What it takes to win a Zwift national championship

Winning US male averaged 4w/kg for 90min, US female averaged 4.5w/kg for 66min

Racing on the Zwift virtual platform continues to grow, with national championships in 14 countries being held for the first time on February 24th. BikeRadar caught up with Adam Zimmerman on what it took for him to best the US men's field of 300+ riders, and American Ellen Tarquinio on her two-woman breakaway with teammate and winner Claudia Behring. 

The national championship was held on a course that featured a 6min climb. Men raced for about 90 minutes and women for about 66 minutes. 

Zimmerman raced the Zwift event like an outdoor race - with a team, a strategy, in-race communication and a lead-out - but while on a Wahoo Kickr.

"This race was very fast from the start with over 300 riders," Zimmerman said. "Each time up the six-minute climb it was very difficult. Then it was steady hard until hitting the climb once again. Overall this race wasn't very high in average watts per kilo. It was much more tactical." 

Zimmerman raced the Zwift US national championships as a team, complete with a team director, Scott Cunningham, who talked to the riders on the Discord app
Zimmerman raced the Zwift US national championships as a team, complete with a team director, Scott Cunningham, who talked to the riders on the Discord app

In order to be given an official placing, Zwift required that riders use either a power meter or a smart trainer (instead of a standard trainer with calculated wattage) and a heart-rate monitor.

In the US women's race, Tarquinio's preparation wasn't quite as intense - although the effort was arguably more so.

"The forecast had another cold, rainy day in [Washington] DC, so I decided to join the national championship race to see if I could ride with Claudia Behring - we are both on Team Vision - and help a teammate potentially by making or covering a break," Tarquinio said. "I knew she was an incredibly smart rider and strong racer and could win. The team aspect of Zwift is really engaging and motivating, especially on these longer races." 

"We talked a bit before the race about strategy and keeping a fast pace in such a strong field," she said. "On the first climb, Claudia went off the front and I did my best to try and keep up. Luckily she slowed for me near the top. After that we pacelined, and just tried to keep an eye on the women behind us and grow the gap as much as possible. When we got to the bottom of the last hill Claudia took off and I just held my pace through the finish. We had about three minutes ahead of the field going into the climb, so knew we would get 1st and 2nd if we could hold that pace. It was the hardest I've raced in Zwift -  or on the road in a long time -  and I'm really proud of the teamwork and results." 

Teammates Berhing and Tarquinio attacked together and held off the field to take first and second
Teammates Berhing and Tarquinio attacked together and held off the field to take first and second

Adam Zimmerman's Zwift race-winning stats at a glance

  • Weight: 129lb / 59kg 
  • Average watts per kilogram: 4 
  • Race duration: 1:31:06 
  • Elevation gained: 2,024ft 
  • Average power: 234w
  • Normalized power: 264w 
  • Average heart rate: 171bpm
  • Max heart rate: 197bpm

Claudia Behring and her teammate took off in the US women's race and never looked back
Claudia Behring and her teammate took off in the US women's race and never looked back

Claudia Behring's Zwift race-winning stats at a glance

  • Weight: 133lb / 60.3kg 
  • Average watts per kilogram: 4.5 
  • Race duration: 1:06:32 
  • Average power: 274w
  • Normalized power: 282w 
  • Average heart rate: 171bpm
  • Max heart rate: 187bpm

A quick Q&A with Adam Zimmerman

BikeRadar: Congratulations on your win. How long have you been Zwifting? 

Adam Zimmerman: I've been on Zwift right after it was out of Beta and released to the public. So I would say approximately 2.5 years. 

What is your cycling background? 

10 years of road and criterium racing (Cat 2 Road, Cat 1 Track, Cat 1 MTB). The past two years I've taken up racing XC / endurance MTB races to give myself a break from the road. I now run my own coaching business here in Colorado, Endurancecoaching.net, and the majority of my time goes into my Junior Development Cycling Team called Prestige Imports Junior Development.  

Zimmerman waited until the final meters to come out of the virtual draft and came across the line first
Zimmerman waited until the final meters to come out of the virtual draft and came across the line first

Were there any tactics to the race, or was it basically a time trial? 

Huge amount of tactics. So much that we have a dedicated team director, Scott Cunningham, on our Zwift Team, Team Draft

Our team uses Discord, similar to what gamers use and Scott feeds us information about the race, riders off the front, and most importantly riders stats in the race. (heart rate, power, cadence, etc.) 

In Zwift you can click on and watch any rider during the race to see their current heart rate and power output. This gives us essential info if a rider is hurting or feeling fresh. 

Some riders who do not have a team director will have various monitors up at the same time while they race. One for their avatar, and a few others to watch their competitors. If you'd like to learn more about the tactics that went into the race check out Scott's Twitch video of the last 17 minutes of the national championship from his perspective.

Zwift racers are required to display heart rate and use either a power meter or a smart trainer (and not a regular trainer with calculated power)
Zwift racers are required to display heart rate and use either a power meter or a smart trainer (and not a regular trainer with calculated power)

Winners from the 14 Zwift national championship races

Name

Gender

Nationality

Naofumi Nozaki

Male

Japan

Kiriko Fuchigami

Female

Japan

Moonwon Park

Male

Korea

Oh Seonhae

Female

Korea

Morten Vaeng

Male

Norway

Kristin Falck

Female

Norway

Søren Bay

Male

Denmark

Louise Houbak

Female

Denmark

Pontus Synning

Male

Sweden

Cecilia Hansen

Female

Sweden

Michal Decewicz

Male

Poland

Ania Fiedorowicz

Female

Poland

Johannes Herrmann

Male

Germany

Eva-Cathérine BuchHolz

Female

Germany

Michael Apers

Male

Belgium

Jacqueline Lejoly

Female

Belgium

Jokim Pluijmers

Male

Netherlands

Willemijn Prins

Female

Netherlands

Kim Little

Male

UK

Cassie Baldi

Female

UK

Matthias Flury

Male

Switzerland

Zee Kryder / Heather Lea Schamberger

Female

Switzerland

Adam Zimmerman

Male

USA

Claudia Behring

Female

USA

Brett Boniface

Male

Canada

Janna Gillick

Female

Canada

Mathieu Drujon

Male

France

Audrey Landier

Female

France

Ben Delaney

US Editor-in-Chief
Ben has been writing about bikes since 2000, covering everything from the Tour de France to Asian manufacturing to kids' bikes. The former editor-in-chief of VeloNews, he began racing in college while getting a journalism degree at the University of New Mexico. Based in the cycling-crazed city of Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two kids, Ben enjoys riding most every day.
  • Discipline: Road (paved or otherwise), cyclocross and sometimes mountain. His tri-curious phase seems to have passed, thankfully
  • Preferred Terrain: Quiet mountain roads leading to places unknown
  • Current Bikes: Scott Foil Team Issue, Specialized S-Works Tarmac, Priority Eight city bike... and a constant rotation of test bikes
  • Dream Bike: A BMC Teammachine SLR01 with disc brakes and clearance for 30mm tires (doesn't yet exist)
  • Beer of Choice: Saison Dupont
  • Location: Boulder, CO, USA

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