An Interview with Team P.O. Auto - CeramicSpeed and Danish Cycling’s Joakim Lisson.
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.
My name is Joakim, and I’m 25 years old. I currently live in Odense, Denmark, where I study at the University of Southern Denmark. I have just started writing my Master’s thesis in International Business and Management.
I am very interested in the tech industry from a business standpoint, especially sportstech. I plan to use my degree to help smaller companies move from the Danish market to exporting internationally. My interest in the sportstech space is fueled by experiencing it firsthand with Zwift, trainers, etc.; at the same time, it’s a market that has developed a lot over the last five years.
Helping companies navigate the opportunities and problems this presents is something that I want to specialize in for the future.
When I’m not busy at Uni or on Zwift, I take it easy with a book or TV series. I also enjoy drinking a beer with friends, but you won’t find me at a club that’s not my type of scene.
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 come from a cyclist family with two older brothers racing on the road. So cycling was something I grew up with, and I started competing when I was ten years old. I raced through my teens and started my first year in the danish Elite A Class (Cat 1 in the US, I think) in 2017.
I won a couple of races that year and moved up to a continental team in 2018. Unfortunately, I suffered from health issues and a complete lack of motivation, getting to a point where I just hated getting on the bike.
It was also spilling into other parts of my life, and I had to pull the plug at the start of May that year. Now I pretty much only hunt Strava KOMs when I ride outdoors.
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 Zwifting in the winter of 2017-2018 as part of my winter training when the weather was too bad, but it was purely a training tool at that time. Five months after I stopped racing outdoors, Zwift saved my love for cycling.
Having done very little training in that period, I could see my weight going up and realized I needed to do something, as this would continue if I didn’t get more active, and Zwift seemed a natural choice.
I always loved racing and competing against others, so I immediately caught the Zwift racing bug, but I was a low A rider for a long time, hoping to be dragged along to the sprint. It was first in 2020, during the lockdown, that I started getting stronger and got involved in the esports scene.
Since then, I have slowly gotten stronger, culminating this year with a selection for the Danish World Championship squad. My most significant esports result comes simultaneously with a win in the danish league UNO-X Superliga. A lot of the strongest danish Zwifters contested the league. Many are also Conti riders on the road, so taking that win was that last stepping stone before the world champs.
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?
I race for Team P.O. Auto – CeramicSpeed, a team that consists of only Danish riders with racing as a focus. Being a relatively small number of riders on the team, we all know each other, and many of us have been teammates and some point, on the road.
It is something that helped my success but even more the team’s success, having this shared background and knowledge from the road to draw on. Zwift is different from the outdoors, but tactics and riding as a team still rely on the same principles, making it a lot easier when we all are used to it and willing to sacrifice our chance for the team.
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’m 184 cm and weigh around 62.5-63 kg. My PB’s from the last three months
Peak power: 1187 watts (18.9 w/kg)
15 seconds:1039 watts (16.4 w/kg)
1 minute: 691 watts (10.9 w/kg)
5 minutes: 434 watts (6.9 w/kg)
20 minutes: 350 watts (5.6 w/kg)
What type of rider are you? Has your riding style evolved as you become more involved and successful in esports?
Suppose you had asked me that a couple of years ago, I would have answered sprinter. That was my strong suit on the road and the first three years on Zwift. Over the last year, I have gotten stronger and would classify myself as a Puncheur now, being good on 1-5 minute climbs. I am still a good sprinter, but it’s also clear that I have lost some raw watts that I used to have.
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?
My go-to workout is fun. Learning from what happened when I stopped racing outdoors, I know it needs to be fun. It also means that my workouts consist of races and pace partner rides, mostly for recovery or base miles.
I hate doing something like a steady state interval session, but I will instead try and select races that offer different things allowing me to train Vo2max or longer sustained efforts. I know this amount of high-intensity training is generally not optimal, but it’s better than getting completely demotivated after following a training plan for a week.
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?
Right now, I’m solely focused on the World Championship, and winning would be a dream. Just representing the national team was something I didn’t think would ever happen after I stopped on the road.
I’m also realistic, and I know that there will be a lot of strong guys on the line, and with this format, even a tiny mistake can mean you miss out on races 2 or 3. That said, I think I am the strongest I have ever been, and I believe I have a shot at the title. We are also bringing a powerful team where I see at least 4 of us have a chance at taking a win on the day.
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
I honestly don’t know if anything sets me entirely apart, but I think I have some things that can give me an advantage. I have been blessed in the genetic lottery, with my natural phenotype being an almost perfect match for racing on Zwift. Outside of that, I have experience having done 1500 races on Zwift, so I know pretty much every inch of every course and how to use it to give me an edge.
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?
I have a big focus on it because being strong or fast only gets you so far. Understanding the draft mechanics and powerups can give an edge to others who haven’t mastered the use of it. These only come with riding on the platform and experimenting with placement in the peloton or using specific powerups for attacks. Just as much as I do different races for training, I also do it to test out things like places to attack and so on. I am not the biggest fan of powerups in their current form, to be honest, where the luck factor and having things like an aero for a sprint can mean 10-20 places on the line.
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?
Esport still has a long way to go, and there are a lot of fights to be had before you see it being accepted the same way as, e.g., track racing. It has a chance as esports, in general, will continue to gain ground compared to regular sports. Two significant problems at the moment: Firstly, ecycling needs to find its voice and show that it is its own sport and not just a training tool. Secondly, we have the trust issue/verification issue explained further down.
Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?
I’m using the Kickr V5, with direct connect and have a Quarq DFour on my bike for dual recording. My setup is very scuffed. Being a student means I live in a relatively small place, and any dedicated pain cave is out of the question. Currently, I put a board over my Kitchen sink for my laptop, with my fan on my hub next to it. The good thing about it is I’m next to a door that opens out, so ventilation and the ability to keep cool are perfect despite how bad the setup sounds.
I am a steadfast believer in transparency. It’s not going to prevent cheating, but doing something is better than doing nothing. I dual record pretty much every race and also do weekly weigh-ins. I have all my data easily accessible for others to check, and I’m completely open about things that I think are as much as you can on the transparency part.
Outside of that, I also test different equipment being lucky enough to have family with power meters or trainers I can compare. Knowing that my equipment measures properly is something I focus on all the time.
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?
I can’t blame them, to be honest. Doing this many races, both at the community level and ZADA-sanctioned races, I have seen almost every possible way of cheating in Zwift. It was something I used to care about a lot. I would call out people during races because, for me, it isn’t Fun is Fast, but Fun is Fair. I have scaled it back quite a bit because caring takes energy and puts me in a bad mood, and most of the time, it feels like no one else does, least of all Zwift.
Looking at things like the World Championship, they are doing a lot to create the fairest playing field. We are all on the same equipment, doing weight- and height-ins, and I hope everyone is being looked at thoroughly following the Hoole case.
All riders enter the national testing pool of riders having to give whereabouts for 14 days to the anti-doping agencies. I would have liked to see that for at least a month, but it’s better than nothing.
The one thing that is even more required is an independent Agency evaluating cheating cases. While ZADA mainly operates independently, Zwift still pays the salaries. It is a natural conflict point where actions taken by ZADA can cost Zwift money, so it creates a sliver of doubt that ZADA is acting rightly for ecycling or Zwift.
Many of your fellow elite eracers have been publicly critical of the lack of standardization in esports. What is your view on the topic?
With the current limitations in the smart trainer and power meter technology, there will be variations between the units, even though it’s the same model. So the problem of standardization equipment-wise at least falls as much at the hardware companies as the software companies.
It is only solvable by having the competition in one place with all riders using equipment tested beforehand to ensure it measures very close to the same. I hope to see that in the future, but I also understand that it’s a logistical and economic hell to set up.
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?
The esports scene has gotten more recognition as an actual sport. Of course, many people still shake their heads at it, but looking at Jay Vine and what he has accomplished coming from Zwift has helped give some legitimacy to ecycling.
I hope this continues, and the next step is having the type of format we see at the World Champs can again help solidify it. However, the biggest hurdle still needs to be solved with the inherent problems with the equipment and standardization that can call results into question.
What is esports' future amidst the multiple-platform landscape, and where would you like to be positioned?
Zwift is the prominent market leader at the moment, so that means that esports will focus on Zwift, and that is something I see staying the same in the next couple of years. I know that some people point to RGT as the better platform for racing, but RGT has its problems outside of the lack of riders. So I won’t say it’s better, but it’s different.
Zwift is currently working on fixing some of the problems with its draft, and if they are successful, Zwift will still be the way to go for esports in the future. For me, the most important thing is still having other people to race with, and if any competitor wants to change that, it will require massive investments that I hope will come, but not holding my breath.
What is your opinion of the new race formats being used during the Zwift Grand Prix and the World Championships?
Zwift is going in the right direction, trying to give ecycling its voice. Attempting to copy road racing with a regular scratch race is just dull. However, there is also a balance to be struck here, and looking at Zwift Grand Prix, it’s clear that balance still needs to be there, finding the right mix between it being a race and a show.
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?
A lot can happen in five years, and I am still determining where it will go. Right now, it is a niche sport. If you want it to evolve, finding something that can interest the general cycling fan and sponsors is priority number 1.
Without cracking that code, I fear it will stay at the current level, still viewed as a sort of in-between, not fully being its sport but not entirely just a training and social platform.
The floor is yours! Is there anything you would like to say?
Thank you and good luck, Joakim
Anything you’d like to ask or say to Joakim?
Ask away. Comment below! I’ll see what I can do.
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!