So you want to join a virtual racing team?

Coach Deena Blacking speaks to Rhys Howell, founder of Canyon eSports Racing Team, to find out what it takes

indoor training
(Image credit: Future)

As winter in the UK sinks its claws in, the appeal of indoor training is greater than ever. Though indoor training sessions can’t replace road riding, you can still gain a lot of fitness and enjoyment by using indoor training apps like Zwift - especially if you race on Zwift!

If you hadn’t heard of virtual racing before the global pandemic, you’ve certainly heard of it these days - even the pros are racing on Zwift.

The next season of the 2021-2022 Zwift Racing League starts on 11 January 2022. Now is the time to get involved! We spoke to two team managers to understand what it takes and key attributes that they look for in their team members.  Whether you’re looking to move up to the next level or just starting out, read on to find out the key tips for joining a virtual racing team.

Top Tips Canyon eSports Racing Team's founder

Rhys Howell founded Canyon Esports Racing Team in 2018. It was the first of its kind; a professional eRacing team. The team has two squads, a men’s and women’s, which compete at the highest level of racing on Zwift. Each team has between six and nine riders from Europe, America, New Zealand and South Africa. While riders are not paid a salary, they have an extremely attractive sponsorship package, including bikes and kit from Canyon and all the indoor training equipment they could ever need from Wahoo.

Howell had a lot of excellent advice for riders who want to compete at the highest level. We picked his top three.

Get fit for hard, fast racing

In endurance sport, fitness matters. Indoors, fitness matters more. “You need to be an eRacer, not a road racer,” advises Howell. “The physiological demands are very different.” Just look back to last year’s virtual UCI World Tour races. Some of the world’s best road riders delivered disappointingly average performances. What’s different? “Virtual racing is short, hard and fast,” explains Howell. There are no lulls in the pace. There are no demands on technical skills. What matters is your power and, more specifically, your power to weight. “We look for riders with good power to weight, particularly for 5 minutes, 20 minutes and 15 seconds,” confirms Howell. “Our team has a lot of power, but we also need riders with pure sprint power for the intermediate points,” explains Howell.

Of course, it is important to ensure that you achieve a positive power to weight ratio on a healthy manner, keep a close eye out for unhealthy habits - and remember that power is just as important as weight!

Get into good habits

“If you want to race professionally, it’s important to start developing your race routine habits now,” advises Howell. “Key habits to build include weighing in, spin downs, and verifying your equipment,” he continues. “At Canyon Esports, we are dedicated to being the most transparent team in eRacing, providing weigh-in and dual-recordings for all major races.” Howell notes the importance of the gamification too. “Make sure you know how to maximise the specifics of eRacing too, i.e. power ups etc. It is not the same as road riding,” he emphasises.

Get involved!

“I get a lot of emails from riders who want to join the team,” explains Howell. “I tell them all the same thing,” he continues. “Put yourself in places to be seen. Join the Coalition, the Canyon Esports community club, which welcomes all riders. It is a key riding community for scouting talent for Canyon Esports,” says Howell. “Join the key online communities as well,” he continues. “Register on Zwift Power; join the Facebook groups, Zwift Racers and the WTRL Zwift Racing League.”

How to make the cut at Canyon Esports - team attributes!

If you get selected to join a professional team like Canyon Esports, you will be expected to do a 3 month trial. During this time, the team will assess your suitability for the role. “In addition to excellent fitness and eRacing talent, we are looking for proactive, diligent, team players,” explains Howell. “I know it’s cliched, but being a team player is so important,” he continues. “This includes proactive communication, not just during the racing (on Discord) but also outside racing. We want riders who do their homework, organise race reccies, and always ensure their equipment is in excellent condition.”

Howell’s Final Word of Advice

“There are loads of teams out there you can race with every Tuesday,” says Howell. “The best way to find a team is to register on Zwiftpower.com, order the team by size, read the descriptions and then find a team that matches what you are looking for.”

Indoor training working hard

(Image credit: Future)

Advice for joining your first vitural racing team

Holly Seear is the Team Manager for Rapha Cycling Club in the EMEA WTRL Zwift Racing League for women. “We have about 40 female riders racing each week,” explains Seear. “We are fairly flexible on availability, so a rider can join the team but isn’t obliged to race in all eight of the season’s races,” she confirms. “RCC aims to make racing available to all members who want to get involved. They just need to meet some basic requirements before they can join.”

The Basics

Know Your Category: You need to have done at least two Zwift races beforehand to make sure you are racing in the correct category (A, B, C or D).

Meet Up Online: Outside of racing, the team meets online. These meetings will include a team induction, and educational webinars to support training and racing.

Reccie Races: Riders are encouraged to meet on Zwift on Monday night to do a reccie of the race course.

Equipment: Every rider needs an indoor trainer and some way to accurately measure power.

“Racers for an RCC team also need to be a club member. This requirement is fairly unique; most teams don’t require you to be a member of their cycling club,” explains Seear. “We like it, as it adds to the community feel,” she explains. “In September 2021, we met in real life in Yorkshire for the Rapha Prestige, which was such a positive team experience,” she continues. “Being a part of the RCC team is so much more than just turning up on Zwift 10 minutes before the race starts.”

Deena Blacking is a cycling coach and sports consultant at drivetrain.cc

Deena Blacking

Deena Blacking is a cycling coach and sports consultant at drivetrain.cc