Julia Schallau is Focused on eRacing and Only eRacing

Julia’s grit, determination, and pure love of eracing make her a force to be reckoned with, and after hearing what she has to say you will know why.
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I appreciate the opportunity. Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do? Where do you live? Family life, that sort of stuff.

My name is Julia.  I’m 32 and I have three sisters.  I live in GieBen, Germany, but most of my family lives in New Zealand.  I am currently working in a local bike shop.

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What is your cycling story? How did you get involved in virtual cycling and eSports? Tell us about your eSports team.

My first experience with road cycling was four years ago when I swapped my car for a road bike because I wanted to travel faster on my way to work. After a time, I realized that doing a Triathlon could be fun, so I used the road bike for training purposes.

Cycling and its community of people were always fascinating, and I met many friendly people who became friends until now. When we started riding, some of them always wanted to go KOM-hunting, and after realizing what that meant, I immediately liked the idea of competing for different sections.

One and a half years ago, Zwift became my obsession when Sebastian Wolf, our Director Sportif, invited me to join his team and compete with them. That’s the time when my e-cycling story began.

Now I’m a proud member of Beastmode p/b ROSE. We are a team of about 25 cyclists with different backgrounds but one goal: participating and dominating in the highest esports league, the Premium Division.

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The indoor specialist season is heating up. Are you excited? What have you been doing during the ‘off-season?’

I trained daily. Sometimes even twice a day. I often switched between slow rides in the morning and harder efforts in the evening. On weekends I enjoyed doing longer rides with friends in the sun on my Rose X-Lite Four that suits my abilities perfectly.

 

My goal was to improve my Vo2Max the last month as I clearly see my strengths in riding steady efforts for about 5 to 15 minutes in mountainous terrain.  I also used the summer for outdoor races and events.

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What are your goals for the upcoming season, personally and for the team?

My biggest goal is to be selected for the German team, which competes at the World Championships on February 22nd.  Our team is focusing on the Premium Division.

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You have accomplished so much in eSports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual cycling athletes?

My biggest strength is having great people and a good team around me to focus on what’s important. My coach knows my strengths and weaknesses, but he is still around me and keeps me pushing. A huge advantage is also to have ROSE as a sponsor for professional indoor equipment.

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You are considered one of, if not the best pure finishers in eSports. I want to take a deep dive into the topic of sprinting in virtual cycling. For a frame of reference, how tall are you, and approximately how much do you weigh in competition?

I’m 1.71 m, and my race weight is about 54 kg.

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What is your Peak Power and 15-second Power on the road and virtually? What is your PB during a race? Why do you think they are different?

In virtual, it’s 614 watt- 11.4 w/kg – that was during a Zwift Academy test.

In Real Life, it is nearly similar.  My race peak power is about 10.8 w/kg. It’s lower because of the preload and lactate.

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What is your go-to sprinting training workout, and when during the season do you focus on it? Do you do any specific off-the-bike training to improve your sprinting?

I admit that sprinting is my weakness, and I’m not too fond of sprints indoors and outdoor.  In the summer, I focused on endurance and FTP training.

 

When the indoor season came closer, I started VO2 max training and included some sprints in my training routine. I like doing sprints at the end of low-intensity rides or outside to wake up my legs and integrate them into pre-race rides.

 

I don’t do any specific off-the-bike training. In the past, I did a lot of boxing and gym sessions.

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There are many theories on proper form for sprinting indoors? Some say it is more up and down than side to side. Some stress the upper body, seated, standing, that sort of thing. Describe what gives you the most power when sprinting indoors. How does this differ from on the road?

Sprinting indoors, well… Where to start if sprinting isn’t really your talent, but still, I need to train how to sprint to compete?

 

First, I tried to copy my outdoor sprint technique on the trainer, but it didn’t feel right. So I had to find the technique which would bring the most wattages on the pedals.

 

Now I prefer going up and down while pulling the handlebars strongly. This way, the power goes directly into the pedals, and I feel like no power is being wasted because of rocking and rolling sideways.

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Conflicting views on cadence and the ramp-up to the sprint also exist. Some feel you should drop to your heaviest gear and stomp, while others go for a high cadence spin-up. What do you do? Do you think it is dependent upon the type of trainer you use? Does the Zwift trainer's difficulty setting make a difference?

Zwift converts watts into speed. Your cadence doesn’t matter. Simple as that.  So it would be best if you found the cadence which makes you produce the highest power.

 

For me, that doesn’t result in a really high cadence; instead, it results in a cadence with which I can hold a strong power for longer. In a sprint, I prefer to go earlier than the pure sprinters. That means that cadence and power output also depend on the tactic and sprint focus at the time.  

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Success in esports depends largely on making the selections. What is your strategy with respect to pre-race preparation and training? Do you train for a specific power profile when you move indoors? If yes, what areas do you stress, 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes? How does that differ from outdoor racing and training?

I mainly focus on my strengths in riding steady efforts for about 5 to 15 minutes in mountainous terrain. I also try to improve my punch power of 1 minute for more prolonged attacks and sprints. It helps me when I do workouts with short VO2 max Intervals, like 40/20s and 30/30s.

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How much do you factor in the gamification side of eSports? Is there a learning curve that you must master? How vital are power-ups and other things unique to virtual cycling?

You need to have a good sense of tactics and the dynamics of the Zwift game. Raw power doesn’t win races but racing clever and saving energy does. It’s beneficial to collect experiences in many different races and learn how to sit in the pack and use your power-ups. The power-ups make Zwift to the game it is- sometimes a bit unfair und luck decides =)

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Many finishers have a mental checklist that they go through approaching the finale of a race. Pack position, timing, distance, visual cues, and such. What items do you check off as you prepare to unleash the beast?

During my highlight races, it’s Seb who coaches me and gives me the initial advice. In the end, I often just hear him shouting: GO, GO, GO…. That’s the point I unleash my inner beast.

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Do you believe that sprinting indoors is a skill that a racer can learn, or is it a matter of physical makeup and genetics? If yes, what did you do to perfect the craft? What tips would you give someone who wants to improve their virtual sprinting power and results?

I’m sure sprint power can be improved but is significantly determined by biochemistry. Professional cyclists are both born and made. Favorable genetic variations may have provided individuals with potential, but they have had to unlock that potential with appropriate training in an environment conducive to success.

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You can’t win the race if you don’t make the front group. What are your training approach to endurance and sub-threshold work? What strategies do you use to conserve energy during the initial stages of a race? What do you do to smother the fire if you find yourself in the red early in a race?

It’s helpful and necessary to have a high FTP, mainly for races with longer climbs, and to stay in the pack after attacks and sprints. Therefore I integrate longer climbing sessions and over/unders in my training plan.

 

During the race, it’s necessary to sit in the draft and save energy for more strenuous efforts. Sometimes you have to push very hard at the start of the race. Then it’s helpful to know that the race usually will slow down and that everyone feels the same struggle.

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What do you consider to be the most challenging finish on Zwift? Why does it give you so much trouble?

Flat sprints, because sprinting is my weakness, especially if they are short.

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It must be a ton of pressure to be the racer that everyone on the team depends upon to be there at the end and bring it home? Tell us a bit about that. How do you mentally approach a big race? Does a sprinter have to have a different mindset than a climber or breakaway specialist?

Yeah, sometimes I feel the pressure of expectation. I think it’s more the pressure I make myself than from my team. But the whole verification and my anticipation of doing anything correct can be stressful. That’s a part I have to learn since esports is getting more professional, and I reached a higher level.

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There are many other tremendous eSport talents. How closely do you monitor the other powerhouses in the game, during the season and before a race? Is there a specific racer you know always brings it and that you will have to be on the top of your game to beat? Who do you consider to be your greatest rival?

I try not to monitor them too closely because otherwise, it makes me crazy and a little scared. I think Caroline Williams and Kristen Kulchinsky are very strong racers with great power and a lot of experience.

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Some cynics and detractors don’t trust the legitimacy of eSports. What do you say to those who question your veracity and the ability for the playing field to be leveled between competitors? How about those who wonder why what they see on their screen doesn’t always look the same as the final results?

I understand some people’s general concerns due to their experiences in community racing, which isn’t regulated much on Zwift and other platforms. I know that accessibility is essential, but I don’t think everyone on every setup should race, especially if someone has big fluctuations in weight or isn’t using a power meter or smart trainer.

 

But everyone in the Zwift Premier Division has to go through a lengthy verification process and dual records their power readings in all races. There is always room to improve, but it’s generally the best way we currently have as long as we don’t compete on standardized equipment or even better at live events.

 

From a pure racing perspective, I would love for Zwift to change to a full server-side model. At the moment, results are determined server-side while graphics are rendered client-side, which makes every racer see something different.

 

At the same time, it wouldn’t change the way I race since I mostly try to decide the race before the final sprint anyway.

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Virtual cycling and eSports have come a long way in a short time. What do you envision eSports will be like in five years? What is your vision for the future of eSports? What do you feel it will take to get it there? What are the challenges that eSports faces in becoming recognized as a trusted competition venue?

Five years seems like a long time in cycling eSports. Six years ago, Zwift was still in beta. Esports itself is already a trusted competition with a large and enthusiastic fan base looking at stuff like League of Legends.

 

The same could be said about traditional cycling. Combining parts of both worlds into a new discipline or even sport – without replacing traditional road cycling in any way – of cycling and eSports has enormous potential, in my opinion.

 

We are only at the beginning of that journey, and my team wants to be part of it. We hope for more live events to interact with our fans and add more trust to the results of our competitions.

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Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us one of your virtual racing secrets. Something you haven’t told anyone else before that helps make you better than the rest. Please?!?

Having Seb’s voice in my ear =)

Thank You, Julia!

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