An interview with Team USA, Team ElectricSpirit.co, and Socks4Watts elite cyclist Ellexi Snover.
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 the forest in Issaquah, Washington, USA, just a bit outside Seattle. I am a Software Engineer for Amazon. Cycling is definitely my fun activity that I enjoy doing with my husband. Other than cycling, I also love baking treats with a healthy twist and skiing.
What is your cycling story?
My husband was casually into road cycling and bought me a bike in 2018, but I was not very interested. We went on a total of 5 rides before moving to Luxembourg in January 2020. We moved for Amazon with the intent of traveling around Europe and experiencing new cultures. Of course, we all know how that went.
Suffice it to say we bought me another bike in May 2020 as I had not brought mine from Seattle. On our second ride in Luxembourg, we learned I never knew how to shift (embarrassing!) and was previously mashing levers until it felt comfortable.
Luxembourg is one of the most beautiful countries to ride, with over 600km of dedicated cycling paths through forests and farms. The perfect place to fall in love with cycling. We quickly spent every weekend riding our bikes throughout Luxembourg.
We started to travel throughout Europe, tackling all of the famous climbs and beautiful routes from Mt. Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez, and Stelvio to the lavender country roads of Provence and Mallorca. I was sure I was a climber (more on this later).
In October 2020, my husband suggested we buy an indoor trainer to continue training throughout the winter. The cost seemed insanely high for a trainer, but I took the bait and forever changed my life. I started Zwift racing in March of 2021 and was hooked, exciting my competitive nature and shifting my hobby of weekend cycling to an everyday passion and obsession.
After a few months of racing with Team ElectricSpirit.co, I knew I would want to try outdoor racing at some point, but I could not find suitable races due to continued cancellations from the pandemic. I have continued to race virtually, honing in on those skills, the gamification with power-ups, the importance of drafting, and reducing the yo-yo effect when surging through a group.
My most significant accomplishment thus far has been earning a spot to represent the USA in the Americas Continental Qualifiers for the UCI Cycling Esports Worlds in Feb 2023.
We moved back to Seattle in February 2022, and I immediately reached out to Fount Cycling Guild to join their team and start racing outdoors. I had never really done IRL group riding and was terrified of descending and corners, but I knew I wanted to give racing a go to satisfy my competitive nature.
The coaches for Fount put on skills and live training where I could quickly learn skills to be successful when racing. My goal for 2022 was to make it to Cat 2 before the end of the year (the requirement to go to USA Nationals in June).
My first race resulted in a flat and no upgrade points. But I persevered, flying to California several times to get some races in and going to several fantastic stage races here in Washington State (Tour de Bloom and Tour of Walla Walla).
I got enough points by June to upgrade to Cat 2 and go to Knoxville, Tenn., to race at USA Nationals. Making it there is a significant accomplishment for me, and I was humbled and impressed with the level of competition that the USA has, and racing there has lit a fire for me to learn, grow and improve in cycling.
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?
My first esports team is Team ElectricSpirit.co. This group of ladies has grit and determination, which is so impressive. We lift each other up and continue to prove we are more than underdogs. I love this team, and our captain is so caring. She is the one who first showed me that I could be a good eracer, and I am forever grateful!
We fought very hard to make it to Premier Division and for the in-game jersey. We were successful at doing well enough to get our in-game jersey for the club, and we are very proud of that for ElectricSpirit. With the new Grand Prix format, Zwift did not choose our team.
However, I race for Team Socks4Watts for Zwift GP. I really enjoy the Socks4Watts ladies. They are so accommodating with maintaining racing for ElectricSpirit in the community league. The captains genuinely care for your well-being, ensuring you are healthy and putting your health and happiness above Zwift racing. I appreciate both of these teams and feel lucky to get to know and race with these groups of ladies.
What type of rider are you? Has your riding style evolved as you become more involved and successful in esports?
Since I started out traveling and tackling the famous climbs of Europe, I thought for sure I was a climber. I would typically have Strava segment times in the top 1% for women, even without the aid of pacing with a power meter.
However, a climber in real life is different from in-game. With encouragement from my team, I found I was a decent sprinter, and I think that is definitely my strong suit for 10-30sec sprints. I need to work on getting over those 5+ min hills to get to the final sprint, though.
Being a sprinter should not be a surprise, as I was a 200m/400m sprinter in track and field at UCSD a few years ago.
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?
Since joining Fount Cycling Guild in March of 2022, I have also started working with a coach. It has helped tremendously in learning technical skills and also takes the burden off of figuring out what workout I should do. He chooses workouts I would not typically choose, but they are always perfectly suited for me.
My favorite workouts are ones where I can make short max efforts during a multi-hour ride. It helps break up the long rides, and I look forward to practicing my sprint. My philosophy towards training has definitely changed.
Before my coach, I would only do VO2 Max workouts all the time because that was my weakness. I learned that it is not necessary to only do VO2 Max in order to improve VO2 Max.
What are your short and long-term esport goals? Do they involve qualifying and competing in the UCI Cycling Esports World Championship? What does that mean to you?
In the short term, I will focus on training and preparing for the UCI Esports Worlds in February. I am amazed, honored, and extremely excited that I qualified to represent the US with some talented ladies. I look forward to doing what I can to put an American in the rainbow stripes.
I would love to see where racing could take me in the long term. I am very passionate and excited about cycling, and I will continue to strive to succeed for as long as I can.
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
I don’t consider myself a unicorn in esports. But I think I have quickly gone from not being into cycling to competing both virtually and in real life at a high level, whereas many other racers have a longer history with some sort of cycling.
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?
Esports racing is very different from real racing. There is a lot more focus required to maintain a draft and not find yourself shooting through the group or getting swallowed when you try to fall back into the group.
Similarly, when going for a sprint, one will drift to the back of the group then you can slingshot through using the draft of all the other riders. Both of these are different in real racing, which makes the tactics quite different for eracing.
PowerUps are a unique aspect of Zwift that sets it apart and adds to the format. It is just another skill you must learn to use the powerup you have at the right time. Different powerups provide different advantages, though you are subject to the luck of the draw, which some find unfair (e.g., a draft powerup on a solo breakaway is not very useful).
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?
There are several barriers to this. Cycling in and of itself has a high barrier to entry in terms of cost. To add yet another thing, such as a viable smart trainer, HRM, and dual recording power meter with a recording device, it further increases the barrier to entry.
Then there is the matter of it being a trusted discipline. I trust the rigor we must go through for ZADA-verified events, but that verification process does not scale and community events are all over the place regarding valid results.
Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?
I ride on a Wahoo Kickr v5 with a large TV on a roller stand just a few feet away in my gym. When I know I will be doing max sprints, I put 50lb weights on the outstretched arms of the trainer to keep it from moving the whole setup forward when I sprint ;).
I have two air-movers for fans and open the windows even in winter. I dual-record with my Favero Assioma Duo power meter pedals and calibrate frequently. One day I would like to try a rocker plate for a more real-life feel for the long hours on the trainer.
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?
Their concerns are valid, and there have been examples of ways racers have gamed the system (pun intended). However, I appreciate and commend ZADA for doing their best to maintain the integrity of the competition.
Just like real racing, there are levels of equipment that will never provide a perfectly fair playing field. I think the concern is not for everyone having the same trainer or bike setup or even allocating the same powerup.
Something that makes a huge difference is the computing power of the machine you are using, and the strength of your internet still makes a difference (as with any online game). That will never be even, and I could see how that makes a difference in some of the “photo finishes.”
Many of your fellow elite eracers have been publicly critical of the lack of standardization in esports. What is your view on the topic?
I look forward to having a stable and clear esports format and platform one day. But for companies like Zwift, the goal is probably to get more people riding their bikes and staying fit than catering to the small subset of elite eracers.
What is your opinion of the new race formats being used during the Zwift Grand Prix and the World Championships?
For me personally, I love it! It allows for an exciting set of races to watch as a spectator and see more than just climbers succeed. It brings more levels of tactics and coordination within a team, adding to the excitement. Some styles may need experimentation, but I look forward to seeing them evolve and tactics develop.
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?
There is a lot of untapped potential in esports cycling. I think if it could be more accessible to more people and targeted as potentially something that could have leagues specific for age groups for juniors and masters would be a great way to spread the audience.
Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow racers or fans know about you? Please?!?
My younger brother is a competitive esports player for Rocket League and plays for his high school esports team. I am 13 years older than him and no longer cool.
When I started Zwifting, I tried to tell him I was still cool because I also do esports now.
He wasn’t buying it, but I piqued his interest by explaining the gamification with the levels and unlocking routes and kit and such.
The floor is yours! Is there anything you would like to say?
I am so grateful to my husband/mechanic for supporting me and keeping all my bikes in top shape and to my dad for being my biggest fan :).
Thank you and good luck, Ellexi!
Wish them luck?
Feel free to extend your well-wishes to all of the athletes representing their countries in the Cycling Esports Worlds. 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, 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!