An interview with Katie Banerjee!
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 moved from the UK to Australia in 2013 with my husband and two kids to take up a job as a Consultant in Paediatric Rehabilitation at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney. I didn’t own a bike back then and only started cycling when I saw so many people out on bikes at the weekend riding in our local National Parks in the lovely sunshine (quite a novelty compared to UK weather). If I’m not cycling (or working), you can find me kayaking, walking my dog, riding my motorbike, or ferrying my kids to their sporting events.
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 bought my first bike in 2017 and did some social rides, then a few charity rides, which got longer and longer. I enjoyed riding uphill (and wasn’t too bad at it either), so in 2018 I entered the three peaks challenge in Victoria and finished the first female.
Then I entered a few Masters events for fun and qualified for the Master’s UCI World Championships. I set my first real goal to race in Varese, Italy. I had an accident six weeks out and broke my shoulder joint, shoulder blade, and collar bone.
Determined to compete still, I started training indoors, not on Zwift at this time but using GCN videos. I still traveled to Varese and managed to bring home a Bronze medal in the World Champs despite not being able to get out of the saddle or pull on the bars with my left arm—so I got pretty good at riding seated climbs!
What is your virtual cycling story? How and when did you get involved in esports? What is your most significant accomplishment racing virtually?
At the end of 2018, I joined a National Road Series Team and finished second on an uphill ITT stage and 3rd on GC overall. We then competed in the UCI Herald Sun Tour, but a crash on the penultimate lap of a Kermesse saw me with another broken collar bone. It was then that I invested in a Smart Trainer and started riding on Zwift.
I love the mix of indoor and outdoor riding and racing. Specific efforts on the trainer are more accessible to hit than outdoor on undulating terrain. It also gives me the option of a proper quick hit-out before dropping the kids at school and getting to work without worrying about it being too wet or dark outside. My coach (Don Blackman) sets me outdoor and indoor options on Training Peaks, so I’m never at the mercy of the weather to decide if I can train or not.
I also love racing on Zwift in the WRTL series Community and Premier Division. The Premier Division is an excellent hit-out for over-under efforts. The Community League is fabulous fun as I often compete with and against teammates and friends in real life, so we have a lot of friendly competitive banter.
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’m a member of the AERO team (having raced previously for AHDR). AERO has a great depth of talent in both men’s and women’s racing. They are extremely supportive, and Jen Pettenon and Bizzy Butterworth are great at organizing the Women’s racing. They also have children, which helps them understand who is available to race because everyone has other commitments and has to fit racing in around real life.
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’m 168cm tall and weigh between 48-49kg. I’m not sure what my indoor PBs are, but it’s all on Zwift Power if you want to look.
What type of rider are you? Has your riding style evolved as you become more involved and successful in esports?
I don’t have a huge FTP in actual watts, but because I’m light, my w/kg is pretty good, so I’m a climber. Having said that, I can keep going for ages, and I really enjoy events. If there were such an event, I’d say I was a 1 hour + uphill TT specialist.
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 don’t have a specific go-to training workout, although I enjoy the “I’ve only got 20 mins or 30 mins options”.
Training on Zwift has allowed me to work on specific parts of my racing, such as anaerobic efforts.
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?
I qualified for this year’s UCI Cycling Esports World Championships and was thrilled to get the opportunity to represent Australia. The race was tough, as expected. I was in the front group with 10k to go when, unfortunately, I lost Bluetooth connectivity.
After re-pairing (which took a while), I had lost contact with the group, and my race was over. But at the end of the day, these things happen, just like getting a puncture out on the road, and you have to get over the disappointment and move on. I was really pleased with the way I rode, so I’ll take that as a personal win.
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
I think it’s my advantageous lightweight and the ability to suffer. I don’t think this sets me apart, though, as most virtual athletes can also suffer pretty hard. My friend and fellow racer Sarah Schneider came to support me during the UCI Esports World Championships and commented on how focused I was during the race. I probably had never noticed this before myself, but I’m sure this helps in esports as you have to maintain concentration the whole time to ensure you maintain contact with the bunch.
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’m still learning this. Understanding the draft and best conserving energy is a must, as is timing PowerUps. In the recent World Champs, we all had to set trainer difficulty to 100%, which changes the way you ride.
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?
I hope this is the case and it’s definitely becoming more widely accepted. The people who still question the discipline usually haven’t tried it properly themselves. I’ve seen many people convert to accepting it over the past few years. I love that it can complement real-life racing and training, but I really admire those who focus solely on Esport racing.
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 a TACX Neo in my lounge room with my Cervelo S5 on it. My family is very understanding and has given up half of the lounge room to my bikes, one on the trainer and my road and TT bike propped in the corner.
The fans extend over the halfway line (but no one has commented on that yet). My children are now 15 and 17 and don’t really take much interest in my cycling. In fact, by the time they wake up, I’ve usually finished my training.
My dog loves it when I’m training indoors because he joins me on the rug next to the trainer. My husband doesn’t understand much about cycling, but he does seem to take an interest in the price of bikes or equipment!!
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?
In my opinion, it is very different from IRL racing but still has a fiercely competitive edge. And with the Zada verification and weight and height videos for some races, helps to verify athletes’ performance data.
Many of your fellow elite eracers have been publicly critical of the lack of standardization in esports. What is your view on the topic?
It’s challenging to balance accuracy and going a bit over the top. I’m sometimes put off by the number of forms I need to submit for Premier League racing and World Championships. I totally understand why it is necessary, and once you’ve done it once, it’s easy to do it again.
It’s often quite easy to see in non-standardized races those who are probably cheating and being dishonest, and it doesn’t bother me. If they feel the need to cheat, that says more about them, and I feel pretty sorry for them.
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?
I’ve seen more women entering esports, and I think that’s because it offers flexibility in the length and intensity of sessions, and you can do it at home. It totally fits around work and family life. If you have young children and can’t leave the house, it’s a great way to connect with a social group, encourage each other, and maintain or get back to fitness.
What is esports' future amidst the multiple platform landscape, and where would you like to be positioned?
I’m quite open-minded about this and would like to choose activities and platforms to customize my own training and racing.
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?
It has come a long way and has a long way to go. My 17-year-old son is a massive gamer with loads of virtual reality kit, and when he watches me racing, he can’t believe the poor quality of the graphics. He made me try on his virtual reality goggles and swirl some things around in my hands, and I’ve got to say the graphics were so realistic and fast that I felt travel sick and had to take them off.
Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow racers or fans know about you? Please?!?
I once combined work with cycling when I had to resuscitate a fellow racer at the top of a hill climb after a cardiac arrest. He survived and went on to have a cardiac bypass the next day.
Thank you for sharing, Katie!
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!