An interview with 2022 Zwift Academy finalist Chiara Doni of Team Castelli.
Of the more than 96,000 cyclists participating in the 2022 edition of Zwift Academy Road, only the top-five men and women remain, and 2022 Zwift Academy Finalist Chiara Doni was one of them. She will join the nine others in Denia, Spain, in mid-November for the shot at a Canyon/SRAM pro contract.
GCN will broadcast the finals beginning on December 13 and will announce the winner on December 17. Good luck to all of the finalists!
An interview with 2022 Zwift Academy Finalist Chiara Doni
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 Italy, not so far from Como lake. I’m a Quality Assurance and Regulatory Manager for a company that manufactures medical devices for bone implantology, hip/knee/shoulder implants, and osteosynthesis devices.
I’m a sports addict, and I love to spend my free time on the bike, during lunch break during the week, and all day during the weekend. I am also a mountain lover, and I like hiking with friends and spending as much time as possible outside in nature. I love any animal, some friends call me “Snow white” since I am used to talking to animals 🙂 .
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 started cycling almost six years ago. Running was my previous passion, but due to some injuries, I had to abandon my running shoes, and I decided to start a new adventure with the bike (I truly need sport in my daily life to free my mind and spirit).
I started training hard from the very beginning to keep pace with my friends, but meeting Luca (spring 2022) and having him as a coach has been the turning point in my way of training and improving my performance on the bike.
I raced some Gran Fondos in Italy and France, and my most significant accomplishments were for sure the 2nd place at the Maratona dles Dolomites in 2019 and the win at the Tour Transalp 2022 (mixed team category with my friend Francesco).
What is your virtual cycling story? How and when did you get involved in esports? What is your experience racing on Zwift’s elite level? What is your most significant accomplishment racing virtually?
I started Zwifting almost three years ago but discovered the virtual racing environment in the fall of 2021 when I got emailed by my current team manager, who asked me to enjoy Team Castelli in Cat A.
Unluckily, our team didn’t get an invitation to the Zwift Grand Prix. Toyota CRYO RDT contacted me to enjoy some races with them in the GP.
Racing on Zwift is super fun, and it’s also very productive for training and performance. I’m happy to have started this experience since it gave me a lot, not only in terms of physical fitness and accomplishments but also from a social perspective. I gained a lot of friends from all over the world. 🙂
Tell us about your esports team. How has racing with your team prepared you for this moment?
Team Castelli consists of true and kind people. We are, first of all, friends, and that’s amazing. Racing with them helped me manage racing stress; riding with positive and kind people always keeps my motivation high.
Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?
Currently, I’m Zwifting outside in the garden (in a well-covered area, of course), temperatures outside in spring and summer are super nice, and I prefer to be outside, even if I’m riding on Zwift.
I’m going to move inside in a few weeks since winter is coming and temperatures are slowly dropping. I’m using Wahoo Kickr v.5 Trainer, and I am super happy with it. I have two power meters (the trainer and the pm on my bike) and make dual recordings of each race to always check my devices’ accuracy.
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
That is a good and challenging question. I’m always super motivated and ready to ask for the best of myself, and I am not afraid to push Chiara beyond her limits :).
Will cycling esports gain acceptance as a trusted discipline and popularity as a unique discipline? What challenges does it face?
I hope so. We are athletes inside and outside, and our performances are reliable and verifiable (e.g., on a Strava profile and a Zwiftpower profile). Cycling esports must survive the challenges that anything new usually has to face. People are sometimes not open to or in favor of new things and changes.
What is your opinion of the new race formats used during the Zwift Grand Prix and the World Championships?
It’s quite nice for the viewer, while it is a bit stressful for the athletes. The format is nice since it opens the doors to almost all kinds of athletes, sprinters, climbers, etc.
Congratulations on being named a Zwift Academy Finalist. It's a tremendous achievement. What is your Zwift Academy "why?" What motivated and inspired you?
I was motivated by my team manager Alessio and by Luca (he is one of the finalists too). Luca and I shared this experience for fun and understanding where we were in general with our performances among other athletes worldwide. Of course, the biggest motivation is the dream to convert my passion for cycling into a job.
How were you notified that you were a finalist and what's the first thought that entered your mind?
I received an email from Zwift asking me for a quick call. I was at work at that moment and asked them to postpone the call to the evening. I connected to the phone call and found there the coaches who gave me that amazing news leaving me without words.
My first thought was, “omg! I cannot believe I’m in. Will I be able to handle the intense stress of this experience? Am I strong enough on the bike? Did they call the wrong person?”
I was terrified and super happy at the same time.
Was the decision difficult, and what factors did you consider before accepting the invitation?
No, it was not difficult. My heart decided immediately that this was an opportunity to catch without any doubt.
What goals do you have for yourself? What will make your Zwift Academy experience a success in your mind?
Be me, defeat my personal monsters, and be proud of myself, however things turn out.
What do you envision the experience like living in a house with the other finalist while competing against them for the only pro contract?
I’m optimistic, and I’m sure we can be good friends and share this unique experience of helping each other day by day. Zwift Academy is a new experience and challenge for all of us.
How do you feel about the reality show marketing aspect of the Zwift Academy finals? Are you okay with having all your data out there, the rider of the day competitions, the made-for-tv surprise workout challenges, and the eliminations?
It’s the most stressful thing for me. I’m not used to being under the spotlight, and I’m always afraid not to be enough. But for sure I’ll do my best to manage this aspect also.
The Zwift Academy finals consist of a combination of virtual and road performance competition. How do you feel about going head-to-head on the road? Does success on Zwift translate to the road?
I’m not afraid about going head-to-head on the road. I feel confident with my bike outside, and I’m curious to see how the other finalists are on the road. We know each other only virtually. I have already raced with Liz and Elena, but I never met the other girls virtually.
What advantages do you have over your competition? What challenges do you face?
I don’t know, honestly. Our numbers look pretty close, and I guess it all depends on the training and challenges we will do and our feelings in that context.
What is the first thing you are going to do when you win? How will it change your life?
I’ll for sure share my joy with the people I love. It would be a Big, Big, Big change in my life.
Will the decision to accept the professional contract be a difficult one? What factors will you need to consider?
Yes, it will surely be a difficult decision since I invested a lot in my job and made a lot of sacrifices. But you know, I’m a dreamer, and winning the pro contract is the dream of a lifetime coming true.
How will it change your life if you aren't the last rider left standing?
I will be happy anyway. Being selected and living such a great experience is already a win for me.
What advice do you have for cyclists who dream of a professional career but haven't been successful in getting noticed?
Don’t give up, and keep on dreaming. If you can dream it, you can do it!
Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow racers or fans know about you. Please?!?
I love to sleep with my soft toy. Last week my friends and teammates Elisabetta and Beatrice gifted me a new rainbow with a smiling cloud. I love it, and I guess I will bring it with me to Denia, Spain, for the Zwift Academy finals.
Any words of encouragement or wisdom for Chiara?
Comment below! I know she’d appreciate it.
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, http://www.TheDIRTDadFund.com. 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.