The 2023 Cycling Esports World Championship Qualifiers through the eyes of Team South Africa and NeXT pb Enshored’s elite eracer James Joseph Barnes.
On November 13, 2022, elite cyclists from across the globe competed for the honor of representing their country in the 2023 UCI Cycling Esports World Championships on February 18, 2023.
We were lucky as we had ZRL on the same course earlier in the week, so we rode that at 100% TD, which was a good guide for Qualifiers. I did some intervals up and down Innsbruck KOM to familiarize myself with landmarks up the hill.
I knew race 3 was my bread and butter. I also had a score to settle from earlier in the season—Zwift Grand Prix Round 1.
Race 1: Make sure you do not get caught out and there is enough in the tank for Race 2.
Race 2: It was the unknown element here. That KOM was insane, but the fact it was “stepped” helped me and actually meant it suited me more, but it is still 16% in place. Get through to Race 2, then light that fuse and punch my ticket.
We all knew this was going to be hard. We all knew we were good enough. It was a case of keeping it cool and making sure we did not question ourselves when we committed to securing a World Championship spot.
Man, special training. I would refer you to Alex Coh for this one. He is the wizard behind my plan and training. Personally, the only thing I did to prepare for this was eat a lot cleaner for about two weeks leading up to this. Because race 2 loomed over me like mount doom.
Otherwise, as the old saying goes, do not try something new before a big race. I know my processes and trust what I know, so why mess with a recipe that works?
Warm-up: No changes here to the recipe as we know it works apart from the 1:30 am Wake Up for the 3:00 am start. Sadly that is not an error. I really wish it was.
I was to be racing with the EMEA timezone due to my UCI license falling under South Africa, as that is where my citizenship is but a resident of New Zealand. The basic warmup’s only difference is we lowered the intensity as we knew this would be a long morning of racing.
Strategy: This was a funny one, as there were no actual tactics internally in “Team SA.” We all raced together so often that we kneweach other’s strengths and weaknesses, so we knew what we needed to do. That being said, Aaron Borrill and I discussed how the races might play out.
Internally in NeXT, we had a thread dedicated to Worlds qualifiers where we all weighed in and discussed the races in detail and what could play out in both the EMEA and American Qualifiers. There is so much knowledge, insight, and experience between everyone and massive mutual respect. We knew this would be hard between Dan, Richie, and myself, and we had to back ourselves the same way the team members supported us.
Thoughts: Mentally, this one is the biggest for me. GP Round 1 loomed over me. Racing 120 other guys for 13 places. One always thinks if they have done enough. You could easily be too confident and get knocked out if you do not.
I was lucky. From 4 pm Sunday, I went to “bed” and lay there with my thoughts until 10 pm when I fell asleep—running every scenario possible and working through the entry list. But experience has taught me to trust myself and know I have the best in the business behind me.
Alex gave me the engine, NeXT team race support, Monique’s moral support, and myself with my race experience. I just had to make it to Race 3.
The Competition: I tried not to assess the competition, but as I lay in bed Sunday, unable to sleep, I slipped down the dark hole of working my way down the list. Man, the quality of riders in the EMEA qualifiers was insane. I would have loved to have seen the Zwift Power rankings for Race 1. You learn to put this aside, and with the new World Championship format, there are many unknowns as the structure is super testing and requires a lot physically and mentally from a rider.
The plan was to get to this race. Be patient and confident that my chance would come against 25 other riders. When the opportunity presented itself, we would light the fuse for the rocket and fully commit to making sure that we punched our ticket.
Sadly Richie dropped his chain race one in the final climb, so he cut his chances. Dan and I made it to Race 3. Communication between us would be essential. Calling moves of other riders, but mainly so we both went for different primes. We were lucky also to have a bunch of guys from the team watching and cheering us over Discord, so we had multiple eyes and the cheer squad (sorry, boys, too good).
You can check out the Livestream of Barney_NZ’s race here.
My chance came on Lap 7 of 13, a lot later than I thought it would come, and I won’t lie that there were a few nervous moments.
Hivort went before the lap banner, and luckily there was a response from the field, so I could surf the bunch and ride the wave. Sadly Virot had a dropout as Pirotte bridged the gap.
Rounding the hairpin, the bunch regrouped, but I was moving forward with solid momentum and knew this was my chance. I closed my eyes and gave it everything. Luckily I passed Jacque, who deployed his powerup, so I could establish a clear gap.
I wait for the final verified results from the qualifiers, but the names on that list all earned it. They are some of the highest quality riders there and nicest guys you will meet. They aim to raise the bar, race hard but fairly, and support each other.
Post Race—Takeaways and Impressions
If I had any doubt about my performance, they were gone. Working with Alex, I have learned to trust the process and let Alex do what Alex does best. He ensures I have the right tools for the job and the engine to back it up. I do not forget the support of those around me. We are a force.
My most significant learning since joining NeXT which has changed how I race, is reading the terrain and using it to your advantage. Race 2 this knowledge and understanding enabled me to put others under pressure instead of finding myself under pressure.
Discord was ablaze with noise, and our voices echoed across the world as we supported each other through each qualifier. It was amazing to see the guys on the team who missed out on spots still proud of their efforts and their heart. I could not be more proud to call them my teammate, and I hope to race against them in February.
Honestly, this format is excellent. I enjoyed it as we all had to give it our all. For February, it might be different as team tactics will be much more heavily involved and add a new dynamic. Very glad it is in February, as in March, Monique and I tie the knot and celebrate it with Friends and Family here in Auckland, New Zealand.
Any athlete’s highest honor is representing your country at a World Championships and bonuses it’s for a second time.
We always want to improve on previous results. Hopefully, we all can. I had my trainer stick for 5 seconds on the final climb this year at 250w up the final ramp, so I lost the bunch. I need my redemption.
All I want is for someone from the Zwift Community to win it. I think this new format gives one of us that opportunity. I hope we can deliver and provide the highest quality race I know we are capable of delivering.
Congratulations for Barney?!?
He’s getting married in March. Oh yeah, he also qualified for the 2023 UCI Cycling Esports World Championship. Comment below. I’m sure he’d like to hear from you.