'It’s all about quality for Zwift. You don't need to be a full-time rider': Joe Rees on preparing for the eSports World Champs

Trainee teacher Joe Rees on squeezing in training for the UCI eSports World Champs alongside hectic study commitments

Joe Rees on the turbo trainer
(Image credit: Huw Fairclough)

Want to know how the best riders in the world train? For each article in this long-running MY WEEK IN TRAINING series from Cycling Weekly's print edition, we sit down with an elite rider who talks us through a recent week of training in granular detail. 

For this edition, first published in February, we spoke to amateur racer Joe Rees who had recently been selected for the UCI eSports World Championships – to find out how a regular rider squeezes in training around their full-time vocation when preparing for a top-level virtual race. More recently (15-19 June) Rees finished third U23 and 10th overall in Ireland's Rás Tailteann.

He may not be a pro cyclist, but Joe Rees is a world-class Zwift racer, and this Saturday he will be competing – from home – in the UCI eSports World Championships. Rees, who at 21 is the youngest member of the GB team, will be competing alongside fellow Zwift specialists Gavin Dempster, Ed Laverack, Mark Bruce and Andy Nichols. The Welshman is currently studying to become a teacher, and during the week described in detail below, he was squeezing in training around hectic days on placement in a primary school. 

How long have you been riding competitively? 

I’ve been cycling casually since 2008 when I was in the Maindy Flyers, and more seriously since I became a junior in 2017. I joined Embark-Bikestrong when I reached U23 level. 

When did you get into Zwift racing? 

I started during lockdown – like a lot of people, I saw it as an alternative way of training. Here in Wales the weather is always horrible anyway! Initially I did a few community races and was doing quite well, so I started doing the weekly WTRL team time trials with the Rowe and King team, which led to my doing some invitational races. After looking around for a Zwift team, I ended up with Wahoo Le Col, racing in the Zwift Racing League.

Rider profile: Joe Rees

Age: 21 

Height: 5ft 10in 

FTP: 350W 

Lives: Cardiff 

Rides for: Embark-Bikestrong (road), Wahoo Le Col (Zwift)

Best results: 1st – Welsh Junior Criterium Championships, 2018; 1st – Welsh Junior TT Championships, 2018; 22nd – Lancaster GP, 2021 

Instagram: joerees16

How did you get selected for the eSports World Championships? 

I did the Worlds qualifier [on 28 November; Rees finished 27th] and I think British Cycling ended up basing their decisions mainly on that race. 

Does eRacing benefit your road racing? 

It’s hugely beneficial, I think. Though it’s different, in terms of being able to generate raw, punchy power, it translates over nicely – especially relevant for British road racing. 

What’s the best way to get better at Zwift racing? 

It’s all about quality, not quantity. My training won’t take me to the Tour de France but it’s perfect for these shorter races. It’s all about shorter, VO2max type efforts: typically one-minute and three-minute intervals, backed up with threshold efforts. A Zwift race is essentially a long over-under session.

Has being selected for an international race expanded your ambitions? 

Well, it’s a nice confirmation that what I’m doing is working, that’s how I’m looking at it. It’s a real honour to have this opportunity and be able to wear a national jersey in a race. I’m under no illusions, though – the best road guys are far better than me; they have the time, the resources and the natural gifts.

Facts and figures

The week: 17-23 January 2022

Location: Cardiff

Training for: UCI eSports World Championships

Total riding: 7hr 50min

Z3+ effort: 52min

The week

Monday: Rest day – 0hr 

Today was my first day of placement – basically acting as a teaching assistant in a primary school – so I took this as a rest day. I was also recovering from the weekend, when I’d done two three-hour rides with team-mate and fellow e-Sports World Champs competitor Illi Gardner. 

Tuesday: VO2max efforts – 1hr 

Another day working 8:30-16:30 on placement. After getting home, I did an hour on the turbo with a one-minute effort, a three-minute effort, then another one-minute. In the first one-minute I did 669W, in the three-minute I averaged 456W, and the final one-minute was 608W. I was happy enough with those numbers, around a month out from the race.

Wednesday: Sprint blocks – 50min 

On Wednesday, I did a 50-minute ride on the turbo after getting home from placement, including sprint blocks. I did five 20/40-second sprints at around 700W and five 30/30-second sprints at around 600W. Today wasn’t really about focusing on the numbers but rather just perceived effort and recovering quickly enough. Zwift races are often about being able to repeat intense efforts over and over, so being able to recover quickly is important. 

Thursday: Turbo spin – 1hr 

Again on the turbo and feeling tired after placement, I just did an hour’s general riding, averaging 205W. I found a new route on Zwift, and it was just spinning the legs really. After the ride I also did a bit of home gym work: some Bulgarian split-squats, bullet squats, calf raises, glute raises and general core work, just to try and help with injury prevention. 

Friday: Rest day – 0hr 

Friday was another rest day. It’s easy to forget that rest is important when your training intensity is high, even when the total hours are low. 

Saturday: Hilly endurance ride – 3hr 

With placement finally over, I did three hours on the road. I chose a hilly route – 86km with 1,600m of climbing. It was a nice day but very cold, as is often the case in Wales, so I rode my gravel bike to feel a bit safer on the icy patches. I’ve been really enjoying riding off-road this winter – racing up short, punchy, off-road climbs with my friends and team-mate Bryn Davies certainly helps me to deal with the punchy nature of Zwift races.

Sunday AM: Over-under effort, PM: Zwift race – 2h 

Sunday was probably my most structured training day of the week. I did a little over two hours on the road with a 20-minute over-under block, doing 320W for the ‘under’ and 430W for the ‘over’; a 12-minute over-under effort at the same powers; and finally a five-minute effort just below max effort up a climb, averaging 406W. A couple of hours after I got home, I did a 30-minute Zwift race [3R Tick Tock Flat Race] and came second – I like to do a Zwift race on fatigued legs.

This article was originally published in the 24 February 2022 print edition of Cycling Weekly magazine. Subscribe online and get the magazine delivered to your door every week.   (opens in new tab)

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David Bradford is fitness editor of Cycling Weekly (print edition). He has been writing and editing professionally for more than 15 years, and has published work in national newspapers and magazines including the Independent, the Guardian, the Times, the Irish Times, Vice.com and Runner’s World. Alongside his love of cycling, David is a long-distance runner with a marathon PB of two hours 28 minutes. Having been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) in 2006, he also writes about sight loss, equality and social affairs.