Elite Eracer Vicki Whitelaw Is Positioned For Esports Greatness

An interview with Vicki Whitelaw!

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 the capital city Canberra, Australia, with my husband, David, and two children—Jessica, nine, and Isaac, seven. For the last four years, I’ve owned a bike fitting business—Winning Position, and have been an Exercise Physiologist and soft tissue/remedial massage therapist for 25 years.

When I’m not on my Wahoo Kickr bike, I thrive on variety in my day—coffee with friends who talk about cycling, nature, family, and my faith as a Christian. I love attending alternative/primal movement-type classes in Canberra. You will often find me hanging out in the sauna at my local gym or the local river for cold water immersion therapy with a group of mates in winter!

A good weekend evening is a game of Settlers of Catan, playing with my 18-month-old-year-old black lab Embe or building projects in my garden—-a ten-year project at least!. I generally cannot sit still—bouldering, hiking, strength training, swinging from monkey bars.

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 was a long-distance/cross country runner and Netball player at school and a rower at university. I persisted through 10 km and half marathon events with many muscle and joint injuries.

 

When I took up a role at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra in 2002 as a soft tissue therapist, I discovered cycling bunches in Canberra. It was incredible to do an activity that didn’t hurt my knees! I would compete in the Friday sprint bunch and liked mixing it up with the strong male riders in Canberra. 6 months later, I dragged my sister to the Australian Road Nationals in Adelaide and taught her to feed a quick bidon from the side of the road

 

A few years of strong wins in the Australian National Road series rounds led me to Europe with the Australian Institute of Sport women’s development team in 2008 based in Varese, Italy. That year I finished up as Australian female road cyclist of the year after winning the time trial in the Womens’ Giro Rosa, a road stage in the Tour de L’aude, and finishing the year with overall GC winner in the Tour de L’Ardeche.

What is your virtual cycling story? How and when did you get involved in esports? What is your most significant accomplishment racing virtually?

I have been Zwifting since the Beta days when my daughter Jessica was born in 2012. I found it quite tough to spend days alone at home with a screaming baby, so I invested in a Wahoo trainer Gen 1. Escaping to the fantasy World of Watopia was truly magical, and I became addicted. Every day I would look forward to brutal training sessions—mostly sprint intervals with my virtual team—Innovation cycling. It was here that I met many “virtual” friends—Louise Houbak, Celia Hansen, Lars Husballe, and my now coach—Geir Ridderwold.

 

Louise and Cecilia assisted me to my first Aussie National Ecycling title. It was great to wear the “green and gold” stripes in-game! I have also enjoyed representing Australia at 2 UCI World Esport Championships. While my results personally at these events have been less than stellar, it has been truly awesome to be part of a strong, passionate, and competitive bunch of women. Supporting Sara Gigante to almost clinch the Inaugural UCI World Esports champs in 2020 was pretty special.

 

After several years of racing with Innovation cycling women, Lars approached us to start a new team—Heino Racing team. Thus began a magical ride and racing experience with people I would really love to visit in real life ( that IRL training camp in Mallorca?!)

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 had ridden with the Heino Racing team for several years. The women were naturally strong with a great approach to training and racing both virtually and IRL. They were true team players—willing to back each other up in every race. There was no one-star player, and depending on the course and terrain, it provided opportunities equally for each rider. Under the guidance of Lars and a great culture, I am honored to have been a part of this team. The planning of recon rides and discussion of tactics was right up my alley, and I will treasure these memories.

 

I am quite a unique cyclist in that 100% of my training and racing during my week is on Zwift—rain, hail, or shine. It suits my work and family routines, and I train around 12-16 hours per week (previously, as a full-time cyclist was doing 25 hours). Given all of my previous riding IRL and the great experiences traveling the World tour from slippery Dutch and Belgian Cobbles to altitude training at Stelvio, Italy, I feel very at home on my Wahoo Kickr bike, based in my bike fitting studio in Canberra. It’s strange to say that this is “cycling” for me now and that my road, MTB, and cyclocross bikes sit primarily untouched in my garage these days!

 

I have recently changed to the Aeonian race team as Heino had seen some good seasons, but our riders and management had different goals virtually and IRL. It seemed a sensible time to wrap things up.

 

I am excited to see what new challenges unfold at Aeonian. I believe we are a team with huge potential (Loes Adeergest is currently the Esports World champion!) and a great culture of development and supporting female riders. Having competed against them on Heino for several PL seasons, I was super impressed by their tactics, sprint abilities, and genuine care for one another.

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 167cm tall and float between 56 and 59kg depending on where I am in my menstrual cycle and training block of strength training in the gym. Given my history as a rouleur and solid allrounder on the road, my strength is in 5 and 20-minute efforts. I will strive further to improve the other critical powers. You can check out my Strava here and my ZwiftPower here.

What type of rider are you? Has your riding style evolved as you become more involved and successful in esports?

As I mentioned previously, I have a good aerobic capacity. I can sustain a high power output for long periods—time trialing and long break-aways were my style in pro cycling. As I’ve progressed through ecycling, I have developed my sprint power and red zone efforts to produce a punchier sprint for the finish line—crucial for the predominately flat finishes on Zwift.

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?

When I first rode on Zwift, I required the support of a bunch of training efforts to remain motivated and target specific power zones. I think this was because I was so tired of all the time trialing efforts I had done on a dumb trainer in the basement in Italy during my pro-cycling career. Back then, it was a cabled SRM unit and Sufferfest videos to keep me going. I enjoy the social aspect of Zwift. However, my intense personality and wanting to train with my mates online all the time had me land myself in a bit of an overtraining hole.

 

During the last 2-to three years, I have switched up and individualized my training quite dramatically with the help of my coach Geir. I also enjoy listening to and reading the research of one of my favorite Exercise Physiologists—Steven Seiler, who talks a great deal about Polarised 80/20 training. While my 15 years of elite cycling had taught me a great deal, I enjoyed this new approach and felt I’ve rebuilt a more solid and robust foundation.

 

I’m also very interested in other health and well-being hacks that also aid my performance in cycling—heat training and improving mitochondrial efficiency, saunas, cold immersion therapy, and a unique form of nutrition for both everyday and competition. I’m excited about the sustainability of the training load as I feel I’m aging well and that I can keep improving!

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?

Having participated in the UCI World Championships and the buzz and excitement around this event, I would love to represent Australia in future editions. As a competitor, I love racing and look forward to remaining at the top level of eracing. I, of course, acknowledge that I cannot be on my game and peak fitness all year round, and so for now—Australian winter/European summer, there is a bit of a shift to more extended endurance Zone 2 rides with the occasional informal race thrown in. I want to be ready when most of my Aeonian teammates return for their winter for the peak racing period, October-February. That said, I am more than just a virtual esport racer and don’t simply want to live from one eracing season to the next.

You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?

As mentioned previously, I do not have any IRL cycling goals—I am 100% exclusively riding on Zwift regardless of the outdoor temperatures or environment. I am grateful for the many IRL experiences that I’ve had. However, this next phase of caring for a family, running a bike fitting business, and finding time for other activities best suit my training every morning on my Wahoo Kickr bike. It sets me up in a good mood for the day. I also am a massive multitasker on Zwift—watching Youtube videos on aspects of cycling performance, bike fitting, cryptocurrency, and Italian and Norwegian language learning, 🙂

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?

For as long as I’ve been riding on Zwift—10 years I still feel that I have more to learn in this space. Virtual cycling is genuinely a different cycling discipline, and understanding gamification is essential to succeed. We have all seen strong, powerful cyclists from other disciplines hop on Zwift and suffer aggressively for not “taking off” at the start line or using the incorrect power up —an anvil on an uphill or flat section:). For me, this research and paying attention to the best equipment set up in-game, thanks to testers like Eric Schlange on Zwift Insider, has been invaluable for my esport development.

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, it is already a unique cycling discipline, akin to freestyle BMX riding versus track cycling. The challenge for “racing” virtually is to have “eyes on the sport” and interest from sponsors. As I experienced in the women’s pro tour, friends and family are often the only interested spectators. For Zwift, it is similar. The riders on Zwift will watch the racing with little viewing from others outside of Zwift. I also believe it’s essential to have a mix of terrains and styles within a race season. A season full of TTT is not great, nor are many sprint finishes.

 

A variety of terrain and race types to spread the opportunities. Zwift has been experimenting with new racing styles—like elimination-style track-type riding. It seems that it has been received well from some reports; however, I do have concerns regarding the dynamics and lack of proximity of some riders’ servers. It results in riders’ classic “different views” regarding the actual sprint prime or, worse, the finish banner. If results hinge on the accuracy of positions across a line, these issues need to be resolved to accept “fair’ racing across the riders.

Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?

I am fortunate to ride the top-of-the-range Wahoo Kickr bike with Favverro Assioma pedals. It is a dream set up and enables me to be the best that I can be on the virtual cycling platforms. I can either run Apple TV (my preferred as it’s quick and reliable) or via my desktop. As per top-level Zwift racing regulations, I upload my dual power from my pedals and use the trainer as my primary power source. I constantly produce a close—less than 3% difference between these two power sources instills absolute confidence that my power and form are accurate.

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?

There will always be challenges with verification procedures, and I believe humans will “cheat” or attempt to gain an advantage as long as prizes and attention are given. It comes down to each individual’s convictions and morals of what is right and wrong when competing at any level of competition. Some have proposed that when huge, high prize money competitions occur, all competitors should race in the same location, with identical trainers.

 

I have previously competed in this type of competition at the CVR World Cup in Vancouver’s Velodrome. While it was a great experience, I have issues with this being the standard procedure. The very reason that esport racing appeals to me at this stage of my life is because I can compete from my home without the travel expenses and logistical issues such as looking after a family and running a business.

What is esports' future amidst the multiple platform landscape, and where would you like to be positioned?

Competition in this esports cycling space is crucial to encourage all to keep pushing boundaries and improving their product. We have seen a dominance of Zwift for a while, without a huge competition in the past—mostly, I think, lacking the same financial backings and a seismic shift in riders. However, with new relationships such as Wahoo-RGT, we could see a shift in racing.

 

It will be good as it provides more opportunities for someone like me to race. Because this ecycling is very much a computer game and a separate discipline, I do not believe that online- racing needs to be like the IRL experience. It has been an issue on some of the platforms from my “purist” cycling mates.

 

The riding experience and graphics in-game are significant to me. I feel surprisingly calm riding amongst the “all-nighter” lights of Makuri Islands. For example, I haven’t had the same sensations riding in the desert on MyWhoosh, and I’ve found the visual experience quite clunky and sterile. However, I acknowledge that specific ecycling platforms are still in their infancy in development, so I’m excited for things to come.

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?

Hopefully, with a greater breadth of solid racing across the different platforms in time zones sympathetic to the Southern Hemisphere. I realize that Australia is on the other side of the world from where most virtual riders reside. However, it has been very frustrating, only providing limited time zones for various competitions. 3 and 4 are races that are not something I will prioritize in my week. We align much better with Asia, where I am sure there are a lot of virtual racers, so the time zones would likely line up better than Europe or USA.

Thank you for sharing, Vicki!

For more interesting insight into the lives and background of other eracing greats check out the Esports page of The ZOM!

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