How To DS a Zwift TTT

During the latter part of 2020, I have developed a set of methodologies that I go through every week to help whichever team I am working with to hopefully achieve the best possible result they can. 

In this video I talk you through everything you need to know in order to give the best help to your riders. 

  1. Why does a team need a DS?
  2. What do you need to DS?
  3. The Science behind Zwift Drafting effect and why it is important
  4. The TTT, set-up, rules, etiquette and useful tips
  5. Course and Team knowledge, why it pays to know who and where.
  6. Setting Tactics and Race Planning (numbers!)
  7. The Race Calling

So, Why does a team need a DS?

The short answer is you don’t!  But, as a rider, how often have you been in a TTT and asked

  • Anyone started a Countdown Timer
  • How hard do we go at the beginning?
  • Who is on the front?
  • How hard do I go?
  • Why no one seems to be ‘at the front’
  • Who just said ‘I am coming off in 10’? 
  • When does the next hill start?
  • What’s our gap to the next team and can we do anything about it?
  • Is anyone dropping off?  
  • Do we wait or keep going?
  • Why am I doing 4w/kg and they are only doing 3?

When a team is pushing, it is hard for someone to also ‘call the race’. So,  teams tend to rely on a communal approach, with someone saying ‘I will take a turn next’ – Problem is, who is ‘I’?

Talking about yourself in the 3rd person can help, but not really knowing who is currently leading, how long and hard they are going, when they might stop and is the next person ready leads to an inefficient team. This is just on the flat, the sudden arrival of a hill, where differing power to weight ratios can split a team apart because not everyone knew it was there, so time is lost regrouping. 

Having someone watching all riders at once,  monitoring where on the course the team is, flagging any potential points of caution (or indeed relief with the arrival of a Supertuck and just shouting ‘Stop Pedalling!’) can be invaluable. 

Team members just need to know how long they will be on the front and how hard to push when they get there. The DS can take control of:

  • When the team starts 
  • Calling each rider through in turn
  • When to call a split or back off at the front to maintain a pack
  • Alter the power or duration at the front for riders who are looking stronger or weaker
  • Ensure riders are properly dropping back, using the draft after their turn
  • Push the team as the race progresses, risking a split for a faster time
  • Change from raw watts to w/kg  for steeper inclines
  • Encouraging riders who are dropping

What do you need to DS?

All you really need a Zwift account to watch the race and the ability to talk to the team. For voice communication, most teams already use Discord, but a WhatsApp call, Zoom meeting etc would do just as well. As long as you can hear the riders and they can all hear you then you are good. 

In order to ‘watch’ a race, first you need to be in the right place.

  • Some races will just allow you to enter the same race pen as the riders, or even have a special ‘Team Car’ pen – this is the easiest way to make sure you are in the right world/event
  • If the race is in Watopia or another world that is currently Live in game, then as long as you are in the same world on your usual game device, you can use the Companion app to find your riders, follow them and then use Fan View to see them all. I like to ‘star’ the riders I am DSing in the list to make them stand out. Once you view one team member, you can also use the rider list down the side of the screen to jump between riders during the event. 
  • Failing both of these, you may need to set yourself up in a Meet-up on the right world (with an understanding Friend!), to then be able to utilise the Fan View and the rider list. 

Once all set up, utilise the various camera angles during the event to have an overall view of the race. I find that some of the higher camera angles, like 7 or 8, will cycle through shots in Fan View and give you a good idea what is happening. 

I tend to use two other devices alongside the game. One with Discord and the Companion App on, the other for the Count Down Timer for the Start Delay, and then as a stopwatch to track team members’ time on the front, hitting Lap regularly to time each one in turn. 

Finally, alongside the tech, a ‘Call Sheet’ and some details of the course profile and points to share with the riders at the relevant point is very useful. 

Zwift Drafting Science

Here is my first recommendation for Zwift Insider. They have done some great articles on how to use the Draft in Zwift, the measurad effects and also how a TTT paceline compares with the infamous Zwift ‘Blob’ where a team effectively race amongst themselves. 

https://zwiftinsider.com/zwift-drafting/

https://zwiftinsider.com/speed-tests-ttt/

They have shown that a group of 4 riders can go significantly faster if utilising the drafting effects of Zwift whilst also having a lower average power, through utilising intervals on the front at 110-120% above Threshold. 

This is due to the fact that when NOT on the front, a rider is having to do much less than threshold to stay in the group. Zwift insider measurements suggest the following: 

  • Position 2 –  c23% Saving vs Lead Rider
  • Position 3 –  c30% Saving
  • Position 4 – c33% Saving
  • Position 5+- c35% Saving

Whilst there will always be nuances to this based on rider weights etc, I have found that working to these figures with teams develops a fast and organised pace line. 

This information and how it applies to a given course and group of riders’ capabilities forms the basis of planning a good TTT strategy. 

The Zwift TTT – Set-up, rules and etiquette. 

I don’t plan to go into too much detail on this as there are plenty of sites and videos that can explain how the TTT works. But a few rules to remember are:

  • A maximum of 8 riders for WTRL TTT and 6 for ZRL, minimum of 3
  • Team time is based on the 4th rider finishing, or 3rd if you started with 4..
  • Do NOT charge out of the pens when the Countdown hits Zero, teams will have been communicated a ‘start delay’ and need to wait until this period has expired before making their own call on starting – this is where a DS with a countdown timer comes in handy. 
  • When being passed by a faster team, everyone should back off to avoid catching their draft until they are a few seconds in front. 

Course and Team Knowledge

The two most important things you can do as a DS is to work out how to get the best from the riders you have under your guidance and also understand the course profile, so the riders don’t have to. 

A time trial team is rarely an evenly matched group of people, with differing power capability and weight. On a flat course, to simply say ‘Do 4.5w/kg on the front’ does not take into account this differing ability or weight. 4.5w/kg for a 75kg rider is 338W, but for a 55kg rider is only 248W. This means the team is not being pulled at the best possible power at all times and some riders would be having a very easy time whilst others are having to work above threshold, even in the draft..  Some more Zwift Insider props here, as they have done plenty of calculations on how differing weights can effect speed, even if those riders are doing the same w/kg. 

https://zwiftinsider.com/wkg-tests/

https://zwiftinsider.com/rider-weight-speed/

On a flat course, there is a better strategy: This is where knowing your riders in detail is important, and some spreadsheeting can help.

UPDATE April 2021: The sheet mentioned in the video has now been updated. Now you need to enter W/KG, Watts and HEIGHT, rather than WEIGHT to get a detailed breakdown of each rider’s power requirements.

Link: This is the sheet that I use, to create a power plan 

Decide a Power number for the flat. the default of 125% of the bulk of the team, based on raw FTP is a good starting point

This number can be flexible based on the length of the race, for a short 40min effort you might push for 125%, over an hour perhaps only 110% – This is a figure you need to decide and agree with the team. 

The sheet can then help you decide if you

  • Rotate the whole group and who can hold the front for longer periods, perhaps 60s plus,  vs others in the team who might only do short turns of 20-30s, OR
  • Use a single strong rider or two, with others ‘making up the numbers’, by staying in the draft at a set % of FTP, helping the group move together at a faster pace. 
  • In some cases you might tell the whole team to ride a set percentage if the numbers align, effectively all riding an individual Time Trial, but in a group

The sheet also shows the w/kg and raw power required to stay in certain positions in the line for each rider. This can be reassuring for a team to know they can be at well below FTP for periods of the event, when not on the front. 

Course Knowledge

As I said, alongside knowing your team, it helps greatly to know the course. This is where a bit of research in to previous races on the route, which include the Lead-in and therefore have a more accurate measure of the distances involved is invaluable. 

Once again, Zwift Insider is your friend here, followed by some Strava stalking. 

By searching for a given route on ZI, you will usually get links through the the Zwift Insider verified segments. On top of this, you should be able to quickly find an example of rider who has done the exact race previously and can use it to confirm the distance to any significant course features. 

Sections to watch out for might be:

  • Long flat pieces where a good rotation of the riders can be utilised, in line with the spreadsheet numbers
  • Undulating areas such as the Sequioas, which can be really tricky to keep a team together
  • Longer climbs where telling all the team to switch to a specific w/kg target that they can all hold. 
  • Pushing that w/kg on a subsequent lap to try and improve the overall time
  • Places where you know the team can SuperTuck and recover. 

All this information can be added to the spreadsheet, to be passed on to the team in advance and used as part of the race calling notes. 

Calling The Race

The prep done above means that your riders can concentrate on riding hard, matching their effort to the intervals required and making the most of the team draft, recovering where possible. 

The combination of:

  • Zwift login and right world with fan view
  • The Call Sheet
  • timing devices 

should give you everything you need to monitor the team. 

Here is a list of things to do at the beginning of  the event

  1. Set the timer to 3s less than the official delay, this lets people get the smart trainer registering
  2. Pick a rollout power for everyone, say 200W, just to get everyone moving at a similar pace from the pens
  3. Check you have everyone before starting your rotations

After that, it becomes about managing the team efforts, simply calling each person through until you reach the end or a significant course change

“Debra, you are up in 10s, 260W please for 40 seconds”
“Kate, well done, you can back it down, 150W, drift to back”
“Clare, coming to you next”
“Everyone, 5% incline for 900m, switch to 4w/kg, stay together”

This carries on, with you ticking people off the call sheet as you go. 

Other things you then need to consider, 

  • Is someone struggling to hold the power on the front for long enough?
  • Has anyone dropped off early due to tech issues?
  • Is someone struggling to lead, but can hold a 2nd/3rd wheel and keep the group together?
  • Can I increase the target wattage as the race goes on, pushing the team to negative split and gain time on an opposing team. 

At some point, someone will drop off. So you need to consider

  • What has the team agreed upfront
  • Are they strong, but just struggled on one section
  • Are they already too far off (more than 3s) to really get back on
  • How long is left in the race, can you manage without them
  • Do you have enough riders left to get a valid time

Eventually, you will reach the final couple of km. This is where the job of the DS is just to motivate and encourage. I tend abandon turns in the final 2km and pick the strongest to try and pull hard to keep the speed high. 

Once the team hits 500m to go, it becomes a race between themselves and I genuinely just start shouting Go Go Go!! 

You can watch a full video of my DS of the S4W Aero Unicorns during the 2020 World TTT Champs here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuKcsjmyed4

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