Professional cyclist Sarah Gigante races for Movistar and will represent Australia in the Esports World Championship—this is what she had to say.
An Interview with Sarah Gigante!
I appreciate the opportunity. Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do? Where do you live? Family life, that sort of stuff.
Hi, I’m an Australian professional road cyclist for Movistar Team. I’m from Melbourne, although I spend a lot of time in Girona, Spain when I am overseas.
I am 21 years old, and I’m the youngest of three, with one brother and one sister. I also study at the University of Melbourne, where I’m majoring in linguistics and geography.
What is your cycling story? How did you get involved in virtual cycling and esports? Tell us about your esports team.
I started racing on the velodrome when I was eight years old and on the road a year later. I juggled both until after I went to the Junior Track World Championships and Junior Road World Championships in 2018.
For one year, 2019, I focused just on the second discipline, but then in 2020, I found that I was back doing two disciplines again—although this time, it was road and esports!
My professional road team at the time took to Zwift races during the height of the pandemic when racing in Europe was canceled, and I really enjoyed it, and still do. I now race for Movistar Team.
What are your goals for the upcoming season, personally and for the team?
I’m very excited to be joining the Women’s World Tour with Movistar Team, and my main goals are to learn as much as I can, be a great teammate, have fun and keep improving! Hopefully, I will learn some more Spanish too!
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual cycling athletes?
I think all esports racers are mentally tough, so I don’t think my love of suffering sets me apart, but I believe it is one of my strengths. I also love efforts involving sustained high power, which is very commonly needed on Zwift and means many of the races suit me well.
You are considered one of, if not the best pure finishers in esports. For a frame of reference, how tall are you, and approximately how much do you weigh in competition?
I’m 165cm tall and about 52kg for eSports Worlds this year.
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?
I don’t know those exact figures, but I can see my 5-second power statistics on TrainingPeaks, and mine are higher on the road. I think it’s easier to move your bike around a bit more on the road, and I also usually sprint more fatigued on the trainer—doing a sprint at the end of a Zwift race is like doing a sprint at the end of an FTP test!
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 love sprinting to road signs with my friends! I have also started doing sets of seated uphill sprints. I do gym throughout the season, but not just for my sprinting—it’s good for overall strength and preventing injuries.
Success in esports depends largely on making the selections. What is your strategy with respect to pre-race preparation and training? How does that differ from outdoor racing and training?
I don’t train for indoor and outdoor racing differently. My outdoor training involves a lot of sustained efforts (for my time trialing and climbing) and punchy efforts (in my local group rides and criteriums), so it actually suits the indoor discipline quite 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?
I don’t love the luck aspect of powerups, but I’ve learned a lot about how to use them more effectively, so now I find them quite fun in a way. I think it’s cool that virtual cycling has something to set it apart, and I also like that it is its own discipline, meaning that you cannot just come off the road and expect to nail your very first virtual race, no matter how strong you are.
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?
I look at my position and the distance to go to try and judge how much time I have left until the finish line. I always try to know the course well in advance to be prepared for changing gradients.
Do you believe that cycling success indoors is a skill that a racer can learn, or is it a matter of physical makeup and genetics?
I like to think that nothing is simply a matter of physical makeup and genetics. With effort, you can improve anything that you want to improve.
I am not a great sprinter, but I like to think that if I changed my specialty to sprinting, I’d still make some solid improvements, even if I didn’t end up as one of the best!
I would tell someone who wants to improve to keep plugging away because the small, consistent actions and routines are the ones that add up. One day, you’ll be able to look back at how far you’ve come, and it will feel so good!
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 try to sit in the blob whenever I’m not trying to play an active part in the race, to conserve as much energy as possible. If I find myself in the red, I try to still follow that advice, while using as many powerups as I possibly can!
I’m lucky to have a great coach who helps me with my training approach. I don’t struggle too much with endurance. It’s more the sprinting that gets me!
What do you consider to be the most challenging finish on Zwift? Why does it give you so much trouble?
I consider a hilltop finish up the Alpe du Zwift to be the most challenging finish, but I wouldn’t say it gives me so much trouble! I love it.
The harder the finish, the better it is for me!
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?
Well, that’s hard for me to answer because I am not a sprinter! I am a climber and love breakaways, so I’m usually on the lookout for somewhere good to attack and a way to get away before the finish.
There are many other tremendous esport talents. Who do you consider to be your greatest rival or respect most?
I really respect Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio both on and off the bike, and she is an extremely strong esports racer. I came second to her in the Tour for All, Virtual Tour de France, and the Esports World Championships, but I don’t think I’ve ever beaten her!
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 am probably at my best when it comes to climbing and time trialing, and hard one-day races or attritional tours. I’m quite happy with that as I find it both super fun and very variable. It would definitely be nice to improve my sprint, and that’s something I’m working on doing, but I don’t think I’d love to be a pure sprinter.
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?
I can’t control what others do or think, but for all of the big races I’ve been involved in, we have had to weigh in with a video before the event and often have to dual record our power.
For Esports Worlds, both years, the promoters even sent us all the same self-calibrating trainer, which I think is fantastic. Virtual cycling is very interesting and growing quickly, so we are doing our best to be transparent and ensure that the fans can fully enjoy the sport and that all competitors know the racing is as fair as possible.
For me, I focus on the fact that I know that I’m not cheating, so therefore I can go out there, try my best, have a good time and be proud of the outcome.
Virtual cycling and esports have come a long way in a short time. What is your vision for the future of esports? What are the challenges that esports faces in becoming recognized as a trusted competition venue?
Hopefully, it will keep growing as a sport, with the coverage becoming more widely viewed and the events becoming more and more professional. I think it would help to bring more participants and teams to central locations. This would allow fans to watch multiple people in the same area at once and to really see the effort on the cyclists’ faces.
I’d say the main challenges would mainly surround the logistics of that as well as people being worried about cheating, but weigh-ins and standard trainers would help the latter.
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?!?
I spend way too much time designing my avatar’s outfit! Look fast, go fast!
Is there anything else you would like to add as the indoor specialist season fast approaches on the topic of sprinting, eSports, Zwift, or anything else? You have the floor.
The interview has been extensive, so I have nothing else to say, but thanks for having me!
Thank you for sharing, Sarah!
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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!