With All the Cards on the Table, Jadon Jaeger Pushed All-In for a Solo Win and Qualified for the Esports World Championship

In the USA Cycling winner-take-all race-off, Jadon Jaeger took the winning move to the top step of the podium and the honor of representing Restart on Team USA!

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, Jadon Jaeger lined up against 82 competitors from the Americas region, consisting of racers from America, Canada, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Argentina.

 

After two hard-fought laps of the Zwift Watopia Figure 8 route, Jadon Jaeger finished 16th and missed out on the opportunity to represent Team USA.

On Saturday, December 11, USA Cycling, in collaboration with the Echelon Racing League, hosted a qualifier event on RGT Cycling to name one man and one woman for the World Championship team.

 

The event took place on the Gateway Cup p/b Bommarito Audi Benton Park Course, a longstanding Pro Road Tour event located in the heart of St. Louis, MO, and Jadon Jaeger lined up for another shot.

When I caught up with Jadon after the race, he had this to share. An interview with Team USA's Jadon Jaeger.
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Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do? Where do you live? Family life, that sort of stuff.

I was born and raised in Dickinson, North Dakota. I currently reside in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (metro Milwaukee area) with my wife, Kimberly, and our dog, Bailey. Between the three of us, we are a very active and busy family.  

 

Find Jadon’s FaceBook profile here and instagram here.

 

I am a structural engineer at CSD Structural Engineers and spend my weekdays designing steel mills. I watch a healthy share of road and cyclocross racing. I am an avid fan of F1 and MotoGP racing and would love to have a Ferrari 812 Superfast as my daily driver amongst other cars in my garage.

 

In my second life, I would come back as an astronaut.

Jadon Jaeger, his wife and dog
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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?

I dabbled in racing on and off in the late 2000s, doing the odd mountain bike, hill climb, or criterium race here and there. I started racing ‘more seriously’ in 2013. I have since progressed to a Cat 1 on the road and a Cat 2 in cyclocross.

 

In 2017 I won the USA Masters Criterium National Championship. In 2019 and 2021, I won the USA Masters Time Trial National Championship. In 2018 I was fortunate enough to do some racing in France and came home with a handful of top tens, including one second-place finish.

Jadon racing his bike

Find Jadon’s Strava profile here and ZwiftPower profile here.

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When and how did you get involved in virtual cycling and esports? What is your eracing history and biggest win before now?

My virtual cycling days go way back to the mid-2000s when I would ride on Computrainers in a group setting using the RacerMate software. The indoor cycling scene has come a long way since then.

 

I first tried Zwift in 2015 but didn’t find it too appealing at that time. I eventually returned to the platform and did my first race in 2019.

 

In 2020 I joined the Restart team (formerly the Dropouts) and began racing consistently with them. I would say my biggest wins up until now have been a round of the ZRL in the community division, an Oh Crit Saturday race, and the recent USAC qualifying race on RGT.

virtual cycling avatar for Jadon
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What virtual cycling platform do you compete on primarily?

I primarily use Zwift, but I also compete in the Echelon Racing League on the RGT platform.

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Tell us about your esports team. How has racing for Restart prepared you for this moment? Is there anything unique about your team that has contributed to your success?

The Restart team is a laid-back, easy-going team. Everyone is welcoming and helpful to one another. We like to race hard but still have fun. At the end of a race, we are all still just indoor cyclists staring at a monitor with day jobs to manage and families and friends to care for.

 

Being a member of the Restart team has given me a wealth of knowledge about racing on Zwift. One of our members, Luc Guilbeault, has done over 1000 races. Without a doubt, I wouldn’t have been as successful without them.

 

It was especially evident in the USA Cycling qualifying event. We went in with a plan and executed it to perfection.

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Was the 2022 UCI Cycling Esports World Championship Continental Qualifier event a goal for the season? When did you decide that you would attempt to qualify?

The continental race was not a goal of mine for the season. There wasn’t a lot of prior notice where I could tailor my training in the month or two leading up to the event. But given that I was already ZADA verified and racing in the ZRL Premier League, I had nothing to lose by competing.

Jadon's indoor cycling space
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Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?

All of my indoor riding happens in my basement. I use a Wahoo Kickr smart trainer (2018 model) as my primary power source and a Rotor 2INPower power meter. I am ZADA-verified on the equipment I use in almost every race. I do regular spindowns of the trainer and recalibrations of the power meter. I routinely post dual analyses on my Zwiftpower profile.

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On November 28, Zwift hosted the Pan American qualification race for the 2022 UCI esports cycling world championships, and the top 5 places earned a spot on Team USA. How was the race, and where did you end up?

I finished in 16th place. The race played out very much like a typical Zwift race. The guy who eventually won, Zach Nehr, stayed off the front in the final kilometer, but otherwise, it came down to a bunch sprint finish.

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That must have been a tremendous letdown. At what point did you decide that you would compete in the all-or-nothing (only the winner qualified) race-off on December 11 on the RGT platform?

I wasn’t too let down by my result. There were some big names in the race, and the top six finishers were all very deserving of it. I am thrilled that four Americans qualified. That will significantly increase our potential as a team in the world championship race.

 

I knew it would be a tough ask of me given the course finished on a downhill run-in to the sprint. I was a little perplexed by the course selection for the Pan Am qualification race, given the world championship race will feature a steep 3-minute climb that the racers tackle three times, including at the finish.

 

Once USA Cycling announced their qualifying event on RGT, I immediately signed up. I qualified for the 2020 USA team by taking 2nd place in their qualifying race on RGT, so it was a no-brainer for me.

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What are the significant competitive, technical, and gamification differences between RGT and Zwift, and how did they affect your preparation for the race and how it played out?

There is no doubt quite a few differences between RGT and Zwift. Most notably is likely the effect corners play in the game. In Zwift, corners have no impact besides visually. Zwift could run all races on a completely straight road, and the outcome would be the same.

 

In RGT, corners have a maximum speed that racers can take through them, depending on the severity of the corner. You can still pedal as hard as you want through a corner, but you get penalized for it by wasting watts.

 

RGT slows you down so you can ‘make the corner.’ So you are better off coasting into a corner rather than hammering into it as the outcome (speed through the corner) will be the same.

 

RGT tries to mimic riding in real life. Like you can’t take a downhill hairpin corner at 60kph in real life, you can’t do that in RGT either.

 

Another big difference is the pack dynamics. In Zwift, it is very difficult to break away successfully in a race. The person off the front can be doing six w/kg, gaining no ground while the pack does four w/kg.

 

It can often lead to negative racing where everyone sits in the pack riding tempo and then sprints for the last 300 meters. In RGT, the pack effect isn’t as extreme, leading to more breakaways and more aggressive racing.

 

RGT can be incredibly frustrating to a first-time user if they have done 100s of races on Zwift beforehand. There is a learning curve (or maybe an un-learning curve from Zwift) on how to race on RGT. I would say to give it more than just a one-race chance.

 

I feel it is a superior racing platform (and no, I am not being paid to say any of this!).

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You mentioned that RGT is a superior racing platform, but you compete primarily on Zwift. Do you mind explaining the reason and responding to those who find this statement contradictory?

I mainly compete on Zwift because of its size. There are so many more high-level racers and events on Zwift. I can only ride during a specific time frame during the week, and I have so many more options on Zwift if I want to do a race.

 

I would love to do more races on RGT, though. I always look forward to the Echelon Racing League events on RGT. They attract a high-quality field.

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How does the validation process for RGT differ from Zwift and its ZADA requirements?

RGT utilizes the eBioPassport. Users submit an array of information relating to equipment and performance metrics to validate their performances (personal power bests, proof of equipment, dual analyses, weigh-in videos, calibration videos, etc.) that other races and race promoters can see.

 

For the USA qualifying race, I had to be sure my eBioPassport was up to date beforehand, complete weigh-in and calibration videos, and submit my smart trainer and power meter files from the race to the promoter for verification.

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What was your mindset leading up to the race? What were your expectations? Did you have a pre-race strategy? How did it play out during the race knowing that only the winner would qualify for the team?

We went into the race as a team, expecting to win. Our team has a lot of experience on RGT, so we already had that advantage. We wanted to get me or my teammate, Dan Jamrozik, the win to qualify.

 

I knew that it would have to be from a solo break for me to win, whereas Dan would have a better chance either solo or sprinting from a small group.

 

Our team plan was to mark early attacks and draw some people out of the pack with bluff attacks to use up some of their energy. After the first 35-40 minutes, it was just waiting for the opportune moment to attack.

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Were there any particular racers you marked or team tactics you considered when preparing for the race?

There were plenty of strong Zwift riders in the race that we knew we had to keep an eye on. If one of them went up the road, we had to cover their move. The focus was more on other Americans vying for a spot.

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Who did your team consist of, and what role did your teammates play?

We had a total of 7 teammates. You could say Dan and I were the protected riders. Everyone else just covered dangerous moves and kept a lookout for us.

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Did you have a DS for the race? Was there a plan going in for the DS? How did the support help you, and what was the most important information during the race?

We didn’t have a dedicated DS, but everyone was on Discord during the race, which was crucial to know what was going on at all times.

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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?

I was calm before the race. I don’t get too worked up or nervous before a race. I felt as prepared as I could be. Plus, I was confident in our team.

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How was your start, and how did the initial stages of the race play out?

Starts on RGT can be a little hair-raising to a first-timer (you need to be sprinting for a couple of seconds before the countdown hits zero) as it’s almost like you get shot out of a cannon. My start was no problem. I can’t recall anything too crazy about the initial stages of the race.

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How did you feel as you settled down? How did the race unfold for you? What was going through your mind?

I felt good during the race, but it’s hard for me to tell if I have what it takes to win a particular race on a specific day. I just needed to keep my head on a swivel, watching for dangerous moves and marked riders.

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When did you make your move? What made it stick?

I broke away solo at the 42-minute mark of the race. From then on, it was all about digging deep. I averaged 467 watts for the last 16 minutes of the race.

 

At the 42-minute mark, the race was about 75% over. By that point, everyone’s legs are starting to sting, and freshness has worn off. With only 15-20 minutes left in the race, it was now or never for me to make a move.

 

Any efforts 5 minutes or longer suit me the best. I would have very little chance of winning from a field sprint. My teammate, Mike Swart, had just finished marking a move, so there was a slight lull in the race where everyone came back together. That is when I attacked.

 

It was right before a corner, as I also wanted to use that to my advantage. I then had to push quite hard for the next 5 minutes. I average about 490 watts for that period.

 

Once I established a decent gap, I knew there was a good chance it would work out. Due to the winner-take-all nature of the race, people would be hesitant to go to the front and bring me back, only to have someone else attack over the top of them then.

 

It’s the classic racing scenario where a person is off the front, and everyone behind looks at everyone else to do the work. Random attacks by single riders to chase me down would be difficult because they would get chased down quickly, and then everyone would sit up.

Jadon's race stats
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Did you ever have any doubts that you would maintain the gap on the front group?

There wasn’t any part of that that was comfortable. Towards the end, I was getting a side stitch that became worrisome. With these kinds of long, extremely difficult efforts, it’s hard to tell if I timed it right, started out too hard, etc., but thankfully it worked this time.

 

I think as a self-proclaimed solo breakaway rider, it is common to have doubts about a move not working, but I’m very good at continuing to pedal hard. It helped immensely knowing that I still had teammates back in the main chasing group marking and closing down any attacks and keeping me updated with the race status.

 

That is extremely beneficial when riding off the front.

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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?

The last two laps, about 7 minutes, were grueling. I had to keep the power down. The pack’s last-ditch efforts in a race can cut down on a solo rider’s lead extremely fast, especially with this much on the line.

 

I had a decent lead, but nothing close to being substantial enough where I could just coast in.

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Where were you positioned with a kilometer to go?

With 1km to go, I was still off the front, probably 15 seconds up. I was hoping that I wouldn’t need to sprint!

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Tell us about the finish. How did it feel, and what was going through your mind?

My gap to the chasing group held, and I never had to sprint, thankfully (sprinting is my weakness). I can’t thank my team enough for all their help during the race. This result wouldn’t have been possible without them.

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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?

For the final 16 minutes while solo, I averaged 467 watts at an average HR of 172 bpm. That is likely my best 16-minute effort but is in line with the other 10 and 20 minute efforts I have done.

 

Race importance always plays a part in how hard you can push yourself. I can eke out that extra 1%.

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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?

The second I crossed the finish line! My first thought: Oh, thank god it’s over.

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Was this the most brutal race of your career? How did the all-or-nothing qualification format affect you mentally and physically?

The USA Cycling qualification race ranks right amongst the top of my most difficult races. While I may be good at more extended duration efforts (5 minutes and up), they are incredibly demanding mentally and physically for me, especially as they increase in length.

 

I like the all-or-nothing format. Let’s get down to business and figure this out. Let the best person win. It also changes the race dynamic. There is more urgency. No one can be content with just finishing 3rd or 4th.

Race Stats

Overall race: 373Wavg  881peak
Heart Rate: 156avg 177peak
 
Solo Break
:10 @ 473W
:16 @ 467W
:5 @ 489W
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Do you think your solo break would have been successful if racing on the Zwift platform?

It’s hard for me to say if it would have worked on Zwift also. I would like to believe it would have worked if it were on a similar course, one that was reasonably flat.

 

I had some of my all-time best power numbers for that duration, so I think it would have. But the strength of the blob/pack in Zwift seems stronger than on RGT, especially at higher speeds. But I think the group would have come up against the same problem of looking at one another and no one committing themselves to bring me back.

 

I’ve raced this course, Benton Park in St. Louis (part of the Gateway Cup), several times in real life, and I feel confident in saying that my move would have stuck in real life 😉.

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The two qualification events you competed in were distinct in many ways, including being hosted by different virtual cycling platforms. Some think that the answer lies in the differences between the platforms and the athletes that compete on each. Why do you feel that you finished 16th in one and soloed to the win in the other?

I finished 16th in the Zwift Continental race because it mainly came down to a field sprint on a downhill finish.  It was tailor-made for the big-name sprinters, which I am not!

 

There were a few break attempts throughout that race and one that even featured a teammate of mine.  Each time they were brought back, partially due to the physics on Zwift and partly due to the competitive field.

 

The Next team showed up in force for that race and appeared to want it to come down to a field sprint.  Seeing the tactics of the Next team and how breaks kept coming back, I did not want to waste any energy trying and saved it all for the sprint.  Maybe I would get lucky with my timing.

 

The Next team rode a great race, which showed in the results.  Much like my Restart team rode a great race in the USA Cycling RGT race.  In both instances, it was a case of the racers making the race more so than the platform.

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How does it feel to have the opportunity to represent the United States and your Restart team?

I feel incredibly honored to represent the United States and my team for the second year in a row. Before 2020, I thought my time had passed to have an opportunity to represent my country at a major UCI world championship event.

 

To be able to do it two years in a row is almost surreal. I feel incredibly blessed by this opportunity.

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Where does this achievement fall on your list of cycling accomplishments?

It is definitely in my top 5 list of cycling achievements. Hopefully, I can add an even more significant achievement come the end of February!

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The World Championship will take place on February 26, 2022. How do you plan to approach the race mentally and physically? What are your goals and expectations for the race? How will you put yourself in the best position to win?

I will definitely tailor some of my training to better suit the demands of the Worlds course leading up to the event. Otherwise, I need to just stay sharp with my focus and racing.

 

We, as a team, haven’t discussed specific goals yet, but we expect to get a medal. I will continue what I have been doing for the past few months, which has brought me to this point thus far.

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Have you contacted the other American Qualifiers to discuss tactics and strategy? How do you anticipate that playing out?

We haven’t had any discussions yet on tactics and strategy. Partially, it is going to be a race of attrition. It is a very demanding course.

 

The main climb features three times, with the rest of the course being very rolling. An early break may try to go the first time up the hill, but everyone tended to regroup on the descent in previous races on this course.

 

The final time up the hilltop finish will probably be a significantly reduced group or a small break. It won’t be your typical Zwift group sprint finish.

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Several of your USA teammates have been publicly critical of the lack of standardization in esports. How do you feel that will affect the team dynamic?

I personally haven’t heard any of the criticisms, but I am not worried in the least about any affecting our team. We have all earned our way to this spot in one way or another through a lot of hard work and dedication, and I’m sure we’ll all give 100% to achieve the team’s goal.

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What is your view on the topic? Do you feel it is fair for a racer to qualify on RGT if Zwift hosts the race?

I don’t have much opinion on the matter. You could ask the same question as to why Zwift chose to host their continental qualifying races on a course that is very, very different from the Worlds course.

 

I can’t comment on why USA Cycling chose to use RGT for their qualification race. One just needs to take advantage of the opportunities laid out before them.

 

I feel fortunate even to be able to qualify through a race. Many nations just pick riders already in a drug testing pool without considering the many talented eracers out there winning races.

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What is your opinion on the belief that RGT is less strict when it comes to validation of a secondary power source, authenticity verification, and general race controls to discourage and detect inaccurate results?

I can’t comment if RGT is less or more strict than Zwift. Yes, Zwift/ZADA requires you to complete a test before becoming verified and competing in the top tier of events, but I don’t believe it is public knowledge what they do with the testing data or how they conduct their post-race checks.

 

RGT is just a platform and leaves it up to the individual race creators/promoters to regulate their events. In my case, I had to have a complete eBioPassport and provide my fit files from my power meter and smart trainer for post-race verification.

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What is your solution to this problem and the qualification format in the future?

I don’t think there is an easy solution to this. I don’t know if Zwift or RGT is doing better or worse than the other. This question is like opening up Pandora’s box.

 

Eracing has so many variables that can affect the outcome of a race. Smart trainer manufacturer, power meter manufacturer, changing temperatures as you ride due to rider heat emitted, weight change, and scale accuracy-the list can go on and on.

 

For general race validity, I think the platforms need to change their programs. Both Zwift and RGT allow the pairing of a smart trainer and a power meter concurrently. It would be great if they could implement real-time dual recording and analysis.

 

Suppose one or the other deviates by a certain percentage, then you are removed from the event in real-time. That’s just one idea.

 

If money were no object, create an independent verification board that oversees events with no ties to the racing platforms, promoters, or trainer/power meter manufacturers.

 

Short of having everyone in the same room racing on a similar brand and model of smart trainers calibrated against the same torque measuring device and using the same scale, I’m not sure how far we can go with regulations before we start severely impacting people’s ability to race due to the imposed requirements or restrictions.

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What are esports' future and the multiple platform landscape, and where would you like to be positioned?

I think the sky’s the limit right now for cycling Esports. Technology will only get better and better, so hopefully, with innovation comes advancements in the platforms to address some of the current problems.

 

I think there will always be multiple platforms, which is good. We need different companies competing in the same marketplace to push one another. That is how innovation and advancement happen.

 

Right now, I just like being in a position where I can try different platforms and offer my opinions on what could make the Esports arena better.

Thank you, Jadon! Good luck to you and the other Women and Men competing for their countries and the privilege to be a World Champion!

Your Predictions?

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!

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