An interview with elite eracer Beth Maciver, whose first introduction to racing was on Zwift and her drive and motivation to learn all there is to know.
An interview with Beth Maciver.
I appreciate the opportunity. Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do? Where do you live? Family life, that sort of stuff.
I appreciate you asking me to be involved! I live in Scotland and currently go between Inverness (home) and Glasgow. I am studying physiotherapy at the university in Glasgow and am presently in my third year.
I’ve always been involved in sport, but I only started to focus on cycling around the beginning of lockdown in March 2020. I quickly fell in love with the training and lifestyle, and I haven’t looked back since!
What is your cycling story? How did you get involved in virtual cycling and esports? Tell us about your esports team.
I got involved in virtual cycling when I first moved to university. I wasn’t familiar with the local roads, so Zwift sounded like an excellent option for me.
It allowed me to settle into university and still enjoy riding my bike. I am part of the Movistar eTeam! In early 2021, Movistar announced that they would create the first eSports team from a UCI WorldTour and Women’s WorldTour – licensed organization.
I am so proud to be part of and supported by Movistar.
You can learn more about Beth’s Movistar team by clicking here.
The indoor specialist season is in full swing. Are you excited? What did you do during the ‘off-season?’
I’m so excited! The off-season has consisted of IRL (in real life) racing. It was my first outdoor racing season, and I absolutely loved it! So I suppose I haven’t had much of an off-season!
What are your goals for the upcoming season, personally and for the team?
First and foremost, enjoy it! Our women’s team still has some outdoor commitments, so we cannot start until the season’s third race, but I’m sure we’ll do our best to make up for that in the other five races.
I’m looking forward to the TTT this season. They’re always the most difficult races as there is no hiding! I love the challenge!
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual cycling athletes?
It could be that my first exposure to bike racing was racing on Zwift! I had a lot of spare time over lockdown to train, which resulted in learning lots about Zwift racing as I knew I wouldn’t compete in any outdoor races that year. Therefore, I have managed to gain quite a lot of experience in racing on Zwift.
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?
Aw, thank you, I do enjoy a sprint finish! I am 156cm (5ft 1) and weigh around 54kg in competition.
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 – 845W, and virtually – 796W.
My 15-second power on the road – 765W, and virtually – 746W.
I’m not 100% sure why they are different, but I understand that many people can produce higher power outdoors than indoors.
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 don’t currently have a coach, so I don’t have a specific workout for sprinting. I enjoy joining Zwift rides on a smaller circuit and include optional sprints on each lap.
I find that this helps to learn how to position myself on the lead-up to the start of the sprint and also gives the option to try different tactics to see what works well and what doesn’t!
I sprint after riding for a while if I’m on the road, so my legs are a bit more fatigued.
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?
Indoors and outdoors, you’ll find me sprinting on the drops. My form indoors is more up and down compared to my outdoor side-to-side form. I just put my head down and put my all into it!
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?
As the finishing sprint approaches, I like to find my gear and lower my cadence – not by too much, though. I haven’t tried out many turbo trainers, but I imagine it’s down to personal preference – whatever helps you unleash the power!
The trainer difficulty will make a difference if there is an incline. If you increase the trainer difficulty, the resistance is felt quicker compared to a more gradual change in resistance if the trainer difficulty is at a lower setting.
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 think all areas are essential to train for indoor races and outdoor races. Indoor races are shorter and more intense, but these short, repeated efforts are excellent training for outdoor races.
I always like to recce the course before one of the ZRL races to identify the significant sections of the course. I find this really helps with my preparation in the lead-up to a race.
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?
I’ve never been interested in video games, so I wouldn’t say you need to have a huge interest in gaming to do well on the virtual cycling platforms. Like most things, you get better with practice!
Powerups are great, and if you use them in the right place at the right time, they can be very beneficial!
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?
I make sure to try and maintain the best position possible as the finish line approaches. I usually have a rough idea of when I’ll start my sprint and keep an eye on my competitors if any of them go early.
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?
Physical makeup plays a part as some people have more fast-twitch muscle fibers than others. The fast-twitch muscle fibers support short and quick bursts of energy for sprinting.
However, you can definitely work on and improve this. By implementing some specific sprint training into your workouts, you will improve this area over time.
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 crucial not to do too much work on the front in races. You will be working harder than everyone else who is sitting in your draft!
I make sure to stay in the middle of the bunch when possible to avoid doing too much work or risk being dropped if I’m too far back in the bunch.
Quite often, Zwift racing will have you in the red straight away. It is essential to stay calm, keep pushing with the group, and trust that the pace will reduce once everyone’s nerves settle.
What do you consider to be the most challenging finish on Zwift? Why does it give you so much trouble?
I think it depends on the day and the legs. Sometimes a more prolonged effort is more difficult for me to settle into during a race, and other times I can find a good rhythm.
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?
Our team is very supportive of each other, so the pressure is never put on one individual rider. However, I do put some pressure on myself.
I think all different types of riders are aware of their strengths, so I want to utilize them in a race.
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 don’t really monitor other people or consider someone as my biggest rival. I like to think of myself as my biggest rival, and that way, I am always motivated to continue bettering myself.
It would be very easy to get too caught up in what other people are doing, which could make me lose sight of my focus and progression.
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 would say I’m probably best suited to sprint finishes and enjoy a good 1-minute effort. I enjoy these kinds of finishes as there’s often a bigger bunch rolling into the finish, and I love the excitement and nerves that come with it.
Cycling is the best sport in my opinion, so I wouldn’t want to spend my time training to get stronger in a different sport 🙂
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 usually explain all the verification procedures we have to go through. It is definitely made as fair as possible in the Premier Divison of the ZRL, where we have to submit weekly weight videos, complete a turbo trainer and power meter compatibility test and submit dual recordings of our races. Honesty plays a huge part as well.
At the end of the day, you’re only cheating yourself!
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?
I think it will continue to become more and more popular. It is a great training platform but also brilliant for racing and socializing. As it becomes more recognized as its own discipline in cycling, I think it will gain the respect it deserves.
The riders and the routes may be virtual, but the efforts behind the screen are definitely genuine!
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?!?
Hahaha, I’m not sure I have any secrets as I would disagree that I am the best! I think a lot of it has to do with your attitude towards it.
I absolutely love training and always want to try my best, but this isn’t always possible. It’s about dealing with the bad days by remembering the feeling of a good day or a result that made you proud. Just remember… if it were easy, everyone would do it!
Thank you for sharing and Good Luck, Beth!
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!