watopia
A group ride in Watopia

If you do fall off the back, look out for the ride sweeper — they have a red icon above them and it’s their job to get you back into the pack. There will always be a group leader, but not always a sweeper.

During races, everyone is out for themselves, so don’t expect Zwifters to let off the gas to keep the peloton together.

People will be sprinting off the front and racers will be getting dropped throughout, so settle into a group of riders at a similar level to you and be prepared to work hard. They’re trying to beat you, so fight them off and save a bit of energy for the sprint at the finish.

Most racers start to pick up the watts with about 500m to go, so watch people’s w/kg, and when you see someone’s spike, get moving if you want to be in with a chance of winning!

Enjoy the event and be sure to share a ‘Ride On!’ or three. It won’t be easy, but the fitness gains and post-race endorphins are well worth it — you’re bound to get hooked.

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