An interview with Eleanor Wiseman!
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 between California and Belgium. I am from Brussels but doing a Ph.D. in Development Economics in California. I ride my bike a lot but more generally love the outdoors (hiking, camping, etc.) and love traveling and discovering new cultures. I also have a soft spot for coffee, chocolate, and love hanging out with friends and family around a good dinner.
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 got into cycling in 2018 after a serious knee injury stopped my triathlon career. I started racing local races in Northern California in 2018 and bigger pro races in the US in 2019. I’ve had the opportunity to race international races in Belgium and Europe since 2021.
Even though it doesn’t look specifically amazing on paper, I am proud of getting a top 30 at the AG Tour de la Semois in 2021. It was an extremely competitive field with many of the heavy hitters in the sport taking part ahead of the Road World Championships in Leuven.
PC: Sophie Richez
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 getting involved in virtual cycling after I was diagnosed with thyroid and lymph node cancer in 2020. Due to the treatments and radiation, it was better for me to stay inside, and riding on Zwift was a way to keep my mental health in check while continuing to be part of my cycling community.
In the beginning, I was just riding really easy on Zwift (never ever thought I’d be good enough to race!), and I then got invited to race the Echelon Racing League with a composite team. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I got hooked.
Recently I had the opportunity to race the Zwift Premier Division, which was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot. In terms of my most significant accomplishment, winning the Belgian Virtual Championships this year was pretty amazing.
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 with Saris No Pinz, and I absolutely love my team. I’ve learned a lot from them as they are all very experienced and strong virtual riders. It’s been really great to be surrounded by such talented, hard-working, and passionate individuals, and even though I haven’t met most of them in person, it really feels like a family. I wouldn’t be where I am in my virtual cycling journey without them.
What type of rider are you? Has your riding style evolved as you become more involved and successful in esports?
I never thought I’d become a virtual rider as the races tend to be short, and I do better in long hard races. But I’ve learned and made progress.
I still have to work on my sprints! I’d describe myself as an all-rounder. I can climb (but won’t compete with the top climbers), and I also like to put out power on the flats/rollers.
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?
My training focuses both on virtual racing and road racing so it really varies depending on where we are in the season.
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?
It means a lot to represent my country at the UCI Cycling Esports Worlds Championships. As an athlete, I’ve always wanted to represent my country at an international event, and I am thrilled I get to experience this. Being able to compete against literally the best in the world is really cool.
PC: Marc Van Hecke
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
I am still relatively new in virtual racing compared to some of the racers who have done this for a long time, and I do not consider myself a pure virtual rider as I am first a road racer. However, as a lifelong endurance athlete, I can take a lot from my experience to virtual racing.
I don’t give up easily, and when things get hard, I will give it my all, which is crucial in virtual racing as the race will get very hard! The other aspect is that in IRL, my advantage is usually power, and I sometimes struggle with positioning because of fear of crashing. In virtual racing, my disadvantage disappears because positioning matters, but I am not scared of crashing 🙂
How much do you factor in the gamification side of esports? Is there a learning curve that you must master? How vital are PowerUps and other things unique to virtual cycling?
There’s certainly a learning curve. People think virtual racing isn’t tactical and relies just on raw power, but it’s quite the opposite. There is a lot of room to be tactical with PowerUps and use team tactics. The biggest learning curve for me (more than the gamification of PowerUps) is the technology, making sure there are no signal dropouts during races, dialing your setup, etc.
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?
Yes, and I hope so. Critics tend to compare virtual cycling to road cycling, but I see it as a different discipline—a very complementary discipline to road racing but not the same. And if you take it as a separate discipline, it is so much fun.
The main challenge remains to make sure the power output seen on the screen is reliable, which includes making sure we can compare trainers (within and across brands) and that riders are not cheating. ZADA has already made huge leaps in making sure power output can be comparable across riders, and at least in the Premier Division, there are a lot of checks in place.
And for example, for the World Championships, we all used the same type and brand of trainer. I know that people who do not race at that level do not realize the level of scrutiny we are under and therefore become quite critical.
PC: Philippe Stevens
Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?
I have two setups, one in Belgium and one in California. I don’t have a very fancy setup (I’m still learning/upgrading!). I use my laptop and a trainer. I always use fans to keep cool, which I’ve learned makes a huge difference (at least for me). And I always calibrate my trainer/power meter and dual record (both for transparency and to make sure I catch issues in training when/if they arise).
Many of your fellow elite eracers have been publicly critical of the lack of standardization in esports. What is your view on the topic?
As mentioned above, the main issue is making sure we are all on the same playing field. Zada has already set up a lot of checks for riders at the highest level—it would be tough for us to cheat. The issue comes more from the fact that power meters and trainers are designed to be compared to themselves, not against each other.
There’s been some progress, e.g., trainers have to be certified within 2% accuracy and for some events like World Championships we all get the same brand of trainers. As I said above, there is room for improvement. It would make sense to all ride on the same branded trainers throughout the year rather than just for the World Championships, but that comes with a range of logistical/sponsorship issues.
I want to point out that virtual racing helps with standardization in other ways despite all the issues. It promotes gender equality (with equal prize money, race length, and media presence/broadcast) between both women and men fields and limits inequalities stemmed by higher-income individuals (or teams) riding better bikes and equipment, which is very present in IRL cycling.
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?
The virtual riding landscape has changed a lot. First, the community and the interest have grown tremendously, not specifically at the professional level but at the amateur level, and that’s fantastic. Covid-19 and the restrictions have also made virtual racing appealing—it was a way to continue riding despite limitations.
People had more time to ride, and it was a way to remain connected to people despite the pandemic forcing us to isolate ourselves from each other. With virtual riding/racing developing, there have also been more options for smart trainers and equipment, hopefully allowing people to choose equipment that fits their needs/budgets.
Lastly, people are using virtual riding/racing as a way to train while working and balancing other responsibilities (at least that’s helped me!). It’s easier to do than training outside. Before, we only had the trainer to ride, but Zwift (and other platforms) have made it way more fun.
I also think that things have changed a lot at the elite/pro level. The racing at that level is more and more competitive, attracting professional teams of racers who focus solely on virtual racing and road racers from world tour teams. And there has been more and more interest from the community who watch and follow when we race. At that level, I have also seen a progression in terms of checks put in place to make sure there is no (voluntary or involuntary) cheating with more and more requirements put in place.
PC: Marc Van Hecke
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 hope it continues to expand and gain interest, and I think it will. I hope we can continue to have UCI World Championships, and I would absolutely love to see the sport at the Olympics one day.
Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow racers or fans know about you? Please?!?
It’s not very juicy but I really like carrots. In the past, I’ve eaten too many carrots and have turned orange.
Thank you for sharing Eleanor!
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!