An interview with Team Australia and Zwift Team Aero’s elite cyclist Josh Harris.
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 Josh Harris, a 32-year-old Australian from the city of Launceston, Tasmania. I grew up sports obsessed and always wanted to be an athlete. This determination led to what I’d consider a successful ‘career’ as a runner.
Running upwards of 200 km per week in training for many years allowed me to progress continually year after year. It culminated in my competing at the World Championships in 2017 for the Marathon. I broke my talus bone just before the Worlds, slowly leading to where I am now as a serious eracer.
I live with my girlfriend Kate and our dog Gwen, and in my eyes have a perfect life. I value freedom and balance to enable a stress-free life. I average three days a week as a substitute teacher, and I’m an online running coach on top of that.
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 doing some riding in 2018 as a form of cross-training after talus surgery. I have a pretty addictive personality and got hooked quickly. I was riding 500km a week on a 15-year-old hybrid, flat bar bike when my friend Josh Wilson (son of grand tour stage winner Michael) noticed I had some talent on the bike. Within a few months, I started racing. I was a solid climber but lacked skills.
About 12 months into my cycling journey, I got the opportunity to ride internationally for Velofit in the Tour De Singkarak (UCI 2.2). It was surreal for me, having never raced in a big peloton. I finished 24th on Stage 1, which could’ve been better if I could descend.
I spent every moment scared, stressed, and in the wrong positions. Experiences like these were amazing but also made me want to revert to my running comfort zone.
What is your virtual cycling story? How and when did you get involved in esports? What is your most significant accomplishment racing virtually?
In April 2021, I got a Zwift account to cross-train in all weather. It came after spending 2020 getting back in reasonable running form again, before more injuries. I started with a cheap, wheel-on trainer, and it wasn’t until mid-2022 and another injury that I bought a Kickr V5 and started getting serious.
I quickly improved and found that my short-term power numbers were rapidly rising. Within about six weeks, I set the goal to race in the continental qualifiers, and within a few more weeks, my dream became to make the World Championships.
Winning the Continental Qualifier Hill Climb was definitely a highlight for me, and the opportunity to compete in another sport for Australia was amazing.
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 ride for AERO (Australian Esports Racing Organisation). Initially, one of my good friends Marc Gates and I were having fun on Zwift before we started to go down the rabbit hole of looking for teams to recruit us, and AERO was an obvious choice.
We have most of the premier riders on Zwift from Australia and previous winners of things like Zwift Academy. The team has riders with many IRL credentials, and it’s an honor to race with them.
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 178cm and have been 62-64kg for the past 6 months.
My best numbers are:
15 sec: 927w (14.3w/kg)
1 min: 656w (10.4w/kg)
5 min: 447w (7w/kg)
20 min: 379w (6w/kg)
What type of rider are you? Has your riding style evolved as you become more involved and successful in esports?
Climbing is my strength, but with the demands of cycling and Zwift racing, I’ve focused on improving my short-term power, as it was my weakness. I’m a bit of a student of the sport, and through watching streams of the best in the world, I have adapted my riding style to be successful on Zwift. The main change was more time out of the saddle, producing force at a much lower cadence than I was riding IRL.
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?
To be honest, I don’t do many workouts now. I feel like with this second sporting hobby, I want to have fun, and I have so much more fun racing. I try to find and execute races that regularly target all the necessary energy systems to be a well-balanced rider.
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 having fun and take as many opportunities as possible in esports, whatever this may look like. I probably don’t have the physiology to win the World Championships, but I think I can be competitive on the right course and in the right circumstances.
I have mini goals to ride Worlds again. I want to win the 2023 Chasing Tour, and although it doesn’t mean much for most, I would like to get my ZP ranking as close to #1 as possible (currently #3).
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
I don’t think anything sets me apart from other virtual athletes. It seems like we all have fun and want to do well. We work hard, race seriously, and know how to use Zwiftcraft to be successful.
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 the gamification side of things. Whatever I do, I try to find ways to master it. It has been the case with Zwift. This side of things allowed me to have the success that I have had over the past six months.
An example of this was saving my draft powerup to win Continentals when others wasted theirs to get a burrito. Knowing the courses and how a race will likely play out is vital in knowing which powerups to hold and when to use them.
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’s hard for me to say. I’m still relatively new to it and haven’t done a lifetime in IRL cycling. I feel like people who ride and race outside can be negative towards people who race esports, maybe because it’s different to master the craft, and even with great numbers, you need to be able to race smartly and know the courses to have success.
Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?
I set up my garage as an exercise gym with a Kickr5 and now a Kickr6, as my girlfriend has also started riding in the past six months. I had to invest in a power meter in September to ensure I could do ZADA testing to race Continentals, and since I have created 120+ dual recordings on ZwiftPower. I stream my races on Youtube into a playlist that anyone can watch with the link on my ZwiftPower profile.
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?
Given what you see in your standard low-level race, it is fair enough. Many people have unreliable equipment, which I’m getting much better at determining from their data. I hope these people enjoy Zwift to the point where they invest in quality equipment to get even more out of their esports experience, as I did.
From my limited experience, the athletes racing the Zwift Grand Prix and Worlds have to go through many hoops to ensure their legitimacy. Obviously, we had the Hoole thing, but I’d like to think the large majority of athletes at the level are just out there trying to be their best.
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 may be too naive, but as above. Racing on the same model trainer, with dual recording, live streaming, height and weight checks, and anti-doping and ZADA testing, is as good as it gets without all 100 riders being in the same room.
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 honestly have no idea, but being part of it is exciting. It is somewhere I never expected to be at this stage in my life, and things like the announcement of the Olympic E-Series excite me that there may be future pathways in esports. Regardless though, as long as I’m having fun and keeping fit, I’ll be happy.
What is esports' future amidst the multiple-platform landscape, and where would you like to be positioned?
Also hard to know. I haven’t tried any of the other platforms, but given my success lately, I am the kind of person who will go where I need to to make the most of any potential opportunities.
What is your opinion of the new race formats being used during the Zwift Grand Prix and the World Championships?
I ensure I am fully aware of every race format and plan accordingly to suit the demands of the race, which I did for all of these races. I did the last three rounds of the Zwift Grand Prix and enjoyed the different challenges in each race.
Innovation is critical to making esports a unique discipline, and I’ve seen that in the past six months. It doesn’t always suit my physiology, but I always enjoy it.
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?
I don’t think I’ve been around in cycling and esports long enough to have a read on the future direction. All I know is I want to be a part of it, though. I wake up every day excited to jump on the trainer.
Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow racers or fans know about you. Please?!?
I held the World Record for the Beer Mile multiple times between 2012-2015: 4 beers and four laps in 4 minutes and 51 seconds. I was preparing to attend the Beer Mile World Championships in Belgium when I got injured and bought a Kickr instead. I used to spend my Saturday nights partying, and now I spend them doing Zwift Tiny Races!
The floor is yours! Is there anything you would like to say?
Thanks for the opportunity. I always enjoy reading stories of other athletes behind their avatars, so I hope people find the same with this one!
Thank you, Josh!
Anything you’d like to say to Josh?
Comment below! I’ll see what I can do.
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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!