Next month, the second ever UCI Cycling Esports World Championships takes place on the Knickerbocker route in Zwift’s New York world (26 February, 2022). Unlike the traditionally epically long Road Worlds races, the Esports World Championships course is only 54.9 km long with 944m of climbing. Like most Zwift races, it is going to be a brutal test of who can turn themselves inside out for long enough.
The secret to most successful performances is a winning combination of physiological and mental fitness. At the top of any sport, most athletes are in peak physiological fitness. This means that the mental game becomes the deciding factor. Motivation and determination, self-belief and sense of self will sift the winners from the rest.
In the world of indoor racing, there is no hiding away from the pain. It’s a test of mental fortitude like no other. So how do the world’s best stay motivated to train and embrace the pain? We spoke to Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Freddy Ovett and Lionel Vujasin to find out more.
Freddy Ovett, 27, is an Australian who rides for L39ion of Los Angeles. He did his first e-race about four years ago. “It was like doing a 1-hour FTP test. I did it and I thought, I am never doing this again,” he confesses. “But then lockdown in Spain happened in last year and I needed a way to exercise,” he explains. “So I hopped on Zwift with some of my friends, and it just went from there,” he continues. When the 2020 World Tour races moved onto Zwift during the global pandemic, Ovett beat many of the world’s best riders in the Zwift Tour For All, including Mathieu van der Poel. He went on to win the fourth stage of the virtual Tour de France. How did he stay motivated?
“When it comes to motivation, I always want to be a better athlete,” explains Ovett. “And I know that there’s no shortcuts,” he continues. “Whether it’s studying for an exam, eating better to lose weight, or training, you can’t fool yourself,” he advises. “Progress isn’t linear, but I will always keep working towards the end goal - I always have the big picture in mind.”
Lionel Vujasin, 32, is a Belgian who rides for Canyon Esports, racing exclusively indoors. Last month, Vujasin won the European Eracing Worlds Qualifiers. According to team manager Rhys Howell, “He is of a rare breed who has been at the top of the game for a long time and proven himself in live events as well as racing remotely.”
Vujasin has been racing bikes since he was 12 years old, but it became difficult to sustain once he started working full-time. “Zwift was a great way to get quality training stress,” he explains. “I train about 8-10 hours per week. I try to focus on quality, not volume,” he continues. “10 hours a week works with other commitments, like my job and my family.”
“Motivation is different for everyone,” says Vujasin. “I love the numbers. With Zwift, you have all the data. I’ve been training with power for years; I love to see the progression,” he explains. “In a race, I love the adrenalin of being at the front of a race,” he continues. “Plus, it’s a team effort. I don’t often win, but I can win a lot of points for my team with intermediate sprints. The team is a huge motivation,” he emphasises.
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, 36, is the current UCI Women’s Esport World Champion. The South African, who rides for Women’s World Tour team SD Worx, came to cycling in her 20s. “There’s no denying it - indoor racing is hard,” explains Moolman-Pasio. “But I also love the fact that it’s at home,” she continues. “My dog will lie on the couch beside me, or my husband is there cheering me on. And then when it’s done, I just walk downstairs, shower, have dinner, and I’m done.”
“In road racing, there’s always the worry that you might do too much and get caught by the peloton,” says Moolman-Pasio. “Whereas in Zwift, you can put in an attack, go deeper until your legs are screaming. You can have the comfort that no one can catch you; there’s no need for hesitation until you cross the finish line.”
“Lockdown also opened my eyes to the power of the virtual world,”, Moolman-Pasio continues. “My training became more social than ever before. The interactions with other cyclists is more real and more personal.” Moolman-Pasio describes herself as a “purpose-driven athlete” who used cycling as a way to build her self-confidence, and is now trying to do the same for others. In 2021, she founded the Rocacorba Collective, an online cycling community which aims to empower women by giving them more confidence, skills and fitness through e-cycling. “A lot of women are being empowered by ecycling because they can do it from the safety of their own home, behind a computer screen,” explains Moolman-Pasio. “It’s mindblowing to see all the nationalities on Zwift. E-sports is so much more inclusive,” she concludes.
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