Pro tips for Zwift events and indoor races from Tanja Erath


Professional cyclist Tanja Erath from team Canyon SRAM-Racing gives tips for virtual races and Gran Fondos like the Alpecin Cycling series on Zwift. In 2017 Tanja Erath won the final of the Zwift academy. As a result she became a pro cyclist for Canyon SRAM-Racing.

Prepare perfectly: nutrition

“If you want to perform well in races or events, a good nutrition strategy is extremely important – both indoors and outdoors. However, there is one big difference: You don’t have to carry all the nutrition stuff with you when you compete in virtual worlds. However, there is no one standing at the roadside either to provide you with food; usually ;-). Remember, during an indoor event you don’t have the chance to refill bottles or get a gel from the kitchen.

If you do it nevertheless, the peloton will be gone. Therefore, set up your own race buffet in peace and quiet before the start of the race next to the turbo trainer and the bike. Choose whatever you like: bars, gels, cake, fruit, sandwiches, pancakes and of course some water bottles. My motto: rather more nutrition than less. Because 90 kilometres in the pain cave cost energy and sweat.

Prepare perfectly: setup

“As just said, you cannot make any major changes during competition. Therefore, plan such an event like a real-life cycling marathon or an amateur race. Don’t just fill up the water bottle beforehand but put it in the fridge, too. Such small things will help you not to let your core body temperature rise too much and stay more efficient.

Speaking of cooling: If possible, regulate the room temperature before warm-up by opening the windows, via air conditioning and turn on the fans before the start. I personally often use two fans, which I can regulate during the race with a bamboo stick – my magic stick.

For riders who participate for the first time in such a virtual Gran Fondo, it is recommended to set up the control centre the day before the event. Can I press all the buttons or hit the touch screen in the heat of the moment? Is everything within easy reach for me? Is something missing? Answer the questions in quick-fire mode and readjust if necessary.”

Prepare perfectly: warm-up

“Even if you don’t participate in a real race and having fun and riding together are the most important things, you will very likely start off fast. In order not to get dropped by the peloton immediately and to get settled well in the race, warm up a few minutes before start without making yourself sweat too much already. Just pretend it was a 15- to 30-minute ride from the car or the hotel to the start line.

Play a little with cadences and prepare your body for some sweating ;-). Right before the start, accelerate for between four and 10 seconds – depending on how fast you get going – just above your individual anaerobic threshold to be up to speed when the race finally starts.

“Move” in the front third of the virtual peloton

“Surely you know this from classic amateur races. Do not ride right at the front but stick to second or third row. Take advantage of the slipstream effect and don’t lose track of what is happening around you in the peloton. Outside on the road some riders are afraid of crashing in the crowd – you don’t have to be on a turbo. Positioned like this you don’t run the risk of getting dropped if some gaps are created in the peloton.

Keeping an eye on the numbers

“The scoreboard gives you an enormously good idea of how many watts you have to ride at. It allows you to check at what values athletes around you ride at, too, which offers good orientation. Because sometimes you pedal much too hard when you could actually still flow with the field at 30 watts less.

If you know your FTP value, you shouldn’t exceed it permanently, since you will be riding for more than two hours at the Alpecin Cycling series events. You can exceed it for a short period of time, but this costs energy – and remember it is a long ride.

The numbers are also very important on downhill passages. It took me a long time to get them right. If you ride a gentle downhill section, you can take some pressure off the pedal, but you can’t really let the bike roll without pedalling at all. Tests what works during some training rides.”

Feel the track

“Granted, it sounds a little esoteric, but let me explain what I mean. I know a lot of Zwifters who ride at high resistance all the time, but do not pay attention to the track. If you consciously allow yourself to feel uphill, downhill and flat sections – without always paying attention to the watts you ride at – you’ll get into a different rhythm. It took me more than 30 races to do this. But this season I think I finally nailed it.”

Got dropped – what now?

“You got dropped by the group because you couldn’t keep up the speed or the required power or your computer was offline for a short time. No problem. Just keep pedalling and wait for the next group. You can see in the display windows when the next Zwifters are coming from behind.

However, it’s very important – similar to the start – to accelerate four to five seconds before they catch up with you. This way you can ride along immediately in the slipstream. If you just stand still and wait for them at the side of the road, you will have to accelerate massively and waste energy unnecessarily.

Use supertuck position on descents

“Especially in steep downhill section, supertuck position – based on Chris Froome’s well-known downhill position – can give your legs a break for a few seconds. The crucial thing is to exceed 58 km/h on at least a three percent incline and your avatar will take up the aerodynamic position and you can rest for a few seconds.

Tactics: power-ups and track knowledge

“Familiarise yourself beforehand with the route and memorise where you have the chance to collect power-ups. Remember that you can only use or hold one power-up at a time and you can’t accumulate them.

Sometimes it makes sense to keep the power-up for a while and save it up as some kind of extra boost on special track sections like a mountain. In general, it is good to know the track in general – just like it is the case with outdoor races. This way, you know when to ride above threshold and when below threshold.

“Playing” on steep sections with the resistance of the turbo

“In official races, this is forbidden! But in joint rides it helps to reduce the resistance of the bike turbo – for example to 30 percent – especially for beginners or during difficult rides on particularly steep sections. Otherwise you’ll almost feel like breaking your legs when you stomp at cadences of 30 to 40 rpm.

Changing the resistance of the turbo works during the ride and should only be used on particularly steep sections, as it allows for a virtually easier gear spread. Just test it in training before the event.”

DNF is not an option

“This is my personal advice to you and my motto. I learned early in my athletic career – at that time still as a triathlete – that if you enter a competition, you finish it. No matter what. The satisfaction of finishing, whether in the virtual or in the real world, is incomparable.

Have fun and success