UCI Cycling Esports World Champion and tour pro-Jay Vine, his wife Bre, and an elite group of eracers sound off on the tactical mindset differences between indoors and out.
It’s an uneasy concept to comprehend as a young boy. I remember the first time they said it to me. My parents greeted me as I bounded off the elementary school bus and jumped into their arms. As we began the walk to my house, I told them of the fantastic story one of my classmates had told me. The breath left my voice when they responded in unison, “Don’t believe everything you hear.”
The blunt words came as a shock to a kid with scant life experience outside of the sanctuary of their family’s protective embrace. If you have never been lied to, cynicism is a foreign notion. So is the rationale for what motivates someone to do it in the first place.
Don’t Believe Everything You Read, See, and Hear (unless I write it, of course 🙂
As the depth of your life experience broadens, the words of caution evolve. Don’t believe everything you read in books. You can’t believe everything you see on TV. Then came the internet, and we all know that skepticism of what you read, see, and hear isn’t fake news.
The truth of science has always been the one safe haven for me. Research explains the mysteries of the world in empirical and unbiased terms. There is no need to shelter behind a half wall of cynicism when you’ve proven the facts of life with experimentation.
It is through this lens that I consumed a recent study describing the over-the-counter pain relief medication acetaminophen. A 2020 study by a team of neuroscientists from The Ohio State University contends that the analgesic drug increases risk-taking behavior. Approximately 25% of the population takes the medication sold as Tylenol and Panadol each week.
A Study Shows Acetaminophen Induces Risk-Taking
The scientists fear that the drug’s effects on pain reduction also decrease risk perception and therefore have a profound societal impact. In addition, the researchers believe the effect includes several other psychological areas, like less sensitivity to hurt feelings and a decreased ability to empathize.
Over 500 university students participated in a series of experiments after being chosen at random to receive a maximum adult single dose of acetaminophen. In one, the subjects pumped up a computerized balloon and received an imaginary money reward. With every pump, the students earned more money and were at greater risk of losing it all if the virtual balloon popped (Find a description of the Balloon Analogue Risk Task here). The goal was to make as much money as possible.
The students who took acetaminophen pumped more times and were left empty-handed more often than the placebo control group. That settles it then. Acetaminophen causes you to have less anxiety and a decreased sensitivity to negative emotion when faced with risk. Not accepting scientific research as absolute face value is also a difficult lesson to learn, or so it seems.
With my parent’s counsel in my mind, I scratched the skeptical itch the conclusion left there. It brought me to a May 2021 article commenting on the The Ohio State University team’s work.
My inner monologue assumed the collective voice of my parents as I read, “We believe that there is not enough data to support the generalization of this association and feel that the conclusions were presented without acknowledgment of the limitations of this study.” It sounds a lot like I shouldn’t believe everything I read, but why?
Scientific Peers Don’t Believe Everything They Hear
The commenters contend that risk assessment in a simulated environment lacks the consequential behavior of a real-world scenario. Actual perceived danger is impossible since there isn’t any acute harm in making an impulsive decision. I found this to be the case when I was swept up in the past decade’s Texas Hold’em poker craze.
My tight-aggressive style in the casino broke down, and I became a poker chip slinging riverboat gambler when playing online. When I played online for funny money, my conscience took a vacation. There was no shame in my game. I’ve no first-hand experience, but I have heard anecdotal evidence that the same is true in the chess community.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow. Being reminded of the value of guarded perception in a place you have grown comfortable expecting it the least. The significance of critical thinking is a vital lesson to learn. One that is essential to apply to all experience and observation, whether you want so much to trust unconditionally or not.
A Bitter Pill to Swallow
However, it allows me to perceive the truth through the metaphorical lens of cycling when doing so. My passion makes me view all worthwhile scenarios through a cycling prism with the rays refracted to form an avatar. In the constructive criticism of the acetaminophen risk conclusion, the commenters may have explained the risk-taking behavior of virtual cyclists and esports competitors.
The virtual environment of esports competition induces risky racing behavior. Eracing lacks the consequential cost or real-life cycling scenarios. Or does it?
Esports Inspires Eracers to Take Risks
The competition occurs primarily in the solitary confines of the competitor’s home, often without others’ direct knowledge or observation of the fact. If an improper risky decision doesn’t pay off, you can step off the bike and grab a snack without the sideways glances of spectators who expected more of you. Better yet, your gamble didn’t pay off in that race, but it just might in the next one you entered a moment later.
You may be naive to think that those around you don’t influence your tactical race decisions in real life. It makes dropping from contention for making a dicey move harder to take when the ride of shame lasts for miles, not just until the flywheel of your trainer slows to a halt.
Not to mention the sacrifice in time, resources, and personal support it took to allow you the privilege of blowing it because you couldn’t help yourself. Bike handling adds another dynamic and a conversation for another time.
Of course, when I am racing, I am in the confines of my basement Gain Cave. Perhaps I’m not seeing it. I asked a few members of the esports community whose opinion you will find more interesting than mine.
Elite Eracers and a Tour Pro Sound Off on the Topic
He had this to say on the topic.
So do I race more aggressively indoors than outdoor? Absolutely, yes. With all that goes into outdoor racing: the travel, the expensive, the risk factor. I am absolutely more calculated about my race tactics due to those factors. Indoor racing is really fun because you don’t have the risk factor or expenses to show up and send it in a risky move.
I also feel that having that weight off your shoulders helps you try things you would second guess in real-life racing. Having that indoor experience and being able to try things indoors has helped me become more aggressive in outdoor race settings. As you build confidence using those indoor scenarios, and can apply that to your outdoor racing.
The great thing about indoor racing is that you can wake up and be in a race 10 minutes later, no matter the time of day. As a father of three, that has been a huge advantage in trying different race tactics.
Fiona Gallagher is another. Fiona races on the road for a triathlon team called Foot Traffic and is a member of the online NZBro team and is a member of the Riot Ladies squad. You can find Fiona’s ZwiftPower profile here. Fiona won her age group at IRONMAN New Zealand this year with the third fastest bike split.
Hey Chris, thanks so much for asking me 😁.
I and no one that knows me would ever describe me as aggressive, but as soon the banner drops on Zwift or the gun goes for a race I seem to turn into a whole different person😂😂. I think I’m more aggressive on Zwift because you have to be!
I’ve never experienced racing like it and if you’re not willing to push yourself and go to a dark place a lot, you’re just not going to do well with online racing! But I love that. I know I’m always willing to go deep and it turns into a physical and mental battle with the others. Basically, whoever is willing to suffer the most for the longest will come out on top in Zwift 😂😂.
I love being at about 90% of my capacity and just staying there for as long as is needed and I think That’s one of the reasons I’ve been relatively successful in Zwift racing. I don’t have an amazing sprint or an amazing climb, but I can hold high watts for a long time and that tends to keep me in the pointy end of most races 😁!
Wendy Gallagher is another such racer. Wendy wore the National jersey in the 2019 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships in Poland and has competed in 600 virtual races on Zwift. You will find Wendy’s ZwiftPower profile here.
Wendy has an experienced perspective.
Do I take more risks indoors? Yes, especially in women’s racing because it’s equal in a competitive sense, so you get a chance to use your race craft more tactically. In contrast, in mixed racing, your strategy is quite different and likely more defensive. Women’s outdoor road racing is non-existent, at least where I live, so indoor cycling provides the only opportunity to race this way.
Two more are Jay Vine and his wife, Bre. After winning the Zwift Academy, Jay earned a contract with the Belgian UCI ProTeam Alpecin-Fenix. Jay’s successful 2021 campaign culminated in 2nd place on GC in the Tour of Turkey. Jay recently added 2022 UCI Cycling Esports World Champion to his impressive list of palmares.
Bre Vine is a keen cyclist in her own right indoors and out, and Jay agrees that Bre is the best cyclist in the family. Bre had an impressive showing at the World Champs as well. You will find Bre’s ZwiftPower profile here. The Vine’s have an interesting perspective.
Bre’s take first.
So Jay and I like to think of Zwift racing (The Premier League/ Community league. etc.) as comparable to Crit racing. It’s hard, short efforts, and usually an hour of pain. So when we talk about IRL, we are specifically talking about Crit length races.
It may sound odd, but I race the same way on Zwift as I would in real life. I focus on conserving energy and not wasting energy drilling it on the front unless the team and I have a specific goal in mind. I follow dangerous moves and will attack at the right moment, but mostly it’s a conservative ride.
From a team tactics perspective, I tend to push the team to be more aggressive than what I have typically experienced in real-life racing. I found it was less likely that a rider/team could get away with being aggressive and surviving until the end in the women’s peloton.
Also, to add to things you need to consider, the courses include more climbing than a typical crit, which typically means the field will shatter going up the climbs.
Jay offered the perspective of an elite eracer and ProTour rider.
I like to think of Zwift as a different discipline, just as you would cycle-cross, time trials, criteriums, etc. There will always be a bit of cross-over in road cycling and indoor Zwift racing, but it deserves its own discipline in itself.
So with that in mind, I’d say I race on Zwift the same way I would usually tackle a local crit race. You are more aggressive than you would be for an IRL race that’s 3 hours long. The fundamentals of the race fit pretty well with a crit.
It depends on the course. If it’s a short course with a lot of climbing, then that opens itself up to be a really aggressive race, but if it’s a short flat course, then you’re almost guaranteed for it to be a pure sprint, so you’d be spending your time conserving energy as much as possible.
Does the virtual environment of esports competition induce risky racing behavior? I know it does for me. It is also a prevailing belief of the racers I surveyed. I guess that is for you to decide. You shouldn’t believe everything you read.
What Do You Think?
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, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!