'I went from Olympic rower to e-sports world champion': Jason Osborne's incredible journey from boat to bike

Never outside the top three at the UCI Esports World Champs, the rower turned WorldTour cyclist shares his recipe for indoor racing greatness

Jason Osborn at the Tokyo Olympics and on a turbo trainer
(Image credit: Stefan Rachow/Mr. Pinko)

For each article in this long-running WATT WORKS FOR ME series from Cycling Weekly's print edition, we ask a pro rider about their favourite things in training: what has helped them most in getting to where they are today. The aim is to get to the heart of the beliefs and preferences they hold dear when it comes to building form, maximising fitness and ultimately achieving results. For this edition we speak to Jason Osborne…

You were an Olympic medallist rower – how did you transition to cycling?

I was already using Zwift as a training platform, and cycling was an important form of cross-training as a rower. It was fun too, to go for KOMs, do a race or meet up with rowing team-mates in the virtual world. It was my plan to move into road cycling, so I targeted the 2020 UCI Esports World Championships to try to attract the attention of some of the bigger teams [he won and was signed by Deceuninck-Quick-Step as a stagiaire].

You’ve been on the podium in every Esports World Champs – what makes you such a great indoor racer?

First of all, I have a big engine, but e-racing takes away most of the parts that are important on the road – positioning, manoeuvring through the peloton – so it’s much easier to get that engine into place. There is a tactical part of Zwift racing, which you learn by doing more and more of it.

Did the mental toughness developed in rowing help you too?

In rowing, you have to have a high pain tolerance. Even though a race might be only six minutes, the intensity is high and you consume even more oxygen [than in cycling]. It really teaches you how to accept the pain, and in a Zwift race, mostly decided in high-intensity sections, this plays a huge role.

Which hurts more, rowing or cycling?

In general, the feeling of pain in a rowing race is higher than in cycling. A six-minute all-out test on a rowing machine always feels a lot harder than on a bike – your body has nowhere to hide, every part is hurting.

What is the most effective type of training for e-racing?

You need to develop the ability to buffer lactate, to follow attacks over and over again. Punchiness and your sprint also need to be decent, though you don’t need to be the best sprinter. The best riders are those who are able to repeat all-out efforts by recovering faster.

What are the key tactics in Zwift racing?

You need to know where to conserve energy and where to expend it. For example, on the Scotland [virtual] course at last year’s Esports World Champs, you had to be at the front before each main climb. Equally, you need to know when to ease off and relax in the peloton. Therefore, you have to know the parcours, and when to use power-ups to greatest effect.

Now that you’ve experienced road racing, do you think Zwift is realistic?

It’s quite realistic, but obviously it’s more intense. In a road race, usually a breakaway goes and you have time to bring it back before the favourites go for the win. In a Zwift race, you only have an hour, so you have to make the most of it and be as smart as possible – don’t completely blow yourself up at the beginning!

Jason Osborne

Age: 29

Height: 5ft 10in 

Lives: Frankfurt, Germany 

FTP: Not supplied 

Rides for: Alpecin-Deceuninck

Best results: 2nd GC – Tour of Austria (2023)

Instagram: Jasonosbornerowing

Best sessions for e-racing success?

Sets of 10 times one-minute-on, one-minute-off where the ‘on’ is quite far over threshold, accumulating lactate, and the ‘off’ is at fat-max [65-75% of FTP], where you reduce lactate fastest. Your body adapts to handle the lactate. VO2 max sessions are important too; for example, four times four minutes [at above 105% of FTP].

Top tip for budding e-racers?

Firstly, do Zwift racing on a regular basis. Get to know the platform and the algorithm. Learn how it’s different from road racing. It’s about developing your ability on the platform, remembering that it’s a computer game and you only get better by playing more.

QUICK-FIRE FAVES

Motivational distraction on the turbo? Music or Netflix, depending if I’m in ERG mode. For intense effort, deep house or electronic music.

Zwift course to race on? The one used for the 2023 Esports World Champs [specially designed Scotland course].

Place to ride outdoors? Lombardy [northern Italy].

Pre-race food? Porridge, then pancakes from the team. Before a Zwift race, porridge, then toast with jam. 

Inspirational cyclist or sportsperson? Bradley Wiggins – I always felt some sympathy for him and liked his humour. 

Dream race to win? Either a stage of a Grand Tour or a one-day race like San Sebastian. 

Celebratory post-race treat? Whatever I feel like having – burger and fries, pizza or steak.

Interest or hobby outside of cycling? Sport in general, particularly tennis, but also cooking. 

Quality in a training partner? Being able to motivate each other through the hard times.

The full version of this article was published in the 26 October 2023 print edition of Cycling Weekly magazine. Subscribe online and get the magazine delivered to your door every week.

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