An interview with Lou Bates!
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you live, and what do you do? What do you like to do for fun? Family life, that sort of stuff.
I live in Nottingham, which is in the middle of the UK. I work as a Project manager at a company called Clario which provides software solutions in the clinical trials sector. I also teach yoga as a second “fun” job. I mainly love staying active.
I do a lot of yoga, including a ton of inversion and handstand-style skill work. Luckily I have a big group of friends who don’t think it’s weird to spend the evening in someone’s garden doing random circuit training followed by a few ‘recovery’ drinks! I am married to Stewart, who I met when we were both rowers.
You’ll find Lou’s ZwiftPower here!
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 came into cycling from triathlon and to triathlon from rowing, so I have competed in various sports since I was 13 (a long, long time ago!). Going from racing the Ironman triathlon into road racing was a massive shock to me as I had a completely flat power profile, so I would get my head kicked in regularly during bunch racing.
I also started racing hill climbs, but at the time, my lack of short-duration power meant I didn’t have fantastic results straight away. However, once I understood what I needed to do to be competitive, I put the work in and saw some significant improvements.
In my first national hill climb, I didn’t even make the top 10, but in the subsequent years, I came 2nd, 3rd, and finally won the national title in 2016, 4 years after my first attempt. After that, I retired from IRL racing to give me more time which enabled me to train as a yoga teacher and start teaching alongside my PM job.
I did “unretire” briefly to do La Marmotte gran Fondo in 2019, which isn’t officially a race, but everyone doing it knows it really is at the front end. La Marmotte had always been a bucket list event for me, so I was pleased to take the female overall category win by 20 mins over some stiff competition.
What is your virtual cycling story? How and when did you get involved in esports? What is your most significant accomplishment racing virtually?
I started Zwifting in late 2019 after much persuasion from some of the guys I ride with IRL. I had no plans to race but got sucked in quite quickly! I don’t think I have one accomplishment that stands out. I have won or come top-3 in quite a few of the old-style “Pro-am” races and Premier division ZRL.
Tell us about your esports team. How has racing with your team prepared you for this moment? Is there anything unique about your team that has contributed to your success?
I race for Nopinz R3R and am part of the Team 3R Zwift club, one of the largest clubs on zwift. I join many 3R group rides and find this excellent prep for racing. We race in the community league, emphasizing enjoying racing without too much pressure of results, which has really helped keep racing fun for me. I especially love the TTTs, although my teammates may have a different experience during these, hence my team nickname “Sergeant Bates”.
For a frame of reference, how tall are you, and approximately how much do you weigh in competition? What is your indoor PB for Peak Power, 15-second, 1-minute, 5-minutes, and 20-minutes?
I am 166cm tall and weigh 52-54kg. My indoor peak power is pathetic, around 700watts, 15-sec power not much lower than that, which may indicate my lack of fast-twitch muscles. However, I have good 1 min power (PB is around 500watts), 5 mins around 330, and 20 min. I am not too sure; I haven’t done a TT-style effort for some time but would estimate maybe 270-280.
What type of rider are you? Has your riding style evolved as you become more involved and successful in esports?
From the above, I can safely say that I am not a sprinter. However, I tend to do well in hard finish races as my pathetic sprint power doesn’t get much worse when I am tired. I spend a lot of time IRL riding with a strong group of guys, and most hills in my area are 1-5 minutes, so when riding them, I have to ride those bits hard, or I get dropped, so I suspect that has influenced my power profile a lot. I think I see myself as a bit of a jack of all trades, a master of none!
What is your go-to training workout, and why do you enjoy it so much? Has your training emphasis and philosophy changed to make you a more successful eracer?
I love a long sweet spot with bursts workout. I have always enjoyed what others would see as boring mind-numbing training, which served me very well racing ironman. I also like short hill repeats. I have a local hill near me that is around 50 seconds, and I enjoy a good blast. I did 40 reps of it last year in the rain for my birthday, so I must either like it a lot or just be a bit of a weirdo!
What are your short and long-term esport goals? Do they involve qualifying and competing in the UCI Cycling Esports World Championship? What does that mean to you?
My short-term goal was to have a good ride at the Esports world champs, and I was pleased. It’s an honor to represent my country and be part of such a big event. However, the field was incredibly strong, so I just wanted to have a ride I was happy with rather than focus on a particular result/placing. Long term, I just want to keep enjoying riding and staying fit and healthy.
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
I don’t think anything sets me apart. There are a lot of super-strong athletes out there!
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 am not a massive fan of the gamification. I prefer race results to come down to fitness/power rather than the PowerUp you have. In fact, the 3R run races have PowerUps disabled for this reason. Of course, in races where PowerUps are in play, timing and knowing when and where to use them is critical.
Do you feel cycling esports will ever gain acceptance as a trusted discipline and gain popularity as a unique discipline? What challenges does it face?
This question is difficult, and I am not sure I have an answer! When we rely on equipment accuracy rather than actually racing side-by-side on the road, there will always be potential issues with trust and the potential for cheating or just equipment discrepancies, even if people are in the same location on the same brand of trainer.
Every trainer has a tolerance level in terms of accuracy so that people can get “lucky” or “unlucky.” I also think esports had a massive surge in popularity over lockdown, but now we are back to having outdoor racing. It will be a challenge to maintain the same level of engagement and excitement.
Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?
I race in my garage on a Wahoo Kickr v5 with dual power from Favero Assioma’s. I am lucky that my husband is also a cyclist, and therefore between us, we have three turbos and three power meters, so I have done a lot of testing over the last few years to ensure my set-up is as accurate as possible.
When I started pro-am racing, there was no requirement to dual record, but I did from the beginning due to immense paranoia that no one outside the UK hill climb scene knew who I was and might question my data.
Some cynics and detractors don’t trust the legitimacy of esports. What do you say to those who question the integrity and ability for a level playing field between competitors? What challenges does esports face in becoming recognized as a trusted competition venue?
I understand the cynics and detractors entirely and can sometimes be one of them due to things I have seen over the years. There is also a tricky balance in terms of having vigorous “controls” in place versus keeping a level of fun and enjoyment in racing.
Many of your fellow elite eracers have been publicly critical of the lack of standardization in esports. What is your view on the topic?
I think it isn’t easy to standardize. Even if everyone is on the same brand and model trainer in the same location, there can be a variance between units. However, you could say that not everyone in the peloton is on the same bike/equipment, so there is also variance outside. I can only do the best I can to make sure my setup is as accurate as possible, hoping that everyone else does the same!
You are deeply involved in cycling and how it relates to the elite esports scene. How has the landscape changed during that time, and where do you see it going?
Over the last five years, the growth in women’s cycling, both indoor and outdoor, has been massive, and having equal coverage of men’s and women’s races in esports is fantastic. Esports offers women a safer environment to ride and race. Therefore I see massive opportunity for growth in that sector, not just for the elite but also for recreational cyclists.
Zwift sponsoring the women’s Tour de France is enormous. Again, I hope the exciting racing in the women’s peloton can be showcased, leading to more investment and coverage of other races. That, in turn, may encourage more women to race or ride on Zwift and IRL.
What is esports' future amidst the multiple platform landscape, and where would you like to be positioned?
I only have limited experience on other platforms, having used RGT a few times but never actually racing. However, I think having options is excellent, and I hope to try some of the other platforms in the future.
Esports has come a long way in a short time. What do you envision it will be like in five years and further into the future? What will it take to get it there?
I don’t think esports is going to go away. It will be interesting to see if it peaked during the Covid lockdown or if it will continue to grow. I am not sure where the elite racing will go. Still, from a pure riding perspective, as the roads get busier and, in some cases, more dangerous, I see more and more people starting to use platforms like Zwift, especially as there are so many extremely welcoming clubs/communities out there.
Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow racers or fans know about you? Please?!?
No juicy exclusives. I am afraid I am pretty dull! I guess one random thing is that I managed the Simone Biles handstand challenge during lockdown—taking your PJ pants off in a handstand with no supporting wall. It took a few attempts! Video below.
The floor is yours! Is there anything you would like to say?
Nothing else. Thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed and for the great work you are doing with the Zommunique’!
Thank you for sharing Lou!
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!