An interview with Team USA and Base Media Racing’s Alex TenElshof.
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 am Alex TenElshof, I am 32 years old and live in Michigan (United States) and have lived here my entire life. I work in procurement for one of the largest private retailers in the United States. I have been married for eight years and have two incredible daughters. #DadWatts
I ride my bike for fun. It is my ultimate happy place. Whether outside or on Zwift. Other than that, I enjoy doing normal dad things. Hanging with my kids, coloring, building legos, playing hide and seek, and running with my dog Odie.
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 have been competing since I was five years old. I started out in competitive swimming, swam all through high school, and was a state swimmer. I also ran in high school and was a state runner at a state-champion school. I was given scholarship opportunities for both sports and ultimately chose to run for the social aspect.
Truth be told, I got completely burnt out from running and found cycling in 2012. Started mountain biking for the first three years and eventually got bored and ventured into road racing. I started road racing as a Cat 4 in 2015 and was a Cat 1 by 2017.
I enjoyed the challenge of working my way through the cat system. I competed in the Cat 1 road nationals for a couple of years (no crazy results, usually Top 30 finish) and eventually got bored with that. I really took to gravel racing in 2017, as it is huge here in Michigan.
I have been the Michigan Gravel Champion 5 years in a row and have competed in a couple of bigger gravel races elbow-to-elbow with guys like Alexy Vermeulen, Adam Roberge, John Borstlemann, Peter Stetina, etc. I have been runner-up in USA Cycling Nationals races twice and also had a 3rd place finish.
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 riding on Zwift in 2018 and started racing on Zwift in 2019. I joined Team Finesse at the time, which was a great group of people to help show me the ropes. Truth be told, I absolutely sucked at first.
Had all this power but didn’t understand the gamesmanship side of Zwift, nor did I know the courses very well. However, I kept at it, and when COVID hit in 2020, Zwift racing really took off. I recruited for the team and helped lead the team to qualify for the Premier Division after the first-ever season of the Zwift Racing League. We raced in the Premier League for a couple of seasons, with our best team finish for the season as 5th, I believe.
I eventually joined Wahoo Le Col and raced in the Premier League for them. My best PD finish individually was 5th place, the same race our team won overall. That was also a great group of people. The team was way too big for me, though, and decided to just ride for my IRL team, Base Media Racing.
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?
So as I mentioned before, I now race for my IRL team, Base Media Racing. We have added only a couple of non-Michigan riders to the Zwift-specific portion of the team as we want to keep it small and intimate. Base Media is a local Michigan team, and most of the people on the team are people I ride outside with on a regular basis, all living within 30 minutes of me. So the camaraderie is next level.
Only two of us were in the qualifiers race (in which both of us qualified for Team USA), but the entire team was sending messages and texts, keeping us motivated during all the qualifying races.
The one unique thing that helped prepare me the most was my rides with Joe Chudyk (who also qualified for Worlds and is a part of the Base Media team). While others were busy racing, we were busy doing private meetups and scoping out the race courses or doing intervals specifically designed for the races. One thing that really stands out is a more recent ZRL race that was on the Roule Ma Poule course, which was Race #1 of the qualifiers.
I had set up a meetup that occurred about 15 minutes after the end of this race and was on the Innsbruck Reverse KOM course, in which we rode full gas up it to help get ready. All of this helped prepare us for the specific format.
We didn’t win Race 1 or 2, but we had plenty left in the tank for Race #3, and the biggest contribution to my qualification spot was Joe. We had a plan going into the race and were going to work as a team no matter what. Joe ended up leading me out for my spot, and I will never be able to repay him for that. One of the most amazing humans I know.
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 178cm and usually weigh about 74-78kg in races. My PB for 15 seconds is somewhere around 1,100 watts, I am not a good sprinter at all. My 1 minute is 740, my 5 minute is 501, and my 20 minute is 435 watts.
What type of rider are you? Has your riding style evolved as you become more involved and successful in esports?
I am a breakaway rider or a puncheur. Although I really enjoy climbing, I am not the best at it. My riding style has not evolved at all. I know what kind of rider I am and find ways to exploit that. I have been in plenty of breakaways on Zwift. Love the challenge of trying to figure out unique ways to win. My chances of winning increase the longer the race is.
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?
Going to give away all my secrets with this one, but my go-to workout is Threshold/V02 intervals up Epic Forward KOM. Usually, three sets for 15-20 minutes threshold straight into 3-5 minutes V02 or full gas, whatever you have left. A few minutes rest as I ride back down the mountain and then repeat. Which coincidentally lined up perfectly with the qualifiers race format.
My philosophy with training is to make the training feel hard so that the races feel easy.
What are your short and long-term esport goals? Do they involve becoming the UCI Cycling Esports World Champion? What does that mean to you?
My short-term goals are to train for the 2023 Worlds race and represent my country to the best of my abilities. Team USA has an incredible team so far, and I imagine we will get some incredible additions with the 75 remaining spots. I am certainly not the strongest on the team, and I plan to do my part to help the team get on the podium, whether that is me or someone else.
The long term is probably just to continue making the Worlds team until I can no longer sustain my fitness. KBH is 40 and riding so strong, so I don’t see myself slowing down for another 8-10 years (hopefully). Winning Worlds would be everything. It’s hard to even fathom with so many talented riders worldwide. Just happy to be on the start line with them.
Truth be told, my goal was just to make this year's team. I usually get anxious and nervous about really big races, and I did everything I could to not think too much about this race.
All the hard work, testing, and equipment verifications just to get to the start line take a toll on you. As the racing went on and I still didn’t have a spot, I started to get emotional and wonder if it would happen. Meanwhile, receiving messages from friends and family to keep pushing and finish strong.
Fast forward to Race 3 and the moment I qualified. My wife and kids were both in the basement watching it happen live, witnessing the grit, passion, and pure determination to cross that finish line first. When it finally happened, my tank was empty.
I sprawled my arms on the handlebars and dropped my head into my arms to catch my breath. 15 seconds later, I was balling my eyes out, realizing what had just happened. Probably one of the greatest cycling moments of my life, and I am so glad my family got to witness it.
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
There are two things. 1. That I race outdoors, and I have that background, know the strategy, and have the racing instincts. 2. I put in the work.
My coach (Jason Hess – kineticfitnesscoaching.com) will tell you this, but I am not afraid of a single workout, nor does he have to get after me to do my workouts. In fact, I actually look forward to them. That and I take the time to recon the courses, take notes, and educate myself on everything Zwift.
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?
Some of my above responses have alluded to this, but it is not all about power. I believe it was Simon Geschke who said, “it is easier to win a stage at the Tour de France than to win a Zwift race.”
Understanding the “game”, where to use momentum, where to attack and when, how to conserve energy in the draft, even going uphill, when to use powerups, and which powerups are best to use when. All that goes into being successful in cycling esports.
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?
I think so, but some bugs need to work out. Having everyone on the same trainers at Worlds is a good first step. Allowing only a handful of trainers during qualifiers was also a great way to make the racing fairer. All the checks and balances with weight, height, dual recordings, etc.
Until the events are live in person with live weigh-ins, everyone on the same trainer on the same internet in the same room with 100% positivity that nobody is tampering with the trainers, it will not be trusted. But it is making great strides in getting to that point.
Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?
I have a dedicated Zwift room in the basement. I ripped up the carpet when we first moved in and installed ¾ inch rubber gym floors. The router/modem is also located in the basement, so I can avoid dropouts at all costs.
I have a Wahoo Kickr and currently use a 2009 Sworks frame that the carbon was repaired from a crash. Works great for what I need it for. Has no brakes on it and a cheapo front wheel. I currently run Shimano Dura-Ace 11 speed with a 54t 1x chainring on Rotor cranks.
I use Assioma Duo pedals for dual power and run those to my Wahoo Roam head unit. I run Zwift off my iPad Air with 400 Mbps internet speeds. The pedals are the same pedals I use outdoors, so I have plenty of real-world data to compare indoor efforts to. I have also dual-recorded the pedals to a SRAM Quarq power meter, which was within 1% accuracy across the board.
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?
Unfortunately, Zwift has created a very negative space in the racing scene. It almost seems that if someone beats you, they are immediately accused of cheating.
I think some extreme cases are easy to figure out, but I also know from my ten years of competitive cycling that there are just a lot of talented people out there in the world.
Many of your fellow elite eracers have been publicly critical of the lack of standardization in esports. What is your view on the topic?
We are getting there but still have a long way to go. I Zwift (mainly in the winter) to keep my stress levels down, train for the upcoming outdoor season, and just have fun. Making the Worlds team was a pipe dream, and I can’t believe it is happening to me.
I don’t get too worked up in a normal community race. The Premier Division races and Worlds Qualifier races I have participated in have done a decent job of creating a standard and holding people to it. Ultimately, I prefer to keep it positive and, to that end, say “Enjoy the Ride.”
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?
Well, the UCI now officially recognizes it as a legitimate World Championship event. I believe the goal is to get it into the Olympics. Think it can get there, but as I have mentioned above, there is a long way to go.
What is esports' future amidst the multiple-platform landscape, and where would you like to be positioned?
Just like any industry, there is competition. For now, I use Zwift and don’t see that changing soon.
What is your opinion of the new race formats being used during the Zwift Grand Prix and the World Championships?
Love it. Absolutely love it. It creates so much extra strategy vs. just trying to win one race. It also rewards those who are not just pure sprinters. I think it does a great job of crowning the overall most well-rounded cyclist, and I think you will see that come Worlds.
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?
Honestly do not know. You would have to ask the strategy team at Zwift and Wahoo.
Thank you, Alex!
Any words of encouragement for Alex?
I know he would appreciate it. Comment below!
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.