While competing in his bathroom, J Bruhn fulfilled a lifelong dream and notched one for the average Joe cyclist. An interview with J Bruhn.
The 2022 UCI Esports Cycling World Championships will take place on February 26, 2022. Eracers worldwide competed in a series of continental qualifier races for the opportunity to represent their country.
On November 28, 2021, J Bruhn lined up against 82 competitors from the Americas region, consisting of racers from America, Canada, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Argentina.
When the dust settled after two hard-fought laps of the Watopia Figure 8 route, J Bruhn finished in the top-5 and secured a spot on Team USA.
You will not want to miss his honest and sincere thoughts. When I caught up with J after the race this is what he had to share. The interview with J Bruhn.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do? Where do you live? Family life, that sort of stuff.
I am married to a wife I don’t deserve, Ally, and I have one daughter who is 2.5 years old who already has me wrapped around her finger, and she knows it! We also have another daughter on the way!
I work in the construction industry in project management that has had me move around from DC to Houston, to the UK, to Beaumont, TX, and now we are in Baton Rouge, LA.
I am a Christian, husband, father, brother, son, and friend first, and somewhere down the priority list, I am also a cyclist on the side, haha.
What is your cycling story? When did you start competing, and what is your racing history? What is your most significant accomplishment racing on the road?
Well, this will be underwhelming, haha, but I first started cycling when I got into triathlons in college. Before that, I played baseball and basketball in high school. Back then, I was 190 lbs!
I would say I was a back-of-the-front-pack triathlete. I could win small local triathlons, but I was happy winning my age group most of the time. One of my best results was 87th at USAT Collegiate Nationals one year, not very impressive, I know.
My strength was always cycling, so I never focused on it. For most of my triathlon career, I would ride maybe once a week and still managed to be first off the bike at most races. Friends used to tell me I was a cyclist trying to be a triathlete and I should focus on that, but I never listened.
After college, I focused on running because that was easy to keep up. June of 2020, I decided to give Zwift a try, so I dusted off my old rusty tri bike after six years off the bike and set off and never looked back.
You will find J Bruhn’s Strava profile here.
When and how did you get involved in virtual cycling and esports? What is your eracing history and biggest win before now?
I started Zwift in June of 2020. I was mainly running before that. Once we had our daughter, I needed to work out while she napped, and Zwift seemed like a good option.
After one day of messing around, I decided to wake up early and try out the DIRT Rolling Thunder Ride, a blistering 2.5 – 3.2 wkg paced ride. Needless to say, one day of riding was not enough to prepare me, and I got dropped from the group, rode solo the rest of the ride, and could barely walk the rest of the day, haha.
I was hooked, though, and knew I wanted to get better and start racing. About a month later, I had already upgraded to A and loved the challenge, and wanted to continue to get better so I could be competitive.
Before this race, my biggest win would probably be a 4th place finish in the OH CRIT! Subzero race a couple of weeks before the qualifier. There were so many big-name sprinters in that race that I looked up to, and I was right there shoulder to shoulder with them. That gave me the confidence to think that maybe I had a chance at the qualifier.
Take a look at J Bruhn’s ZwiftPower profile here.
Tell us about your esports team. How has racing for Eat DIRT prepared you this moment? Is there anything unique about your team that has contributed to your success?
The Eat DIRT team has been more like a family than a team over the last year. If it weren’t for the community and accountability, I would have given up a long time ago or at least slept in much more often!
However, it wasn’t until Matt Brandt joined that he saw the potential in me and changed a few things about how I trained, and that took my racing to a whole new level.
Was the 2022 UCI Cycling Esports World Championship Continental Qualifier event representing Eat DIRT on November 28, 2021, a goal for the season?
Honestly, the goal was to dominate the ZRL season, and I had been working toward that. I found out about the qualifier a few weeks ago. That was a pipe dream for me, though, so I didn’t take it too seriously because I did not think I was good enough to qualify.
I did the ZADA test the weekend before the race but had to use my backup HR monitor, and it froze during the test, so I had to do it again. I also had a playoff race on Tuesday before for the ZRL, where I put in a new PB 20 min power of 5.0 wkg and upgraded to A+ for the first time. I did my second try at the ZADA test Wednesday then took it easy the rest of the week.
When did you decide that you would attempt to qualify? What was it that told you that you have what it takes to compete for a spot on the national team?
I knew I would give it a shot as soon as I received the announcement. When I saw what course it was, I began to think I had a shot because I raced a KISS race the week before and was able to hang on to the front group.
After the OH CRIT! Races where I was able to hang with the best sprinters, I thought that if I could just hang on to the front group and timed the sprint just right that I had an outside shot.
What was the qualification procedure, and how did you qualify?
The qualification procedure for the race was straightforward, just race in the A Category for ZRL and then take the ZADA test. I wasn’t worried about that because I have always been meticulous about calibrating my trainer and secondary power meter.
Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?
I currently race in our guest room bathroom, haha. It is the only quiet place where I don’t wake anyone up and has a hard tile surface for stability. I have a Saris H3 trainer and Garmin Vector 3 Power Meter Pedals for secondary.
I have always been obsessive about calibrating and confirming my power numbers were correct because I have always seen myself as an average athlete, and my numbers kept improving. The next thing I knew, I was putting out elite numbers, so I wanted to make sure they were correct.
How did you prepare for the Continental Qualifier event? Did you adjust your schedule or training to target the event?
My typical schedule includes a lot of racing, so I just cut out a couple of races to get a little more rest. But like I mentioned, I didn’t give myself a chance once I saw the sign-up list. It was full of riders I look up to and admire from afar. Every time I see those guys in the pen, I feel like I don’t belong, haha.
What was your mindset leading up to the race? What were your expectations?
The mental aspect is something I have been working to improve. I still see myself as an outsider to the rest of the elite riders. I had to keep telling myself in the week leading up to the race that if you can just hang on to the front group, you have a chance.
My goal was not to get dropped, my ambitious goal was top-10, and my impossible goal was top-5.
Did you have a pre-race strategy? How did it play out during the race?
The pre-race strategy was to sit in and conserve as much energy as possible. I knew that it would be tough for a breakaway to make it with such a strong field and that I had to trust the pack to bring back any attacks.
I focused on the recon for the sprint finish. I raced this course about two weeks prior and screwed up the finish sprint, and learned a lot of what not to do. I planned to start the downhill lead-in to the sprint in the back and utilize the supertuck because I knew the pace would be hot coming down that hill.
I would start my initial kick near the bottom of the hill and hopefully mid-pack and use that to gain momentum. Then I would hit my aero powerup just after it flattened out and hopefully work my way through the rest of the field. I envisioned that finish a hundred times leading up to the race.
Were there any particular racers or team tactics you considered when preparing for the race?
I knew both the NeXT and Saris NoPinz teams were bringing full squads and would come with some tactics. I knew they would try to launch some attacks, but I also knew I could do nothing about it. I was riding solo, so I just had to trust the pack to bring them back.
I also knew Zach Nehr launched an attack from 2km out last time on that course and made it stick, so I suspected that was a trial run for this event and that he might try it again.
Who did your team consist of, and what was the role of your teammates?
I typically ride with Matt Brandt and Gerry Hernandez in most races, and we each have very specific roles and tactics for each race which makes it a ton of fun. Unfortunately, neither of them could make this race, so I was riding solo.
I didn’t realize how much I needed them until they were gone, haha. Being solo in a race like that was terrifying.
Did you have a DS for the race?
Nope, I had no DS. My wife and daughter went to church while I raced, so I was home alone. The only info I got during the race was my HUD map to see how far the breakaways were. Luckily, I don’t think it hurt me too much because I was solo anyway, and there wasn’t much I could do about any of the attacks.
What was going through your head as you sat in the pen and took a moment to take it all in and scan the names?
It was a bit surreal. As I said, it was full of guys that I have looked up to and admired from afar, not only as eracers but also as people because of their character and integrity.
How was your start, and how did the initial stages of the race play out?
The start was a bit tame. I think everyone knew the first KOM would be full gas trying to break up the pack some, so no real attacks before the KOM, which allowed me to settle in and get my HR down.
How did you feel as you settled down? How did the race unfold for you? What was going through your mind?
After a tame start, we hit the Watopia Reverse KOM with a good punch, but luckily it wasn’t too uncomfortable. Then immediately after the KOM, the first actual attack came.
I knew all four guys in that first break were absolute monsters. As I saw the gap grow to about 30 seconds, I thought that was the winning move. Luckily, NeXT didn’t have anyone in that group, and they had teammates that were all-in on pulling back the breakaway.
Without them, the race would have been over for me. We hit the Forward KOM, and I think I made it up in around 1:34 near the front of the pack. I was excited because I felt in control, and I didn’t have to go too deep into the well to stay near the front.
We finally caught the breakaway the second time up the Reverse KOM and had a faster segment time the second time up. Then the attacks started flying.
I was consistently putting in huge digs to stay with the pack, which was wearing me down. I knew I had to try to conserve as much energy as I could because the last break would come on the second time up Forward KOM, and that was the one part I knew would be my make-or-break moment.
Were there any points during the race where you had to dig deep? Did you ever have any doubts that you would be able to maintain the front group?
The second time up the Forward KOM, I was near the limit. I made the mistake of hitting the base too hard, and when we made the last 180 switchback before the final drag, I knew I had to go all-in.
I had an aero powerup, but I didn’t want to risk losing it, so I wanted to make it up on my own. With about 25% to go until it turned right and leveled out, I put my head down, got out of the saddle, and gave it everything I had.
I told myself if I make it over, I can find a sprint in these legs somewhere. We finally made it, and I was squarely in the middle of the pack, right where I wanted to be.
The latter stages of the race appeared to play in your favor. How did you feel as the finale approached? What things did you check off your mental list as the race was coming to a close?
I think my best attribute is that no matter how tired I am, I can somehow always manage to muster up a sprint. My legs were dead from the last KOM, but I knew I could find a way to give myself a chance.
I just had to believe. The finale lead-in got kinda crazy though, there were tons of attacks in the last 5 km, and I was on the limit trying to stick with everyone as we covered them. As I suspected, I saw Zach go at about 2km, but I had nothing to go with him, which turned out to be the winning move!
You positioned yourself towards the back of the big bunch with less than a kilometer to go. Was that your preference for the final sprint, or were you playing the cards you were dealt?
I typically ride with trainer difficulty at 0, and I have a good feel for what every gear should feel like, making my sprint generally predictable. For this race, I set the TD at 50%, and there was less resistance on the downhill.
As we approached, I looked down to make sure I was in the right gear, and sure enough, a small gap had formed as I looked up. My heart sank, and sheer panic came over me. For a moment, I thought I just blew my shot at qualifying, so being that far back was not the plan, haha.
Tell us about your final sprint. How did it feel? What numbers did you hit, and how did they compare to your performance in other less significant races? Did the magnitude of the race play a factor?
Once I saw the gap, I punched it to catch up. I think it ended up helping me because I caught the group about halfway down and used that momentum to carry me through. I hit the aero powerup a little too early and then went all in!
It ended up being a 30-second sprint, and because I had to put in a hard dig before my sprint started, I couldn’t hit my typical top-end numbers. I ended up having a decent 30-second number (12.3 wkg, 778 watts) which was good enough to slingshot me through the group.
1st Reverse KOM: 3:49 314W (5 wkg)
1st Forward KOM: 1:34 501W (7.9 wkg)
2nd Reverse KOM: 3:38 349W (5.5 wkg)
2nd Forward KOM: 1:37 478W (7.5 wkg)
30-second 778W (12.3 wkg)
15-second 870W (13.7 wkg)
262W (4.1 wkg)
Normalized power 315W (5 wkg)
At what point did you know that you had done it? That you had qualified to represent the United States in the 2022 UCI Cycling Esports World Championships? What is the first thing that popped into your head?
I put my head down and every ounce of energy and focus into my legs and didn’t look up until I was about to keel over. I saw the flash of the finish line, and then the results popped up. Then a moment that my words will never do justice happened.
I let out a scream and couldn’t believe it. My wife and daughter had just gotten home and ran in. Tears filled my eyes as I looked at them in disbelief.
I had done it. I achieved a dream I didn’t think I was allowed to dream anymore. Truly a feeling of pure joy I will never forget.
Was anyone watching you race? What was the reaction?
My wife came into the room for the finish. She couldn’t believe it. I don’t think she truly understood how big this was until she saw my reaction, haha.
My parents were also watching the live broadcast. I called them immediately after, and they said they were jumping up and down as they watched it on TV.
Was this the most brutal race of your career?
That is a tricky question because every race is hard in its own unique way. I guess the answer is “yes” because it was difficult mentally to convince myself I belonged in the race and had a shot. I also pushed my body to the absolute limit because I wanted it so bad!
How does it feel to have the opportunity to represent the United States and your Eat DIRT team?
Honestly, it still doesn’t feel real. To sit here and say it is an honor would be an understatement. I have grown up admiring the athletes that have worn the colors to represent our country.
I always wanted to try to find a way to represent the US in some way or some sport, but I never thought I had the athletic ability to do so, at least not in any of the sports I had tried. So that goal just seemed like a wild pipe dream. To sit here and think that I accomplished it is mind-blowing.
To represent not only Eat DIRT but the broader DIRT community is also a huge honor. I have so much respect for the guys that I have become close friends with through this community. At the end of the day, we aren’t professional cyclists.
We are just a bunch of dads doing our best. We have other priorities, so it has been amazing to have the support of this community. Even after the race, I received over 300 messages (some people sent multiple, haha), but it showed me how much support I had out there, and it meant the world to me.
How does qualifying for the team as a Community Racer make you feel? Did anyone doubt you or your team? What do you have to say about that?
It is such an honor. I feel like I get to represent the average joe rider because that is who I am, haha. I am sure some people doubted and didn’t think I had a chance. Nobody ever said anything to my face, though.
But honestly, I wouldn’t blame them, haha. If you look at my power profile, it is good, but not at the level of most of the other riders in the field. I knew my strength was going to be tactics, course knowledge, and timing. If I could pair that with the power profile I have, then I could surprise some people, which is what happened.
Where does this achievement fall in your list of cycling accomplishments?
Haha, this is by far the most significant athletic achievement of my life, period. I think it is ironic and hilarious that it just so happened to take place in a bathroom.
The World Championship will take place on February 26, 2022. How do you plan to approach the race mentally and physically?
The race will be so different from the qualifying race. It is a hilltop finish which doesn’t suit me. I will be training to improve my 5-minute power, so hopefully, I can stay with the leading pack and maybe have a kick at the end.
Mentally, I think I will always struggle with feeling like I belong. I still see myself as the average joe cyclist.
What are your goals and expectations for the race? How will you put yourself in the best position to achieve the greatest outcome?
Honestly, if I continue to surround myself with people that push me and believe in me, I know I have the drive to push past what I ever thought possible. I have done it once, and maybe I can do it again.
Have you been in contact with the other Americas Qualifiers to discuss tactics and strategy? How do you anticipate that dynamic playing out?
I have been in contact with the other qualifiers, but it has been chiefly just to say congratulations to one another. Once they announce the final/entire team, I am sure we will work together to leverage everyone’s strengths to bring home a win for the USA!
The course selection is interesting. It will be tough for a breakaway to survive with how strong the field will be, and I am sure there will be domestiques in the bunch to bring back any attacks.
Ultimately, in my opinion, it will come down to somebody who has an extremely strong 5-minute power (6.5+) and still has some pop in their legs for a monster 30-second effort.
The floor is yours! Is there anything you would like to say?
I want to emphasize that while this has been by far the highlight of my athletic career and has brought me so much joy and excitement, I recognize that this joy will soon fade, and there will always be a new athletic achievement to pursue.
However, I found a joy in Jesus Christ that will never fade, and it took me longer than some, haha. The hope and peace that I have found are what drives and fills me. It has allowed me to be a better husband, father, and friend, and I hope that this light shining in me shines brighter than any light on me through this cycling journey!
Thank-you, J! Good luck to all of the Women and Men!
Follow J on Instagram as he documents his preparation for the Worlds here.
The 2022 Esports Worlds will be contested on Zwift’s New York Knickerbocker course. The racers will conquer two complete circuits of the 22.5km route before finishing at the top of the New York KOM.
Good luck to all of the women and men who have qualified to represent their country.
J is letting us at The ZOM sit on his wheel and go along for the ride. Check-in for more from J as we document his journey from community racer to the World Championship!
Who do you think has the best chance of winning the prestigious event and why? I know where my money is going. Comment below. Your fellow esports enthusiasts want to know.
For more great eracer interviews like this one check out the Esports page of The ZOM!
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!