The Steve Mayes Cycling Story!
The advent of virtual cycling, Zwift in particular, has ushered in a new breed of cycling athletes. Those whose first introduction to the beautiful sport is while sitting on a trainer and pedaling an avatar across a screen. For some, that’s where it ends. Virtual cycling is a means of fitness and fun, with the occasional pinch of friendly rivalry thrown in.
Such is the way of the cyclist. Not content to leave it at that, once the cycling bug infects us, competitive juices course through our veins. The only cure is to pursue the boundaries of our body’s higher ground and take in the vista of satisfaction. Steve Mayes is one such cyclist, but he didn’t stop there.
A 225-pound Non-Cyclist to A-Category Eracing Victory in a Little Over a Year
Steve went from being a 225-pound non-cyclist to A-category victory in a little over a year. When the view from perched atop the eracing podium wasn’t enough to satisfy his cycling wanderlust, he ventured out in search of a new goal. From never riding a bike to an A-class eracer to a real-life Cat 3 on the road and track in under two years? Here is Steve’s story.
In late 2019 through friends, Steve Mayes, an astrophysicist turned data entrepreneur from Epsom, UK, residing in the US, discovered Zwift and also stumbled across a Vegan Cyclist video where he competes against a track cyclist. His depth of knowledge of cycling was watching the Tour de France, and he had dismissed it as a potential sport. At 6 feet 2 inches and 225 pounds, he didn’t look like a cyclist.
When Steve saw a track cyclist for the first time, it was clear that while he didn’t look like one of them, he was much more like that than a Tour De France rider. “So I realized maybe there was something there for me,” he thought.
First Zwift Race and the First Challenge
He entered a handful of Zwift D races, finished mid-pack, and thoroughly enjoyed it. “I particularly loved all the data analytics you could do,” he recalls his exuberance, “it just added so much depth to everything.” Shortly after that, he had surgery for a soccer injury and, a few months later, started using Zwift for rehab.
The 2020 pandemic lockdown canceled the soccer and basketball leagues he enjoyed, “so being a competitive person, and I was looking for something else to do to stay active and compete, particularly after I had done all that work rehabbing.” Then the revelation!
“I decided to create myself a challenge of winning an A race within a year,” he notes when the lightbulb went off. It seemed formidable, but he figured it might be possible by focussing on races that suited him—flat and short. “I noticed that most A-class riders were actually lightweight climbers rather than sprinters, even in the short events,” he says.
Steve’s FTP wasn’t terrible, but his power to weight was, “so clearly I would need to lose a lot of weight, but with that, power training, and careful route selection, it seemed doable.” So then he set out to do it!
It Seemed Doable, So Steve Did It
“People have asked me what training program I used,” he reveals, “but it wasn’t elegant or sophisticated. It was straightforward. I just raced and raced some more.” At the peak, Steve was racing seven days a week for a few weeks at a time. “I’m not someone who gets very motivated to train solo, but races always got my competitive juices flowing, and I was always up for them.” After a little while, he learned the concept of overtraining the hard way. Before it did too much damage, he introduced two days of rest a week and the occasional rest week.
By following this self-coaching regime, he got progressively stronger and lighter “although interestingly my FTP peaked very early on,” he notes surprisedly. As he ascended the divisions, Steve added some sub-challenges to break it up a bit, like trying to become the top-rated C rider on ZwiftPoker, for example. He got to number 2!
In Steve’s opinion, the different race classes weren’t about FTP, at least for the shorter races. He found that:
D: It is all about increasing W/KG FTP.
C: It is all about increasing your 15-second power.
B: It is all about increasing your 5-minute power.
A: It is all about increasing 1-minute power.
It Took 13 Months, 274 races, and 40lbs
He focused on races that would develop that specific power profile. It worked! “It took 13 months, 274 races, and losing 40lbs to complete the challenge and get my first A class win,” he states humbly with a hint of satisfaction. Then what? Such is the way of the cyclist that doesn’t stay content for long.
The rest of 2021 Steve spent aimlessly racing on Zwift, trying to decide what to do next. He stumbled on YouTube videos by Claudio Marques. Claudio started IRL crit and track racing with no background or knowledge and filmed it all with great enthusiasm. “I had no idea that crit races existed, and also didn’t realize there was a velodrome within an hour of me,” he says, “but it sure looked like fun, so I thought I’d give it a go before I got seriously too old (at 46 I was already pretty late to the party).”
Based on Dr. Andy Coggan’s power profile chart (Training and Racing with a Power Meter, Hunter, Coggan, and MacGregor, Velopress, 2019), Steve thought that he could be comfortable in Cat 4 power-wise and may even be able to compete in some cat three races. “I decided that reaching Cat 3 in both Track and Criterium racing would be my target for the 2022 season,” and there it was!
Steve's Timeline of Cycling
There it Was, Challenge #2
Steve bought all the equipment for road racing and the track, which was an adventure. He didn’t personally know anyone who raced, no one to help him out. “I probably spent as much on the incorrect stuff as I did the correct stuff,” the new real-life racer sheepishly laments. It took until the season’s end before he was comfortable with both setups.
Steve attended beginner classes at the velodrome and early bird criterium racing classes, watched as many YouTube videos as possible, and began learning the required skills. It was clear from the outset that safety was the biggest issue. He had plenty of power but no bike-handling skills whatsoever.
“Initially, the corners were terrifying, but once you got used to that, it was just about finding the correct line,” he notes. He played a lot of Forza on the Xbox, a motor-racing game that superimposed the racing line over the road. It got burned into his brain. He found it incredibly helpful when diving into those crit corners.
Trek Madone 2021 SLR9 Project One, Winspace Hyper 65mm wheels, Assiomo Duo Power Meter Pedals
Fuji Elite, Oval Concepts 80mm wheelset, FFWD Rear Disc-T SL Wheel
Pack Riding Was Scary
Riding in a pack was scary initially, but he got used to it after a while. Protecting the front wheel was a fundamental concept to both crit and track that he also burned into his brain. Track, in general, was a different beast. The idea of riding at 35 mph with no brakes, and if you stop pedaling, you crash, took some more time to get used to for Steve.
Steve found the most significant differences between virtual and IRL racing to be positioning and gear changes. “In virtual races, it just takes power to improve your position towards the end as you can ride through people,” he observes, “but IRL, you have to be far more aggressive far earlier to lock in a good spot and be far more attentive to the course layout.”
As for gearing, in virtual races, he used 50% trainer difficulty or sometimes even 0% to minimize the gear changes, leaving him unprepared for the gear changing required for hills and long sprints. “I soon found, after a few dropped chains, that even with a Di2 electronic shifter, you couldn’t change gears during an IRL sprint. I was using a kickr bike with virtual gears indoors so that I could switch gears mid-sprint without a worry.”
First Crit Was a Disaster
Steve’s first criterium race, an Elite 4/5, was a total disaster because “I did close to my best ever 10-minute power and got dropped after that 10 minutes.” He analyzed the Strava profiles of his competitors to see he was doing far more power than them.
“I studied my race footage and realized that you can’t be at the back of a pack of Cat 5 riders,” he recalls, “as you’ll only be riding as efficiently as the least efficient rider in the race.” He made some equipment upgrades and went out and tried again.
The next race was a straight Cat 5 race, which he won comfortably. That same day he entered a Cat 4/5 Over 30s race which he managed a 3rd place finish despite some terrible positioning. A 2nd in the next 30+ 4/5 followed, and he was able to upgrade to Cat 4. Steve was on the right track.
On the track, things were also going smoothly. Once Steve figured out the tactics and how to predict the movements of others in the pack, he started winning and soon upgraded to Cat 4.
Steve’s Son’s Diagnosis Put the Brakes On the Challenge and Added New Ones
A 1/3rd of the way into the season, everything was going according to the plan for Steve. Then life happened, and things took an unexpected and dark turn. “My 13-year-old son was suddenly diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer with a relatively poor prognosis,” he bristles at the memory.
It was a whirlwind of emotions, shock, and endless hospital visits. Once the dust settled and we had a treatment plan and a schedule, Steve made the complicated decision to carry on with the challenge as best he could. “I needed one thing in my life to stay normal and act as an outlet for me with everything going on,” he shares, “so I decided to sacrifice most other things and try to keep at least the cycling thing going.”
Cycling Brought Steve Normalcy
Systematic training went out of the window, and he couldn’t make it to as many races. “Those that I did make, I’d typically get 2 hours of sleep at the hospital and then drive directly to the track, which was hardly ideal preparation,” he recounts the outlet that kept him going.
Steve’s performance suffered a bit, but he persevered through the season and had decent results in a few Cat 3/4 Masters races. “To make it to Cat 3,” he could almost taste it, “I needed to finish in the top 10 in either of my last two races.”
Surgery Was Successful, but the Challenge Wasn’t
Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. In the first, Steve had a mechanical, and in the final race, he crashed out on the last lap. “I failed, but I had an absolute blast trying,” he says without regret. No one can fault him for that.
After months of chemo, Steve’s son’s surgery was successful, and he will make a full recovery, although it will be a long, difficult road. So, all in all, it’s been a strange year for Steve.
Conclusion—Many Life Lessons Learned
Steve learned a lot about himself and the beautiful sport of cycling he stumbled on two years and a different body ago. “Things that started out important to me, such as a random arbitrary self-inflicted challenge, became a side note. But it was an important side note. I’ve competed in many different sports, and cycling strikes me as unique in the friendliness and helpfulness of your rivals. Many times before races, I’d be flailing around with some equipment problem that I had no idea how to deal with, and you could approach any random rider, and they would always be willing to sort you out. Plus, no matter the results, the camaraderie post-race was always great.”
What’s next for Steve? At this point, he has no idea. If he wants to challenge himself to take cycling to the next level, it will demand a significant jump in his FTP. That will require some serious and structured training to achieve.
“I guess I have the winter to decide if I want to do that,” he questions rhetorically, “but in the immediate future, I intend to rest and hug my boy every chance I get.” Goal achieved, Steve!
What Cycling Challenges have you made with yourself?
Comment below! Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know.
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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!