An interview with 2022 Zwift Academy finalist Saint Piran Pro Cycling’s Cooper Sayers.
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 Cooper Sayers 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 announce the winner on December 17. Good luck to all of the finalists!
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.
For the majority of 2022, I have lived in Cornwall in the UK. After last year’s Zwift Academy, I was able to get a massive opportunity to race for Saint Piran Pro Cycling. Before that, I lived in Adelaide, Australia, and worked at a place called Shades.
It is a family-owned high-end fashion sunglasses shop. I absolutely love working there. I also study for a bachelor’s degree in Business Management and Law. In my spare time, I love doing all things outdoors, camping, exploring, and just being outdoors is something that I love. I’m an avid soccer fan and motorsport as well.
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 by being selected by a schools talent search program. I would have roughly been 15 at the time. For the first 4 years of my riding I was mainly track focused with the South Australian Sports Institute and I even represented Australia at Jnr Track world Championships in Italy.
After being told I should quit the sport in 2019, I turned my focus to the road and have never looked back. My two COVID years were very difficult, but having opportunities like the Zwift Academy, I have tried to make the most out of every situation.
2022 was my best year racing in Europe. I had a few good results, finishing in the top-10 in multiple pro kermesses against the pros and also finishing 7th in a French UCI race.
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 properly throughout COVID. It was a great way to have fun and race while we couldn’t go outdoors. It was a fun way to stay competitive and see where I was. Throughout 2020 I won a fair few events and was lucky enough to represent Australia at the first-ever Esports World Championships.
I’ve raced the ZRL, but my favorite race on Zwift would be The Chop, which is an Aussie race. I have also had a lot of support from AERO (Australia Esports Racing Organization). They have the likes of Ben Hill, Sam Hill, Alex Bogna, and Jay Vine back in the day, so they are a massive team on the platform.
Tell us about your esports team. How has racing with your team prepared you for this moment?
In 2022 I haven’t been able to race as much because real-life racing has been very time-consuming and has been my focus. However, I’m supported throughout the season, and I could obtain anything I needed regarding Zwift from their fantastic sponsors.
Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?
In the UK, my setup was just in a garage. It was very simple, with a mat to keep everything clean. I was using a Saris H3 trainer, one of the better trainers. I always dual-record my workouts and had my heart rate connected to ensure I was legit and it was all fair. It’s essential to do this, so we don’t have any cheating.
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
I think for me, I’m used to suffering. People always ask, “How do I put myself through these races or tests?” I want to succeed in the sport and reach the highest level, so I know how to suffer. I am mentally strong and prepared to go deep.
Will cycling esports gain acceptance as a trusted discipline and popularity as a unique discipline? What challenges does it face?
I think so. Zwift and ZADA are approaching everything very well. They are making massive steps to ensure there is no cheating. They are also always looking to develop the platform and make it useful to everyone, even at the highest level. The biggest challenge is keeping all the data accurate and ensuring there’s no way around cheating and changing the game.
What is your opinion of the new race formats used during the Zwift Grand Prix and the World Championships?
I have yet to look much into it, but having three different races is brutal. Yes, it will be the best riders with the most stamina that will win. However, they need to keep in mind what course the world championships will be on.
There’s no point making the races in the lead uphill if it’s going to be a sprint-type finish. There’s no point in making it a sprint finish if it’s hilly. It’s a very competitive format that will reward aggressive racing, which is exciting.
Congratulations on being named a Zwift Academy Finalist. It's a tremendous achievement. What is your Zwift Academy "why?" What motivated and inspired you?
Many people have asked this question as this is my second Zwift Academy. My “why” is that I want to be a pro!
I want to make it at the highest level. I have had a good year on the road, but this is a massive opportunity that I think people need to take advantage of. I got very close last year, and I still have what it takes to win. Whatever the result, getting to the final is a massive achievement.
How were you notified that you were a finalist and what's the first thought that entered your mind?
I received a phone call from one of the Directors of the Zwift Academy. I was on holiday at the time. It was super exciting. I ended up being super motivated and thought this was my time.
Was the decision difficult, and what factors did you consider before accepting the invitation?
Getting an opportunity like this is never one you’d pass up. It’s a massive achievement, but nothing stopped me from accepting the invite.
What goals do you have for yourself? What will make your Zwift Academy experience a success in your mind?
I want to win. After coming so close last year, I want it badly. Anything but winning will be disappointing. It’s massive to make it to the finals, but you always want to win.
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 hoping that it will be similar to last year. That was great fun, and we all got on a lot like friends, making the competition less like a competition. This year with so many different nationalities, could be a bit more individual.
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 great exposure for all involved, keeps it exciting, and makes people want to get to know you.
There is an element that isn’t so nice about it. Last year I received a lot of “hate” messages saying I didn’t deserve to go as far as I did.
Still, if you put that aside, it’s great to show the world that even though someone discovered you on Zwift, they can still recognize you for your talent.
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 far more confident with my ability on the road. As I said, I have been doing a lot of road racing this year and minimal Zwift, so I am hoping for more outdoor challenges than indoor ones.
What advantages do you have over your competition? What challenges do you face?
The whole experience and everything involved in everyday life are challenging, like the filming and extra stuff, because it’s not all about your riding. The big challenge for me will be the expectation of it all. I’m back for a second time and there to prove a point.
What is the first thing you are going to do when you win? How will it change your life?
If I were to win, it would be a relief, and all the hard work would pay off. I will go from having to work to support myself to being able to focus solely on my training, which is something I have never done.
Will the decision to accept the professional contract be a difficult one? What factors will you need to consider?
There will likely be a significant living arrangement change which would be a shock, but there would be nothing in my way of accepting the professional contract.
How will it change your life if you aren't the last rider left standing?
It’s fantastic exposure even if I don’t win, but I don’t want to go all the way to Spain not to win.
What advice do you have for cyclists who dream of a professional career but haven't been successful in getting noticed?
Just keep putting in the hard work. Eventually, your efforts will pay off. If you keep pushing every day, you’ll make a breakthrough. You’ll have more bad days than good in this sport, so give your best every session, and eventually, good things will come. Also, make the most of every opportunity.
Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow racers or fans know about you. Please?!?
Things that many people don’t know would be that I played soccer for many years at a very high level before making the switch to cycling. I have a lot of food allergies that have affected me all my life. I’m extremely superstitious.
Thank You and Good Luck, Cooper!
Any words of encouragement or wisdom for Cooper?
Comment below! I know he’d appreciate it.
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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!
🎊Good luck Cooper! Wishing you all the very best! Sending support from Surrey, UK. 🚴🏽♂️👊🏽🚴🏽♂️🇪🇸🤞🏽🥇
I’ll pass on your well wishes, Ema! Enjoy the show. I hope he can do it! Thank you 🙏