Zwift #1 cyclist J Bruhn gives his thoughts on the view from the top of the esports world.
Zwift #1 Cyclist J Bruhn was the 2022 cycling esports season’s feel-good story. While competing in his bathroom, J went from Zwift community racer to UCI Cycling Esports World Championship qualifier in one massive well-time stomp of the pedals. He rode the slipstream of a solid showing at the World Champs all the way to Zwift eracing’s top step, the #1 ranking.
How did he get there? That’s a question Zwift #1 cyclist J Bruhn asks himself often. Considering where his cycling journey began reaching the pinnacle of the sport is less of a question and more of an inscrutable impossibility. Maintaining the top ranking was an enigma even J struggled to validate.
The Beginning—A Cycling Fan But Not a Cyclist
A cycling fan in his youth, J was a part of the generation inspired by Lance Armstrong and his inspirational story of dominance. He played basketball and baseball as a kid, and when he hung up his cleats to pursue endurance sports, triathlon was the direct path.
He competed in a few in college, recalling when he realized his cycling potential, “cycling was always my strongest discipline, and I was even able to crack an hour in the 40km riding only once a week.” J pursued running to stay in shape, but everything changed when he started a family.
“Once we had our first daughter,” Zwift #1 cyclist J Bruhn notes, “I needed a way to still get a workout in while she slept, so I did some digging into my options, and that’s when I found Zwift!” He pulled his old rusty tri bike out of the garage, bought a smart trainer, and after a six-year hiatus from cycling, was back on the bike in the summer of 2020!
Found Zwift in the Summer of 2020
A competitive person by nature, J began racing a week later. It wasn’t long before an old friend noticed him and invited him to do a TTT with the community subteam Eat DIRT. Competing as a team member introduced J to the intricacies of Zwift racing strategy and ranking points.
“I am not sure if it was a good thing or not when I discovered rank points,” admits J “it was good in the sense it gave me something to shoot for, some way to measure my progress, and a way to earn some bragging rights over some of my teammates! However, it was bad in a sense because I found myself, at times, chasing rank points rather than focusing on becoming a better cyclist, and I think that hurt me in the long run.”
Cracking the Top 150 and a Fortuitous Introduction
Cracking the top 150 was a massive accomplishment for J that came with challenges. He stalled out and began to regress, noting his ambivalence, stating, “I found myself getting frustrated or even disappointed after races, even if I had put in a good effort but just got unlucky at the finish.”
In the summer of 2021, J met Matt Brandt, an experienced Zwift racer at the elite level. Matt taught J how to be a better overall cyclist and racer. Matt stressed quality rides over racing all the time. When J did race, he would have a goal in mind, like nailing a specific wattage or segment or making bold moves. “During this time,” notes Zwift #1 cyclist J Bruhn, “I completely ignored rank points and just focused on getting better, and it worked!”
Disregard for Ranking Points
That it did, and the next thing he knew, J qualified for the UCI Cycling Esports Worlds, an achievement he never believed possible. J doubled down on his disregard for ranking points and focused on maximizing his potential and the honor and privilege of wearing the Team USA kit.
“I also knew some people were upset (and I don’t blame them) that the format of the qualifiers favored sprinters,” like J, “to qualify for a race that would be a hilltop finish.” He felt like he needed to prove that he deserved to be there because, J shares, honestly, “I felt like a fish out of water when we had our team Zoom call, and I was staring at all the racers I had looked up to and admired for so long.”
Riding the Momentum of the World Championship
Many elite eracers and his Team USA squad members took a break after the Worlds, but not J. He was having too much fun, “so I kept racing. I knew I was in great shape, and it seemed like every time I got on my bike, I was setting a new power PR somewhere on my power curve. The next thing I knew, somebody messaged me saying I was in the top 10 on Zwift rankings.”
Even though J didn’t think he could make it to #1, it was an itch he needed to scratch, and he focused on trying to get that #1 ranking. “I didn’t tell anyone I was trying because even saying it out loud sounded ludicrous,” he admits.
The Race That Did IT!
The race that did it came the day he went out of town on business. J knew it was a high-ranking race; if he won, it would give him a good shot at taking the top spot. The pressure was on because one of his top-ranking results was about to expire by the time he returned, so he knew he would need an additional win to get the top spot.
Zwift #1 cyclist J Bruhn vividly remembers the day, “I barely won the race and refreshed Zwift Power about a hundred times that day until it finally popped up that I got it!” Getting the #1 ranking was an anticlimactic moment for him.
“Of course,” he admits, “there was the personal satisfaction of achieving a goal that seemed absurd even to consider chasing when I first started riding, but I noticed that 99% of people would never see because most people don’t care.” The gravity of the moment wasn’t lost on the friends he told. Nor was the levity of the accomplishment for the Eat DIRT crew. It was April Fool’s day when J finally got it, and they had fun with it in a “we only mock the ones we admire” kind of way.
Anticlimactic, but NO Fool
Standing atop the Zwift rankings was special for J, not for the early mornings and hard work but for those there before him. “The racers that have achieved that previously are absolute legends that I have a ton of respect for, so to be able to do something they have done makes me realize how far I have come.”
Now that J has taken in the view from the top step, he doesn’t feel pressure to re-take the #1 ranking or try to keep it. The top spot is a revolving door, and it is hard to keep knocking on it without answering to what got you there in the first place. “My main focus now,” he says, “is to set new crazy goals and keep pushing my body to see what is possible.”
What’s NeXT for Zwift #1 Cyclist J Bruhn?
That means for J and his NexT pb Enshored team. He is focusing on the Zwift Grand Prix and qualifying for the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships in 2023. The shorter-style race formats favor his riding style, and he will adapt his training and racing.
“I love racing on Zwift, and I’m having a ton of fun doing it,” he says. “As long as it’s fun, I will still be showing up to races. However, I will focus on things other than rank points.”
Conclusion—A Tricky Balance
Telling the esports world his story is a tricky balancing act for J. It was a personal goal he had never dreamed possible in a team sport. He also doesn’t see it as an accurate indicator of his cycling ability.
“I think it has been about a month or more since I was #1, and I bet if I raced myself from back then, my current self would win 9 out of 10 times.” J hopes that cyclists will read his story and not judge how good they are or the progress they are making based on rankings because “there is a lot of luck involved with rank points.”
Instead, he urges his fellow racers to put in the work and enjoy the aspects of Zwift racing they can control. Take it from a guy who’s been there, “pursue becoming a better cyclist and let the rank points come naturally.” If they don’t, that’s okay too.
What do you think?
If you could get the #1 rank on Zwift, would you then try to keep it? Comment below! Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know.
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!