Elite German Eracer Martin Maertens Has Found a Niche For Himself in Esports

An interview with Toyota Cryo RDT elite cyclist Martin Maertens
Tell us a bit about yourself, cyclist Martin Maertens. Where do you live, and what do you do? What do you like to do for fun? Family life, that sort of stuff.

I’m Martin, 30 years old engineer and cyclist from Frankfurt, Germany. I’m the younger brother of two in a sports-enthusiastic family. Sports such as cycling, running, or football have always played a significant role in our family. 

 

So it’s no surprise that my brother and father are competitive, respectively, passionate cyclists. Everything revolves around cycling, technology, and coffee in my free time.

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’ve been a cyclist since I was a teenager. I started with Mountain bike marathon racing to just having fun on mountain bike trails, then entered competitive sports again as a triathlete in 2017. During the pandemic, I focused on road cycling and indoor racing entirely.

In the past years, I focused on gran fondos and hill climbs. As the back-to-back State Hillclimb Champion in Hesse, Germany, I made an impact on the roads of Germany.

Martin’s ZwiftPower Profile

Find his Strava here!

And his Instagram page!

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 virtual cycling in the winter of 2019 with the goal of training for the outdoor season. Soon after, I noticed Elite level racing on Zwift by watching a live stream of the Tour de Zwift Invitational. Intending to compete in such events, I joined Team CRYO-GEN, which became Toyota CRYO RDT shortly after. 

My dream of competing on an elite level came true about a year later when the team qualified for the Zwift Premier Division. But the journey didn’t end there as the German cycling federation selected me to compete in the 2022 Cycling Esports World Championships. I consider it my biggest race to date, including an almost successful breakaway in the race’s final stages.

cyclist Martin Maertens Zwift avatar
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?

The Toyota CRYO RDT is an elite racing team formed from the community team CRYO-GEN. The competitive attitude within the team and the aspiration to reach elite-level racing have pushed every team member to improve their power numbers and fine-tune their racing skills. Without this team, I would have never been able to reach the level where I currently compete.

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 175cm tall and weigh about 62-64 kg.

PBs:

Peak power: 1012 W – 16.4 W/kg

15s: 879 W – 14.3 W/kg

1 min: 661 W – 10.6 W/kg

5 min: 446 W – 7.1 W/kg

20 min: 398 W – 6.4 W/kg

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

I’m a rider with a high fatigue resistance who can punch it hard after a more extended and hard sustained effort. 

 

By getting more and more experienced in indoor racing, I figured out that a riding style at a lower cadence of around 75 rpm in combination with riding out of the saddle has given me a good modulation of power and an overall improvement. 

 

I worked on applying my power profile to races more and more in terms of race tactics. In addition to taking some risks by going all-in at stages of a race that others don’t expect, it has paid off frequently.

cyclist Martin Maertens riding bike outdoors
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?

It’s the 40/20 intervals. They provide a lot of super valuable time at VO2 Max and help a lot in getting used to back-to-back strenuous efforts as required in Zwift racing. 

 

In general, during the Zwift season, my training is primarily focused on working above threshold. It is the wattage that decides races. Combined with endurance sessions, this is the base for a successful racing season, and I recommend them to everyone wanting to get involved.

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’s definitely staying competitive within the ever-evolving and strengthening elite racing scene. With the UCI implementing a World Championships, the sport has become more professional and created an ultimate goal. 

 

After competing in the 2022 event, I am hungry for more and will work hard to either qualify via the pathway provided by Zwift or show my federation that I’m a good choice for one of the four German slots.

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

Mental strength as well as a high anaerobic capacity to be in the right position when it matters.

cyclist Martin Maertens winning a bike race
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?

As you can see in many races, strong outdoor riders struggle in their first few races. It takes some time to get the right feeling for when to put in power and ease, especially with the new racing formats implemented this season. 

 

The powerups add a nice little feature, and understanding how to use them to your advantage alongside your racing strategy can make the little difference between winning or just missing out.

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?

Esport must master the fine line between data integrity, verification, and inclusiveness. With more and more requirements (e.g., Trainer accuracy), you have to be able to pay about 1,500 bucks to compete at the top level. 

 

With sponsors entering the sport, this becomes more achievable in formats like the Grand Prix. It is important at that level to ensure fairness. But on the flip side, a rider in, for example, the ZRL community racers that don’t ride with such equipment aren’t worse than the elite racers, nor can you say that their performances aren’t trustworthy. 

 

It would be great to have a suitable pathway for young riders from the community level into top-level racing on a budget.

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

I ride a Canyon Aeroad set up on a Wahoo Kickr V5. For dual recording, I use Favero Assioma Duo Pedals connected to my Garmin Edge 530 Headunit. I calibrate before every race. 

 

I run Zwift on a Windows Gaming PC for maximum experience and a big screen to see every detail of the race unfolding.

cyclist Martin Maertens riding bike indoors
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 would suggest asking for a head-to-head in a hill climb for any critics saying that esport riders aren’t real bike racers or saying that you can’t trust the numbers. You can’t trick gravity.

 

For sure outdoor bike racing is more than just power and you might see riders excel on zwift but fail outdoors. But that’s what makes the sport of cycling so beautiful. Everyone can find a niche for himself, and esports has opened one more of these.

I think the current verification system with weight and height videos, outdoor power numbers, and indoor power test is a sound system at the elite level. In community races, I do think that we need to focus on the fun part of the game and the fact that many riders use the platform to better their outdoor performances in the following summer. It is undoubtedly based on individual integrity not to cheat, but it is an integral part in terms of the inclusiveness of the sport.

Many of your fellow elite eracers have been publicly critical of the lack of standardization in esports. What is your view on the topic?

Standardization is always the best option, but we have to be realistic. It’s still an amateur sport (at the moment), and there are multiple trainer manufacturers on the market. Such competition always helps advance technology overall. 

 

One trainer will never be like the other, which we can even notice within one manufacturer’s range. It is a good idea for a race like the world championships, but with all other general racing with various riders. We should be on a solid track with the current system for elite-level racing.

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?

In terms of competition formats, esports has evolved from a wattage showdown for about 30-45 min with one giant kick at the end to a highly tactical team event where you have to think about when to put in the effort to gain points for your team’s tally. Sometimes the race winner doesn’t win it for the team.

 

Verification has gone a long way from just looking at dual recordings and differences in percentages to a detailed analysis by ZADA that takes so many things into account. You can have a discrepancy of a few percent in your dual recording (e.g., left crank-arm-only power meter), but it can say more about the quality of your trainer’s data than a closer matching power curve.

cyclist Martin Maertens riding bike up a mountain
What is esports' future amidst the multiple-platform landscape, and where would you like to be positioned?

With the multiple platforms coming into play, I would hope for the UCI as the governing body to take action regarding standard procedures for verification and regulations on the elite level. It might even allow the UCI to hold the World Championships across different platforms at the same quality. It would be similar to hosting the IRL Championships in different locations.

What is your opinion of the new race formats being used during the Zwift Grand Prix and the World Championships?

I like the new format as it requires a specific type of rider combined with sharp tactics and preparation. In cycling, it often comes down to the rider with the most power winning it, but this format really needs every rider to save as much energy as possible but still forces hard racing from start to finish. Additionally, it’s an attractive format for the viewers, which is the foundation for the successful growth of esports cycling as a standalone sport.

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 will be more professionalized, with more sponsors and money coming into play. There are dreams of esports cycling being an Olympic sport, but I don’t see that coming within the next five years. It would be amazing to see the UCI include it in their road world championships event as they are aiming to organize big events like in Glasgow in 2023. 

cyclist Martin Maertens during esports world championship
Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow racers or fans know about you? Please?!?​​

My main fuel on the bike is fruit bars from Aldi!

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