Liz Van Houweling
Small field sizes in eRacing do not have to mean less fun!
The weather in many parts of the world is improving and IRL race season is fully upon us. It’s really exciting times, and there is plenty to tempt us outdoors. Watching Wout Van Aert dance away from tiny climbers up mountains is enough to make me want to get out the door and attempt to replicate it!
Yet there are some crazies (myself included!) who are still enthusiastically hopping aboard their stationary trainer bikes. We willingly CHOOSE to ride indoors year round! Shocking, I know.
I’ve continued to do quite a bit of Zwift racing lately, and I’ve noticed that some aspects have changed slightly now that many of our fellow eRacers are enjoying the sunshine. Field sizes are understandably smaller for most races. This can lead to more interesting and different pack dynamics and race tactics.
Usually the “blob” is so large and strong that breakaways have little chance of success. Since the pack doesn’t have the strength and speed it usually does, a small group or even a solo rider is significantly more likely to make it. This is especially true if the group is so small that no one else wants to put in an effort to chase.
In fact, in the last 2 races that I’ve done, a small breakaway has made it to the finish. These gaps even opened on the flats! I chase down breaks but never seem to pick the right one. I couldn’t believe I got dropped multiple times in seemingly innocuous parts of courses. Sometimes I’m much too trusting the pack will bring me back up, and it backfires now that the peloton doesn’t have its usual strength.
Learning to anticipate, initiate, follow, and ride in breaks are all good skills to work on this off season. It requires a different type of racing and more attention at all points during the race since you never know when the winning move is going to happen.
Many of us do similar races each week, and with the smaller field sizes, it becomes even easier to recognize familiar names. I’ve found there is slightly more communication between riders and more encouragement. Riders in small groups are messaging each other during races to discuss tactics, motivate one another, or just chit chat!
Many of us have a couple of riders that are similar in nature and strength to us who really bring out our best riding. It’s exciting to go head to head with these riders in fields where it is easier to more directly compete.
Reach out directly to people that you race with each week and open up communication. The back and forth banter can add an element of fun and inspiration to your Zwift racing.
The effectiveness of power ups potentially changes when field sizes are small. I really noticed this in the recent Knockouts Tournament with fields of 10-15 riders, but it’s true of other recent races as well.
A small pack isn’t traveling as fast as a large pack so power ups can make a big difference. An early drop of the aero boost is more likely to stay away. The ghost only lasts 10 seconds, but if used properly, that may be all you need to stay away from a small field. A well-timed steamroller or feather could get you a winning gap.
People have conflicting thoughts on the place that power ups have in Zwift, but they are a significant aspect of the game. I don’t think they are going away any time soon, so now is a good time to experiment and practice using them effectively!
Additional Race Series
We all miss our beloved Zwift Racing League when it takes an extended break, but it does allow other race series to flourish.
There are SO many great series put on by hard working promoters. Now is a perfect time to show our support and appreciation and to try something new!
Breathe, Smile, AND Improve
I don’t know about everyone else, but I feel as though there are fewer high pressure races in the summer. Maybe I take some races too seriously (yes, I definitely do!), but I find it extremely relieving to just pick random races and not be afraid to try out new and potentially dumb tactics. Keep things lively and add some spice to your virtual racing without placing too much emphasis on results.
Pick races on courses that specifically test your weaknesses. I am not a sustained climb type rider but I’ve been making a point of selecting races with just that type of terrain in order to challenge myself. It’s often easier to work on weaknesses when you are surrounded by competitors and are “forced” to do it in a race.
You can be sad or disheartened that you cannot ride outside as much as you’d like. Or you can take advantage of the change in scenery in virtual racing platforms when others temporarily abandon them. Make the most of the opportunity to continue to grow as an eRacer and get stronger while still having fun. I’ll still be there so join me in a doomed (or maybe it isn’t?!) attack off the front! Ride on!
Are you continuing to ride indoors while many head outside? What have you noticed about your virtual racing experience lately? What crazy tactic have you tried, either successfully or unsuccessfully? Share your thoughts!