Kristen Kulchinsky's Remarkable Ascent From Indoor Specialist to Outdoor Triumph! The Elite Esports Cyclist conquered Mt. Greylock in her very first real-world hill climb despite her recent transition to outdoor cycling.
In her very first real-world attempt at a hill climb, elite “Indoor Specialist” and three-time UCI Esports World Championship competitor Kristin Kulchinsky took the QOM on Mt. Greylock. Kristen only started riding outdoors a few short months earlier, but her cycling journey has already taken her to the peak of esports success.
She bettered her time on September 9, 2023, when she won the Greylock Hillclimb Time Trial, her first outdoor race, taking the course record and the previous QOM by almost three minutes.
In her first mass start race a few weeks later, Kristen repeated with a victory in the Prospect Mountain Hillclimb. 5.24 wkg for 22:52 secured the win. Was it enough to silence the critics?
Listen to what Kristen had to say in her own words during this interview with Chris and Si during Virtual Velo Podcast Ep. 31: From Virtual to Real-World Victory with Kristen Kulchinsky, the $100,000 Zwift Grand Prix, and Exciting News From the UCI
For more insights from Kristen, dive into this comprehensive interview as she shares her passion for virtual cycling and her journey toward outdoor excellence.
Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself? Share your age, where you live, and what you do. Also, what do you enjoy doing for fun, and anything about your family life you'd like to share?
My name is Kristen Kulchinsky, and I am 42 years old. I’m a goldsmith, artist, and designer at my company Kristen Farrell. I lived in NYC for fifteen years and had my shop and atelier in Soho. At the start of the pandemic, I moved out to the Hamptons with my Shiba Inu Moscow, and my shop is now in East Hampton.
Let's dive into your cycling journey. Can you share your background in sports and how you got into cycling?
Sports always played a significant role in my upbringing. My Dad and brother were triathletes who competed on the same team, so our family vacations always revolved around their races. I have fond memories of that time. I grew up swimming and running. I loved the meditative rhythm I found in practice but wasn’t a big fan of the meets or races. Fitness has always been a significant part of my life!
Moving on to virtual cycling and esports, could you share your story about how you got involved in this world? When did it all begin, and do you have a significant accomplishment that stands out to you?
Well, I’ll try not to write a novel about this! I initially got onto Zwift because I was taking an indoor cycling class at Equinox called The Pursuit. My boyfriend at the time, an avid cyclist, suggested I start cycling outside because I was so strong. That led me to get a time trial bike, which quickly became my indoor Zwift bike while living in downtown NYC. I loved riding on Zwift and rode up and down Epic KOM/Radio Tower until I received the coveted Tron Bike circa 2017.
It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that I transitioned from being a fitness enthusiast to training and racing with purpose, which ignited this new passion in me! My friend and coach, Josh Lipka, helped me learn how to train and race on Zwift. All the races worldwide were canceled then, and everyone was on Zwift. It was amazing to be able to race against the best pro and elite women from my living room!
In the summer of 2020, I raced a series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays that Dave and Nathan were broadcasting. I started to do well and was contacted by Nicola Cranmer to be on Team Twenty20 for the first season of the premier league! There was so much to learn and do on the tech side… let’s just say I shed quite a few tears out of frustration, but who hasn’t cried during the premier or Grand Prix season, right? I’ve grown and learned so much since that first year!
I’ve had the honor of representing Team USA in all three of the UCI Esports World Championships, and hopefully, I will qualify this year as well. I enjoy each one of the races and love learning what I did right, what I did wrong, and how I can improve. I think my most significant accomplishment is how I handle things now when they don’t go as planned or how I want them to go.
You mentioned your coach, Josh Lipka. Can you tell us more about how working with him has prepared you for your esports journey? What's unique about your coach-athlete relationship that has contributed to your success?
My coach Josh Lipka is amazing and is why I am where I am today. He hasn’t just trained me to be the best I can be physically and mentally, especially in how I react to less-than-ideal situations. I’m naturally an endurance/climber type of rider. Still, we’ve worked really hard to improve my anaerobic ability, which is what the Grand Prix and World Championships seem to be leaning towards. I follow his plan, trust the process, and am happy with my progression. I believe he is very knowledgeable about all things Zwift and bike-related, and I’ve put my entire trust in him.
When I rode up Mount Greylock a few weeks ago (my first-ever IRL climb), he looked at my VAM post-ride and said, “You should sign up for the Mount Washington Hillclimb.” I was like, “Sure!” By that evening, we had figured out what equipment we would need (especially gearing), and thanks to my team and sponsors Felt, Zipp, Kenda, and SRAM, I had a custom hillclimb bike in less than two weeks.
Your esports team seems like a fun and supportive group. Could you share more about your experiences racing with them and how it has shaped your journey?
I love my esports team! We genuinely have a blast when we all race together, and I love our post-race Discord chats. I’m so excited to see them all crushing it in their IRL races. Nicola has been incredibly supportive. I cherish our friendship and our chats. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, and we’ve laughed some more.
For our readers who want a frame of reference, can you tell us your height and competition weight? Also, what are your personal bests for various indoor cycling metrics, like Peak Power, 15-second, 1-minute, 5-minutes, and 20-minutes?
I’m 5 foot 3 1/2 inches tall and weigh anywhere from 110 to 114 pounds in competition.
Here are my indoor personal bests:
15 seconds: 575 watts
1 minute: 473 watts
5 minutes: 318 watts
20 minutes: 279 watts
As a cyclist, what type of rider would you describe yourself as? Have you noticed any changes in your riding style as you've become more involved and successful in esports?
I would say I’m a climber who is always working on improving sprint and anaerobic power. Grand Prix racing seems to trend towards short anaerobic/sprint races. I’m getting better every season, but I still have a bit to go to match the top sprinters. I LOVE twenty-minute efforts like the Tuesday time trials on Tempus Fugit! I also love the Alpe du Zwift and Ventop climbs. Maybe someday there will be a Grand Prix or World Championships course like that.
Looking ahead, what are your short-term and long-term esports goals? Does becoming the UCI Cycling Esports World Champion play a part in your aspirations, and what would that achievement mean to you?
Short term, I would love my team to win this season of Grand Prix. I would love to become a UCI Esports World Champion one day. It would be a dream come true!
You've achieved a lot in the esports world. What do you think sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
My determination, relentlessness, fearlessness of failure, giving it my all, and not taking no for an answer. I’ve lost many more times than I have won, but I learn from every race and strive to be better and smarter for the next one.
Lastly, let's talk about your transition to outdoor riding. Can you share some details about your first outdoor ride or hill climb, like when and where it happened? What made it memorable, and what valuable lessons did you learn from that experience?
I did a virtual Everesting for the last two birthdays, but this year I wanted to ride an IRL climb, which has always been a dream of mine. When my coach learned of this goal in April, he told me I better get outside and start learning how to ride! Originally, I only planned to ride outside on my easy days twice a week. I was having so much fun and learning something new every time, which was exhilarating. I started to ride as much as I could. For me OUTSIDE felt like a fun/cool video game because I learned on Zwift.
In June, I was ready to try my IRL climb. I went to the Berkshires to ride Mount Greylock. It was my goal to get the QOM on both sides and if I liked it to sign up for the hillclimb they have on it in September. My coach Josh drove behind me and was very kind to drive me back down the mountain (I wasn’t ready to descend yet) and give me all the tips and advice.
I had so much fun that I not only signed up for the Greylock hillclimb but Mount Washington as well. I just went back last week to pick up my new bike and do more training on the climbs. I bettered my QOM time by forty seconds. I even descended for the first time too! Never say never!
What is your motivation for entering the Mt. Greylock Hill Climb? What are your goals going in?
Dare to dream. My motivation is to challenge myself, and if it’s going to be my first-ever race, it might as well be one of the world’s toughest! My goal is to have the best time and day ever with one of my best friends (Coach Josh) being there to support me. Also, I want to ride the best I can on the day and leave it all out there!
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!