Feature Q&A: Zac Herrod

After his stage win and 10th overall in the Joe Martin Virtual Stage Race, Zak Herrod, who was 9th in the Eddie Soens in March,  gives us an insight into his eRacing

Feature Q&A: Zac Herrod

After his stage win and 10th overall in the Joe Martin Virtual Stage Race, Zak Herrod, who was 9th in the Eddie Soens in March,  gives us an insight into his eRacing

Q: Your normal team on the road is and your best result/performance on the road would be?
Zak: The team I’m riding for this year on the road is AeroLab WardWheelz, it’s just a group of friends with the aim of going fast, mainly focusing on TT’s and the track but also on the road. My best result on the road would probably be 9th at Eddie Soen’s earlier this year. I had some victories in some smaller local road races and TT’s last year but I’ve only transitioned to the road recently from MTB XC.

Q: Was the stage win in the Joe Martin your biggest eRacing victory?
Zak: Yes definitely. I’ve been taking part in the bigger Zwift events promoted by Zwift Community Live but this was my first invitational race (not open to anyone). I’ve had some good results against the top eRacers on single events but it was nice to test the legs on a stage race against some of the top riders in America and UK professional domestic teams.

Q: Did you have a strategy for the final stage and what was the key moment?
Zak: The plan was to try and hang on to the King of the Mountains classification which I was leading from Stage 2. The points available for the KOM alternated on each lap between the two climbs on the Richmond course, so I picked my moments when to attack on the climbs. I didn’t expect to have the legs after focusing on the KOM jersey to do very well on the stage. I think everyone found the stage tough but the key moment for me was the final climb which I pushed hard up with Dan Fleeman (former WorldTour pro). It ended up being a battle between the climbers for the stage. Ultimately it was decided by who managed to stay towards the front up the final climb and hold on till the finish.

Q: What is your set up for Zwift racing?
Zak: Currently I’m set up in the basement as it’s nice and cool. For recording my power to Zwift I use a Rotor2INPower and a PowerTap hub in the rear wheel for when I need to dual record (for verification purposes). I don’t have a direct mount turbo trainer so I am just using a ‘wheel on’ trainer which is the Tacx Bushido Smart. I also race with dual monitors connected to my PC so I am able to have extra race information or anything else I might need visible whilst I race.

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Q: How do you keep cool and hydrated with e-racing?
Zak: A fan or multiple fans is crucial to help you keep cool, I try to have the window open as well to keep fresh air flowing in. Hydration is key for performance and is even more important on the turbo as you often sweat more indoors. I make sure I have plenty of water available and an electrolyte mix based drink as well.

Q: Was the final stage the toughest of the three and what makes an eRace hard – the pace others set or the terrain?
Zak: Stage 3 was definitely the hardest although the individual effort on stage 1 came close. I think its a combination of the terrain and the riders. The race could be easy over tough terrain if there was no one to push the pace, the riders really make the race. It all depends on the calibre of riders taking part but often in the top-level events we all know each other’s strengths and capabilities and it never often ‘goes easy’.

Q: Is a final sprint in an eRace like one on the road – ie, max all out effort?
Zak: It really depends on the parcours of the course in which the sprint is taking part on. On a flat crit circuit race, the sprint is just like one out on the road and numbers of 15-20w/kg are often hit (I don’t do as well in these being 59kg). If the terrain has been particularly hilly, it’s often a sprint from a reduced bunch where I tend to do better just like on stage 3 of the Virtual Joe Martin. So I’d say it’s very similar to on the road as in the effort of the finish is decided by who has made the selection if there is one, it will always be a max out effort to win.

Q: Do you have a set warm up for eRacing?
Zak: It’s something I’ve thought I should probably implement but don’t currently follow the same warm up every time. I tend to get on and spin the legs easy for a little while before ramping up to threshold, followed by a few sub-maximal sprints. But its never a specific time at a specific intensity, I just usually go on feel.

Q: Have you had to train specifically for eRacing and is that different to training for normal races?
Zak: I had put in a decent winter’s worth of training as I wanted to hit the road season hard for my final year U23. When it was announced that racing was to be stopped and the lockdown was going to start, I hadn’t really moved into any specific training by that point. I was just about finishing my high volume blocks so I decided to extend these and supplement with some Zwift racing here and there. I think this volume set me up well especially for the stage race this past weekend. As the lockdown went on, I reduced the volume a little and did start to focus on sprint training to try and help me at the end of an eRace and upped my racing volume. Sprinting isn’t normally a focus of mine so its been nice to try something different for eRacing.

Q: How much of your training is on the turbo, how much on the road?
Zak: I do tend to spend probably more time than most on the turbo I would imagine. I usually ride outside but I do really enjoy Zwift so if the weathers bad, I’m not fazed by doing a 5-6 hour endurance ride on the turbo. There’s also a great community on there, lots of people to talk to, YouTube live streams to get involved with and group rides which make it all the more fun. It’s very weather dependent on how much time I spend on there.

Q: How long have you been on Zwift?
Zak: I’ve been on Zwift for quite a long time. I was on it back in the beta days in 2015 so I’ve seen it evolve. I’ve only got into the racing side of it properly in the past couple of years as I wasn’t really strong enough when I first started.

Q: How often do you race on Zwift?
Zak: I try to keep a cap on it at two a week. I like to keep my training in check with long term goals still a focus. If there’s a big event or potential to increase my Zwift ranking, I might do an extra one here and there.

Q: Do you use other eRacing platforms and if so, do they differ from Zwift?
Zak: I haven’t used any as of yet. I do like the look of Road Grand Tours (RGT) especially with being able to race real roads. It’s something I’ve thought about using for the future in preparation for real-life events.

Q: What has been the hardest skill to learn on Zwift?
Zak: Probably balancing the power in the lead up to the sprint. It’s crucial not to hit the front too early as you can get ‘swamped’ by the pack behind you and you’ll have no chance to compete for the sprint. It’s important your avatar doesn’t reach the front before you open up the sprint. Just like in real life, you don’t want to be hitting the front too early and leading everyone out.

Q: Riders suffer various mechanicals to do with internet and other connections – has that happened to you and if so, do power drops etc happen often?
Zak: Fortunately, I haven’t suffered from very many in my experience. Although I did suffer an ANT+ dropout on Stage 1 of the Joe Martin Stage race which cost me about 10-15 seconds and potentially the top 10 on the stage and affecting my GC position. It’s important to think of all the ways to try and minimise potential dropout causes. Some can’t be controlled like your internet, but investing in a USB extension to bring your ANT+ dongle closer to your devices can really help. A decent gaming computer can really help as well, especially if your streaming or communicating with teammates whilst racing.

Q: Finally, do you think eRacing will remain as popular when normal racing returns – ie, a new discipline in the sport?
Zak: I don’t think it will be quite as popular but it will definitely have its place and I think it will become a focus for some as a new discipline. Lockdown and the absence of real racing have definitely allowed eRacing to take the limelight and has had more focus because of it.

I will always still use Zwift as a training tool and a racing platform but when racing does resume my focus will return to the road as I’m sure it will for many others. That’s a shame but it will always still be there and might be something to supplement the real racing or to take up early season to help sharpen up.

My thanks for that great insight into eRacing from Zak….

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