An interview with Team Ireland and NeXT Esports pb Enshored’s elite cyclist Richard Barry
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 Richard, and I’m from Ireland. I’ve lived in Co. Wexford for the last ten years, but I’m from just outside Cork City in the country’s south. I work as a Physical Education and Special Education teacher in an all-boys secondary school, and my job is split evenly between the two areas, which I enjoy.
The job is dynamic, constantly changing, and challenging but very rewarding. I ride bikes for fun, but I really enjoy family life. We’ve two boys (11 months and 4) who keep us on our toes—it’s their world, and we just live in it!
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 riding bikes seriously when I was eighteen, having played various sports while growing up. I was hooked when I bought my first road bike, and after my first race, I couldn’t get enough of it. My most significant road racing achievement is probably getting selected for an Irish u23 development team for a 3-day race here in Ireland.
I’ve had a few nice achievements in road racing, but it wasn’t until I started to race cyclocross that I found the cycling discipline that I enjoyed the most but was also suited to my riding style. It is where I’ve had the most success in terms of results and experiences.
My biggest achievement is finishing 5th in the 2020 Irish National Cyclocross Championships. The most memorable experience, though, must be racing Round 9 of the UCI World Cup in Dublin. Getting to race alongside Wout van Aert, Tom Pidcock, Lars Van der Har, etc., was amazing. Having such a big home crowd cheering me on was so cool.
What is your virtual cycling story? How and when did you get involved in esports? What is your most significant accomplishment racing virtually?
I, like many others, started racing on Zwift when Covid hit in 2020. A severe lockdown restricted us to a 5km radius for a while. We couldn’t race because of cancellations, so I turned to Zwift to scratch my competitive itch. Cycling Ireland promoted the platform and set up a virtual league from the get-go, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
When lockdowns eased in the Summer, I went back on the roads and fields and thought that would be it, but come January 2021, lockdown returned, and I started Zwift racing again. Greg Grosicki from NeXT asked me to join them just as Zwift promoted them to the Premier Division, and from there, I never looked back.
Being surrounded by so many talented riders and good people has been amazing. My most significant achievement in the virtual world was representing Ireland in the last two UCI Esports World Championships. This year was particularly special as I had the unique opportunity to race as part of the live event in Glasgow.
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 with NeXT Esports pb Enshored. It’s a fantastic team, and I’m proud to be a part. It’s rare that any team has the friendships and atmosphere we have here, let alone a group where many of us haven’t met IRL. Racing with NeXT has improved me as a rider and person, and we encourage each other to be the best version of ourselves.
We support each other on and off the bike, and many of us have similar stories and face similar challenges and experiences in our daily lives. The environment is motivating to be a part of and has allowed me to push myself more in training and dig deeper than I ever would if I were riding solo.
I attribute most (if not all) of my success in esports to being on this team, and I am sure I wouldn’t be racing at the level I am without them. Being surrounded by the best Zwift racers in the world is only a good thing and pushes everyone to a better level—a rising tide lifts all boats.
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 race anywhere between 59.5 to 61kg (I was 59.7 at worlds) but I never really focus on weight. Power is far more important. My indoor peak 1 sec is 1020 watts, 15 seconds 880, 1 minute 635, 5 minute 410, and 20 min 354.
What type of rider are you? Has your riding style evolved as you become more involved and successful in esports?
I’m a punchy rider. I can climb well but not with the very best and sprint well, but again, not with the best. My real strength is that I can repeat high-intensity efforts without fading too much. For example, I may not score early in a points race with lots of sprints, but I will usually score well in the second part of the race as fatigue sets in for other riders. I also do well from more prolonged attacks and breakaways.
I’ve got a good habit of picking the right move to go with, and that’s where I find a lot of my success in racing. I’ve learned that aggression pays off more than people think and that sitting in and waiting for a bunch-sprint is not as successful as people think. I’ve learned to be efficient and know when to make a significant effort that counts.
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 training, so picking one workout is challenging, but one of my favorites is three sets of 6 x 40 sec on/1 min off with 5-10 minutes rest between each set. I hit each of the 40 seconds at 8.5-10 w/kg. Set 3 is always a killer but feels so good when I’m going well.
My training emphasis hasn’t changed a lot. Eracing is still cycling, so there is a lot of crossover between IRL and virtual racing and riding, and my training plan will still have phases of rest, base, build, and peaks.
However, my attitude to racing and riding indoors year-round has changed. Previously I would have only ridden inside in the wintertime or during bad weather. Even in the Summertime, I am on Zwift probably twice 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?
I want to keep pushing and performing at the top level for as long as possible. At 35, time isn’t on my side, but I enjoy racing so much that I’m motivated to stay at as high a level as possible. Representing Ireland is a tremendous honor, and I believe I have a few more World Championships left to race.
Putting on that green jersey is special, and I never take it for granted. I think it’s every esports rider’s dream to be a World Champion, and everyone on that start line imagines themselves wearing rainbows (even if it is unlikely for many of us). I think this new format suits esports specialists, and I think on a good day, a top 20 in this race would be possible.
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
Very little sets the top virtual athletes apart. On our day, we can all win and beat each other, which makes the racing so exciting. The best riders do this more often, but everyone in the top 300 can win on their day. My main strength is showing up and putting in the training consistently. Even on days when it’s easier to sit on the couch, I know I feel better getting my ride done.
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 love gamification, and I think it’s a significant part of racing. Knowing how to position yourself for the maximum draft in the group is a crucial skill and is the difference between winning and losing a race. I also think all powerups should be randomized and available in all races—including Zwift Grand Prix and World Championships.
By doing this, each rider must make important and subtle choices under pressure to maximize what they have. Unlike IRL, racing riders in the virtual world can’t puncture or get caught out in crosswinds, so random powerups bring that element of luck that’s in all other forms of racing. It also makes for more unpredictable racing, which adds to the entertainment value.
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?
I think this year’s World Championships showed it’s well on its way to becoming a popular and well-trusted discipline. The live event in Glasgow showed how cycling esports could be an arena event, and I think going fully down this route is the next step in its development. The atmosphere in Glasgow was unbelievable, and I can only imagine what it would be like with more riders and fans. Marketing and pushing big events as arena sport is a great way to get the wider cycling community aware and fans of the discipline. Also, seeing the riders behind the avatar adds another element and legitimizes the discipline even more.
Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?
My bike is a Scott Addict 2015 (my old race bike) with ultegra 11 speed di2. I use a Kickr V6 connected via direct-connect to my PC, which is accurate to 1%. I also use a waxed chain with chain wax from a local business GLF Chainwax (It’s great!).
My secondary power sources are Favero Assioma duo, which usually reads within 1% of my Kickr. Like all Grand Prix and Worlds racers, we must submit IRL pb efforts in the last 12 months and a ZADA test within the previous six months.
We must also submit weight and height verification for all Grand Prix and World Championship races. Also, for the World Championships, we must submit our whereabouts information for antidoping purposes for 14 days (5 days before, including race day, and nine days after).
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?
Every discipline has its detractors, but it’s important to ignore this noise as it is not based on the available information. Lots of these naysayers are the same who detract from legitimate performances across every cycling discipline, not just esports. I think esports is in a good place regarding fairness at the highest level, which is also trickling down into the big community races.
Many races like KISS or the NeXT cup require dual recording. Si Bradely’s Underground series also has an excellent verification process without creating too many barriers to participating in these races. I also think live events for the biggest races are the way forward, which will push esports into the mainstream.
Many of your fellow elite eracers have been publicly critical of the lack of standardization in esports. What is your view on the topic?
On the contrary, racing at the highest level has become incredibly standardized. The biggest race of the year forces us all to race on the same equipment, and in no other sport does that happen. The Grand Prix series has a 1% standard for all trainers which means we are all on the most reliable and accurate equipment available.
We all must do the same verification testing, and no one gets a free pass, no matter who they are. While the same verification isn’t in place in community races, I don’t think that is a bad thing. We need to make this discipline as accessible as possible, and as racers progress and get to the highest level, they can choose to go through the verification process to race in the bigger races.
The great thing about Zwift is that it is open to everyone to race at whatever level they are at, and this mass participation supports elite racing.
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 most significant change I have seen is riders making esports their primary discipline and getting coached to perform in virtual races. It is only a positive thing in the growth of the discipline. I previously treated esports as my secondary discipline behind Cyclocross, but now I commit equally to both.
In 5 to 10 years, I see this sport growing to the point where those at the top are getting paid salaries and specialize solely in esports, with live events being the norm instead of the exception. It’s exhilarating to be at the beginning of this because we can influence the discipline’s direction.
What is esports' future amidst the multiple-platform landscape, and where would you like to be positioned?
Esports’ future is in our hands, and it is up to the riders to race the various platforms out there. My preference is Zwift, and they currently have the most well-rounded platform for all riders. Also, with Zwift being the most prominent platform, there are always groups to ride with, and races are more frequent. The community element of Zwift is one of its best aspects—it’s a social platform as much as a training and racing one.
What is your opinion of the new race formats being used during the Zwift Grand Prix and the World Championships?
I like most of the new formats. Esports must find its identity, and trialing different race formats is excellent. Some Grand Prix races slightly missed the mark, but those learnings will help identify the best racing formats.
The Worlds format was brilliant. Cutting the field from 100 to 30 in race one was tough, but for the viewer, this jeopardy makes it exciting. Some of the best in the world didn’t make it through to round two, which adds to the excitement.
As a rider, I would have liked for the top 50 to advance in race 1 (or for race 1 to have been a little longer), but from a spectator’s point of view, it was way more exciting and entertaining than the last two Worlds races.
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?
Live events will be more prevalent, more money will be involved, and the talent pool will be deeper. Esports will only get more extensive as it becomes more popular (look at how gravel is evolving), and this is only a good thing for the sport. With increased popularity, it is a more attractive product for sponsors, and with the more significant investment, I see this becoming an entirely professional cycling discipline in the next 5-10 years.
Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow racers or fans know about you. Please?!?
I know all eight solar system planets in the correct order only because of my 4-year-old son.
The floor is yours! Is there anything you would like to say?
Happy riders go faster. Train hard and race harder but always remember to have fun along the way.
Thank you, Richard
Anything you’d like to ask or say to Richard?
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!