Elite Cyclist Ben Russell—Straight Talk on Esports and Endurance Life

An interview with Team Great Britain and Zwift team Wahoo Le Col’s elite cyclist Ben Russell.

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 a dentist currently working between general practice, surgery, and a postgraduate teaching role.


I ride for Wahoo le Col and the Great Britain cycling team, alongside running internationally in what feels like a previous life.


That may seem like an incoherent and rambling list, but it’s deliberate. I was Ben the runner for more than a decade, and the rest of my life came second. It was great when results were good, but injuries, overtraining, stagnation, and disappointing finishes knocked every athlete at some point. When they hit me, I had nothing else to cling to or channel my apparent infinite energy into.

Elite Cyclist Ben Russell and son

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 won the Liverpool Marathon in 2018, but first place masked the fact it was a terrible run and the culmination of two or three years of overtraining. I had no motivation to run anymore, and training was becoming a chore. I changed training groups and coaches but didn’t rest up. 


In mid-2019, multiple stress fractures later, I finally stopped.


I lasted a month and then started jogging again. Two months later, hip, shin, and foot stress responses halted my progress. Three more comebacks later, I was still in this cycle, spending more time rehabbing and traveling to the gym than I ever did running. I had no time to live.


I can honestly say Covid was a godsend.


It shut the gyms and training groups closed, and a legal requirement not to try to run twice a day was what I needed. I bought a turbo trainer and a cheap bike to stay in shape for my next inevitable running comeback when Covid restrictions ended.

I initially rode like I would have run, 60 to 90 minutes in the morning and an easy 30-minute spin in the evening, and I enjoyed it. I didn’t dread the evening session and looked forward to it. I was improving, too—my running hadn’t progressed in more than five years.


Because I was still a novice, I didn’t talk about it at work with colleagues and discovered we could talk about other life stuff. I became more rounded, and the tunnel vision finally cleared.


My practice operated as a Covid hot center, so the distraction of keeping up with ever-changing regulations, alongside a couple of hours on the bike each day, ironically made lockdown one of the quickest but most enjoyable years of my life. 


I rediscovered my love of dentistry, which had been lacking for so long.

What is your virtual cycling story? How and when did you get involved in esports? What is your most significant accomplishment racing virtually?

I came into cycling through esports. Restrictions prevented me from going out on the roads, so the release of being able to train pain-free for as long as I wanted was appealing. My numbers were pretty good, but my racecraft was lacking! 


Joining WLC and learning from some of the most tactically-savvy guys in the sport helped me develop. Racing in the Premier League and Grand Prix teams is my best achievement because making that WLC squad is more competitive than the GB team!

Click here to access Ben’s ZwiftPower!

Click here to see his Strava!

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 don’t think it’s unique to WLC, but the team camaraderie, and that willingness to go deep for the other guys, even if you’re not feeling it or having a rough leg day, helps so much. Our squad has a core of people who have been present and active for two or three years, which is integral to our success. 


Superstars are great for sponsors, but the strongest esports teams have the same central group of riders for multiple seasons, pushing each other and learning how to get the most out of each other’s skill sets.

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 181cm tall and 60-64kg depending on how much running I’m able to do alongside the bike.

Elite Cyclist Ben Russell in Team Great Britain kit

What type of rider are you? Has your riding style evolved as you become more involved and successful in esports?

A reliable diesel, I need more real punch or sprint. I considered working on it to be more successful, but I like riding tempo and long climbing races. Do I care enough to hurt myself loads to gain a sprint? No!

I’m too old and long in sport to work areas I don’t enjoy now. So it’s about selective race choices and using my skill set as best for the team.

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 an Alpe effort and then a leisurely ride around the turnaround. On the descent, six-second max sprints each switchback turn. So 21 sprints altogether with different lengths of recovery.


  • Try to get back to the jungle-Alpe banner in under 60 minutes.
  • Roughly eight-minute warm-up.
  • 38 minutes effort.
  • Two minutes easy.
  • 20 six-second sprints, 20 to 40 seconds, easy.


It’s time efficient, and I feel less guilty about neglecting sprint work for long hills.

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?

Honestly, they don’t include winning the Worlds unless many talented guys disappear or most of Europe and the USA lose Wi-Fi.

My short and long-term goals now are the same—enjoy it.


If I don’t have enjoyment as a primary short-term aim, there won’t be a long-term plan. Burnout is common in endurance sports, especially as other life factors take hold.

You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?

Stupidity and stubbornness. As an athlete, the sensible option is probably the least likely to yield significant success. You might progress slowly and predictably with a sensible plan, and for younger or novice riders, I’d 100% advise a long-term coach-led program.


But, as someone coming off their third retirement from endurance sport with a growing family and career, time is limited. Being able to wring out the last remnants of performance success from this knackered heap of skin and bones meant I had to hit it hard and often and see what I could do.

I feel I’ve seen now; thankfully, I’m content with what I found.

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?

In a sport decided by fractions, they are a necessary evil. I don’t like them. The anvil destroys me in a descent, and I’d prefer to instead focus on what I’m doing and let the legs decide, but, as an esport, we need to differentiate from cycling, and that’s the easiest way.


The guys who have mastered it are incredible. The results they can achieve against riders with far more significant power numbers are to be respected.

Elite Cyclist Ben Russell Zwift avatar

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?

It must become unique from the real-world sport if it’s genuinely what the future holds. I hope it doesn’t further emphasize the ‘e’ in esports, but I’m not trying to make a career in it.


Financially, the gaming market provides far more potential for expansion than the cycling market. As boxing has shown with Jake Paul et al., there’s a substantial untapped generation of gamers out there.


As a cycling fan, would I watch esports cycling? Probably not. In my view, the token inclusion of some world tour guys actually harms the sport. They mostly get beaten because they don’t ‘get’ the game, and it just makes the result look more BS and raises verification questions further.


If you separated the two sports, it would reduce the temptation to cross codes and expect to win both. What’s crazy is that boxing, wrestling, and lots of sports media create false rivalries for the fans to get behind.

Zwift racing has some fairly decent behind-the-scenes disagreements and bromances, and the public doesn’t get to see this!

Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?

I have a gym room built in the garden. Complete Wahoo set-up (obviously). I use Assioma duo and Stages left-hand side power meters for dual/triple record, which I do almost all rides to monitor and identify outliers or anomalies.


I use a power meter unless Kickr is a compulsory primary in Zwift Grand Prix races, as I get so much interference with the trainer/Zwift interface, and my wife doesn’t appreciate having a complete network ban for 20 hours each week.

Updated Kickr v6 Wi-Fi has solved this—and maybe saved my marriage!

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?

The Grand Prix and World Champs are significantly easier for me than a Tuesday morning community race. I think that sort of justifies those cynics.


I’ve spent 15 years around professional athletics. There are dodgy folks in every sport – add the importance of power output vs. weight, and it’s open to simple manipulation. 


It’s kind of strange to see the demographic change in the culprits. Historically, any athlete with a medical background was under (often unfair) suspicion.

In esports, the computer programmer is the new red flag!

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 love the World Champs being on one trainer model, although looking at some numbers and from feedback, it even seemed a bit of a lottery as to how ‘helpful’ your unit was.

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?

I’ve discussed the progress towards finding esports’ position in the cycling spectrum earlier. All the platforms can work together to guide this. If we can’t find a niche, then I fear it will continue to have a cyclical process of gaining traction and then letting it slip as economic and social scenarios change, all the time never quite becoming what the sport has the potential to be.


I’m not sure who the person/group is to lead this, but I fear the divide and splits appearing among those in power positions across all platforms, and governing bodies can’t be helping.


If I had to commit to one platform, it would be the one that offered me the most flexibility of times to race around life while remaining enjoyable. If I were young and trying to make a living, it’d be the one offering the most dollar.

Elite Cyclist Ben Russell in Wahoo le Col kit holding Veloskin bottle

What is your opinion of the new race formats being used during the Zwift Grand Prix and the World Championships?

As for my legs, they suck. As a competitor, I love them. As a spectator who cares, no one was watching outside our little sphere of influence as the advertising and planning of coverage were dreadful. (No slight on the guys doing it, they are brilliant and deserve a bigger audience).


It provides such exciting racing but a five-month season with minimal promotion is a big ask for any fan to commit to. Our team needed more clarity about start times four hours before, so how will an armchair fan find it?


I could have made more effort to promote it on my ‘socials,’ but I’m not trying to be part of the future of the sport. I’m happy to be the moaning old guy identifying faults. 


Someone somewhere needs to find the answers and give these crazy, talented younger guys a chance to perform on the stage and in front of the audience they genuinely deserve.

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?

This interview has taken me two months, on and off, to complete.


Initially, post-World Championships, I’d have said the sport was in an exponential growth bubble of popularity! Then Wahoo’s finances seemed a little weaker than expected, Zwift let 15% of staff go, and, recently, Silicon Valley Bank imploded. 


A tech-led industry that benefitted from Covid and has a natural contraction to come in the current economic climate? Who knows. I’m rooting for them, but there’s been plenty of sports trends that have disappeared. I hope they can find the correct path.

Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow racers or fans know about you. Please?!?

I can’t be bothered when I don’t reply to in-game messages. My keyboard is connected and within reach, and Zwift companion is open, but I’m either riding hard, watching TV, or, god forbid, talking to my wife in real-life, face-to-face!

The floor is yours! Is there anything you would like to say?

I hope I’ve not offended anyone or any companies. All views are my own and don’t represent the views of those on or managing my team. You’re all doing a great job, but it’s a competitive market, and I want everyone else to realize how amazing, talented, and legit a community Zwift cycling has.

My suggestion for further questions in future interviews.

Who is the opposition Zwifter you respect most?

James Joseph Barnes—the guy wins against us all the time. We should hate him, but I have never heard a negative word about him. Classy operator.

Who is the opposition Zwifter you fear racing against most?

Marshall Wu—Who knows what’s going on there, but we’ve all been Wu’d at some point, and you don’t sit the same for days.

But regarding actual humans-A10 Alex TenElshof, if you think you’ve gone deep, think again. The guy can reach new levels of suffering—the most competitive guy out there and alongside a job and family too.

Who is the teammate who people should check out?

Temple Oreo (Teppo Laurio—check out Nathan’s coverage with English subtitles). He is the sort of character that can help lead Zwift into its position among esports. Great racer and a better character, and I’d be honored to one day see my child play with a Teppo action figure.

Editor's Note:

Thank you, Ben!

Anything you’d like to ask or say to Ben?

Ask away. Comment below! I’ll see what I can do.

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