An interview with Team Sweden and Team Swedish Zwifters’ elite cyclist Gabriella Nordin
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’m from Sweden originally but have lived in the UK since 2009. I came here to go to university in Glasgow (coincidently, where the World Champs are this year!) and ended up staying. Currently, live in a village called Dosthill, not far from Birmingham, with my partner Jon and our furbaby Marley.
I work full-time as an accountant. I guess racing on Zwift is what I do for fun, haha. Well, it feels fun when it’s over, anyway! I enjoy cooking, watching films, and reading when I’m not working or riding.
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 road racing in 2012. I got talked into it after doing a group ride with some fast guys in Glasgow. I was on a heavy hybrid bike but still managed to keep up with them. My first race was a local race in Scotland where I went off the front from the start and nearly won but only got caught 500m before the finish. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but absolutely loved it.
Since then, I’ve raced for various UK-based teams nationally and internationally. It’s hard to say one achievement I’m particularly proud of but winning 11 medals in the Tour of Malta over the years, getting bronze at the UK Central Regional Champs in 2017 and 10th at the Elite Women’s Tour of the Battenkill race in the US are a few.
What is your virtual cycling story? How and when did you get involved in esports? What is your most significant accomplishment racing virtually?
I (reluctantly) started Zwifting in 2021 when my friend Alice Lethbridge said they needed more people on their team for ZRL. I never thought Zwift would be my thing. All the avatars and gamification aspects seemed too distracting. But as soon as I did my first Zwift ride (on a dumb trainer and smartphone), I was totally hooked.
Getting selected to represent Sweden at the Esports Cycling World Championships this year is definitely my biggest virtual cycling accomplishment to date. I managed to take a spot at the Continental Qualifiers in November.
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’d say racing with my team, Team Swedish Zwifters, is why I’ve succeeded on Zwift. The girls I race with have so much experience and have taught me a lot about how the game works. They are also a really lovely bunch. We always have fun racing together, no matter what the end result is!
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 158cm and weigh 46-48kgs. Peak power – 655w (14.2w/kg), 15-second – 553w (12w/kg), 1 minute – 426w (9.26w/kg), 5 minutes – 264w (5.74w/kg), 20min – 230 (5w/kg).
What type of rider are you? Has your riding style evolved as you become more involved and successful in esports?
On the road, I’ve always been a climber and endurance rider. Races that were 4hrs or longer (preferably with hills) always suited me well. I never saw myself as a sprinter on the road, but I can put out a strong 1-min power, so I would sometimes get good results in races by going long in sprint finishes.
On Zwift, my riding style has evolved and become more punchy. I’ve had to improve on the shorter power durations and become a better sprinter to do well in Zwift races. I still have work to do in these areas, but at the moment, I consider myself an all-rounder on Zwift. I can do everything, but I am not outstanding at anything.
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?
I love 30/30 intervals. They are hard, but you get just enough recovery in-between to make the workout enjoyable. Please don’t ask me to do 40/20s, though!!
I still have a road racer mentality when it comes to training. Before a target event, I like to do some base work (z2/z3) and switch to higher intensity as I get closer to the race. I love racing on Zwift, but I also love to train.
I can quite happily go a few weeks without any racing. I am improving on Zwift with this approach, though. But everyone is different, and what works for me wouldn’t necessarily work for someone else.
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?
At the moment, I want to continue having fun and improving. Becoming UCI Cycling Esports World Champion would be a dream, but it’s not a specific goal I have at the moment. I love learning and progressing and am excited to see how far I can go.
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
I wouldn’t say anything sets me apart from other virtual athletes, but I think ecycling suits me because I’m a fast learner (thanks to my team) and have a strong head. I know how to suffer when it gets tough.
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?
Yes. I underestimated how important learning the game was when I started Zwifting. I would wonder why I wasn’t finishing well in races even though my w/kg was the highest. Just like road racing, there are tactics you need to master, and you can gain so much by racing smart. Knowing when to use your powerups and conserving energy in the bunch can help you win a zwift race.
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?
More people getting into cycling esports and realizing that it differs from racing outside will help it become unique and respected. Also, adopting new types of race formats, like in the Zwift Grand Prix, will make it stand out more as a unique discipline.
The challenge it faces now is that people think they will automatically be good at cycling esports because they are good at another cycling discipline. Yes, it helps if you have the fitness from road racing or mtb, but just like any other discipline, you need to invest time and energy into it to succeed. Having race formats exclusive to ecycling will help establish it as unique.
Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?
The current Zwifting station is in the garage. We have a nice His and Hers setup. I ride a Kickr Bike with a PC setup. We have a lot of fans, an Air Con unit and some heaters for when it is cold. The Phillips Hue lighting is the finishing touch.
Transparency is important. I use Favero Assioma Duo pedals to dual record my rides and ensure my in-game weight is correct.
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?
Esports has faced challenges in its infancy; however, I hope this will change as the sport continues to develop. I think it’s crucial that elite-level esports athletes not only take measures to show that they are racing fair but also seen in the media. Hearing and reading about top-level eracers taking necessary steps to ensure fair play will make people feel more confident of the integrity of esports.
Many of your fellow elite eracers have been publicly critical of the lack of standardization in esports. What is your view on the topic?
More standardization in esports helps make the sport fairer. However, I don’t think complete standardization is ever possible. Even if you make people ride on precisely the same setup in races, everyone will respond and adapt to that setup differently. That particular set-up and equipment may be ideal for some but not for others. There must be some rules regarding standardization in elite-level esports; however, too much of it can cause more harm than good.
What is your opinion of the new race formats being used during the Zwift Grand Prix and the World Championships?
I like the formats as they help establish ecycling as its own discipline rather than just assimilating road racing. The Zwift Grand Prix races have been exciting and very tactical, with the best all-around Zwift racers winning.
One point I would like to raise is that some formats didn’t offer the athletes a lot of actual race time. Being eliminated early sometimes meant that some riders were only racing for a few minutes. I think this is a bit of a shame as you would spend all week getting excited and preparing for the Zwift Grand Prix but don’t get to race very much in the end.
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?
Esports has become very popular in a short space of time and will continue to grow over the next few years. More people are taking up Zwifting as it’s so accessible and easier to fit into a busy life than racing outdoors. More coverage and media attention will help the sport grow.
Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow racers or fans know about you. Please?!?
My tummy constantly rumbles first thing in the morning, so every night, I take up banana soreen loaf and nakd bars to put on my bedside table at night to make sure I can eat something the second I wake up. My partner doesn’t need an alarm clock because my snacking wakes him up.
The floor is yours! Is there anything you would like to say?
It’s easy to get caught up with focusing on your results, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you’re having fun along the way. After losing my love for road racing, I never thought I’d love the sport again, but thanks to Zwift and its amazing community, I’ve managed to get it back. That means more to me than any result ever will.
Thank you, Gabriella!
Anything you’d like to ask or say to Gabriella?
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!