At 19 years old, Matthias has left his mark on eracing as the youngest to win a Premier Division race and qualify to represent his country in the World Championships.
An interview with the Boy Wonder, Matthias Deroose.
I appreciate the opportunity. Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do? Where do you live? Family life, that sort of stuff.
So, my name is Matthias Deroose, and I’m 19 years old. I’m one of the youngest Premier Division riders. I’m Belgian, and I live near Brussels in Ternat.
I live very close to the Flemish-Ardennes, the region where ‘de Ronde van Vlaanderen’ takes place. I study Industrial Engineering in my second year at UGent (University Ghent).
Besides cycling, I really love skiing and hiking in the mountains. Although due to Covid-19, I didn’t ski anymore for two years 😞.
What is your cycling story? How did you get involved in virtual cycling and eSports? Tell us about your eSports team.
I got my first road bike when I was 9y/o. I started cycling once or twice a week. After a few months, I went to a cycling school, where you learn to ride and ride hard on a bike.
I went a few years to that cycling school until I fell once really hard and sprained my foot. After that crash, my love for cycling was a bit over.
A year after that crash, my passion for cycling was back, and I started to ride a lot more, around 3-4 times/week, and I joined a local team for amateurs.
I think I was around 13 or 14 y/o. After a few months to years of training, I started to become better and better. Nearby our home, there is a local group ride, which is more like a street race on public roads (40-42 km/h avg). I got dropped the first few times, but I could follow little by little, always a little bit further each time.
Another two years (and 30,000km’s later 😉 ) in 2019, I bought my first smart trainer, a Tacx Neo. A friend of mine told me about the ‘Flanders de Ronde race’ that took place very Tuesday on Zwift.
I started to do some research about eracing, and there was one big name, Lionel Vujasin. He also participated every Tuesday in the ‘Flanders de Ronde race.’
I became a big fan of Lionel.
After a couple of races, the top 12 in the GC automatically qualified for the live finals in Oudenaarde. It was a hard day with three Zwift races in one day.
In the last race, in Bologna, I beat Lionel, and I won. The only thing that went through my head was, “WOW, I outsprinted the best eracer Lionel Vujasin, my hero.”
After that win, Stephan Tytgadt asked me to join his team, BZR. In the fall of 2020, the Sportsolid Zwift team started a fusion with BZR, and our team was born as BZR-Sportsolid.
We started racing the community teams in the Zwift Racing League. After two seasons in the Community League, we won the playoffs and were promoted to the Premier Division.
Get to know esports great Lionel Vujasin in this eracer interview on The ZOM!
The indoor specialist season is in full-swing. Are you excited? What did you do during the ‘off-season to prepare?’
Yes, I’m really excited and motivated this season. During the summer, or ‘off-season,’ I went to Austria with my girlfriend and parents for two weeks. I did a lot of mountain biking and hiking there. I also did my first road race, where I took 4th.
At the end of the summer, I also did ‘Riderman’ in Germany. It was an amazing experience. It is a three-stage road race, starting with an individual time trial, but I had to do it with a road bike because I don’t have a TT bike.
I would have had a top 10 in the GC, but the last day, Sunday, after the most challenging climb, a guy in front of me fell, and I fell over him. I had nothing more than a bit of scratch, but the first group was gone.
What were your goals going in for the season, personally and for the team?
First of all, I wanted to participate in the World Championship, which would be my biggest goal. Another goal is winning a Premier Division race.
Last season, I was on the podium four times 4 (incl. TTT), but I only won the TTT. So I really want to win a points race.
The goals for the team are simple, staying in the Premier Division. Everything else is a bonus. Last season we impressed, I think, everyone, including ourselves, with an unbelievable 2nd place.
You achieved your goal of representing Belgium in the UCI esports World Championships. How does it feel to be one of the youngest racers?
I’m pretty excited for the Worlds. I have mixed feelings about being one of the youngest. I’m 19 now, so a U23 World Championships would be better for me, but unfortunately, there isn’t a Worlds in my real category.
What are your expectations for the World Championship race, and how do you see it playing out for you and your team to succeed?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m incredibly excited about it, and I think everyone is. It will make the race very hard because everyone will be very motivated to win. My first goal was to qualify, so I’m thrilled I could do that.
But for the Worlds, my target is being in the top 10. I don’t set the target too high, so the disappointment isn’t too high if I fail. The Worlds will be successful for Belgium if someone is on the podium.
How is the Premier Division season going so far?
I think, for me, the Premier Division couldn’t go any better for now. In the first season of 2021-2022, I had a second place in the first race, third place in race three, and finally, after five podium places, I got my first win in race six.
It was such a relief to win a Premier Division race finally! As a team, we ended up third, which was the highest possible, since half of the team couldn’t participate for various reasons.
The second season started well for me. I was second in the first race in a very confusing sprint. After two races, we are second in the team ranking together with Canyon and right behind NeXT, so we are delighted as a team with that!
You have accomplished so much in esports at a young age. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual cycling athletes?
I think my experience in gaming. I have grown up in the virtual world of gaming. So I think it is a bit easier for me to understand a game, how it works, and the game’s algorithms.
You are considered one of, if not the best pure finishers in esports. I want to take a deep dive into the topic. For a frame of reference, how tall are you, and approximately how much do you weigh in competition?
I am 181cm, and I weigh at the moment 59,5kg. During the off-season, it was around 61-62 kg.
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?
My Peak Power on the road is 1250W (21W/kg). On Zwift, I once hit 1301W (22W/kg).
My 15s PB on the road is 1071W (18W/kg), on Zwift it is 1048W (17,4W/kg). Normally, I never hit my PB in a race because the legs are always tired at the end of the race. Most of the time, I never go above 16-16,5W/kg 15s in a race.
There are many theories on proper form for sprinting indoors? Describe what gives you the most power when sprinting indoors. How does this differ from on the road?
I always sprint standing and more up and down than side to side because the bike is static. On the road, you can move the bike, so on the road, I sprint side to side.
Conflicting views on cadence and the ramp-up to the sprint also exist. 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?
Most of the time, I shift 2 or 3 gears bigger and stomp as hard as I can. Some trainers are better for sprinting, but the difference will not be big enough to decide whether you win or lose.
For Premier, it needs to be at 100%, so it stays at 100%.
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?
I don’t do a lot of specific training, but during the off-season, I do a lot of base training, and during the season, I do fewer hours but more intensive hours. I don’t focus on outdoor racing, so I didn’t train for it as well.
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?
Experience is the key. You actually can’t learn it. It’s just the experience that you need to have about timing, power-ups, etc. If you go to the finish without a powerup, you’ve already lost.
Powerups have two aspects: luck and tactics. First of all, you need to be lucky to have the proper power-up. In my opinion, you should be able to choose the powerup or just no power-ups.
The second thing about power-ups is tactics. When do you use it? Save it until the end, or use it in the middle of the race?
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?
There are some things I do, for example:
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?
You can learn two things: don’t try to move your bike sideways, but just let the bike be static, and do a lot of training. Exercise is the key to a lot of things.
You can’t win the race if you don’t make the front group. What is your training approach to endurance and sub-threshold work? What strategies do you use to conserve energy during the initial stages of a race?
I sometimes do some VO2max intervals because there are a lot of intermediate sprints or KOM’s in the Premier Division, so it’s crucial to recover as fast as possible. Further, I try to stay as good as possible in the pack.
What do you consider to be the most challenging finish on Zwift? Why does it give you so much trouble?
Every sprint which is short after a descent is a challenge for me. For a lightweight like me, it is hard to stay in the front on descents. So it is tough to position for a finish like that.
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?
It is indeed hard to have all the pressure on me. A few minutes before the end of the race, I get so nervous that my heart rate is already 180 bpm-plus when I need to start sprinting.
Before the race, I try to stay as calm as possible. I try to remain calm by watching a tv series before the warm-up and some loud music during the warming-up.
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?
There are some riders I keep an eye on, for sure, on the NeXT team—lots of big sprinters there.
Some names are Thomas Thrall, Brian Duffy, Joakim Lisson, Kjell Power, etc. I know these guys are kind, so I should not say they’re rivals but, let’s say, opponents.
In entertainment, the saying goes that actors want to be rock stars and rock stars want to be actors. What type of rider do you consider yourself? Do you ever wish you were a climber or a sprinter if you are the opposite? Are there any other sports you wish you were great at?
I think I am a puncher rather than a pure sprinter. I think I would survive a lot of climbs, except Ventoux or Alp du Zwift.
As I said, I love skiing, so I would like to do competitive skiing as well, but the highest mountain in Flanders is around 150m, so yeah, not a lot of snow on that little thing.
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?
We try to do our best to get our transparency as high as possible. We do dual-recording. We make a video every week where we weigh ourselves.
Let the detractors think what they think. I know what I can, I know who I am, and I always try to be as transparent as possible.
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? 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?
I hope eSports will be recognized as a branch of cycling, with professional teams and more sponsors. But a thing that needs to be changed is that there is only a Premier division, but there should be more ‘pro’ races than that. Like one-day stage races or three stages on 3 days, just a bit more variety like in the real world.
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?!?
Hmmm… I only keep secrets for my girlfriend. Only she may know it. 😁
Thank you for sharing and Good Luck, Matthias!
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, http://www.TheDIRTDadFund.com. 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.