Rider Chat: Joey Walker (Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK)

With no road racing, riders like British Circuit Race Champion Joey Walker (Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK) are turning to Zwift for some action – we chat

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Rider Chat: Joey Walker (Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK)

With no road racing, riders like British Circuit Race Champion Joey Walker (Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK) are turning their attention to the home trainer (his team are sponsored by Minoura home trainers) and to the online ‘Zwift’ platform for some race action.

On Thursday evening, Joey’s team (Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK) was the winner of the Richmond event whilst Joey was second behind winner Dan Fleeman who runs Dig Deep Coaching and also does bike fits at the Cycle Division shop.

Not being one who understands how Zwift works, I asked Joey about what the event was? He replied “it was a bit different to the other rounds because it was a Points race. We came away with the team win so that was good”.

Asked about the effort, which Chris McNamara of trainSharp described in his interview as very intense, Joey agreed. “I am fortunate to have been on Zwift for quite a while now and I do think it takes a bit of getting used to”.

That’s something that race winner in Joey’s Zwift event, Dan Fleeman, a former professional in Europe, agrees with saying “there is a massive element of skill involved. The pros struggle at first but will soon get used to it and improve”.

Joey went on to say “when I first got on Zwift, I just didn’t know how to ride it and you do just find it impossible with people dropping you and stuff. You don’t know what is going on. But there really is a fine technique to racing on Zwift. It is not just about who has the best power to weight. It takes a lot of practice to get it right! Once it does click and you get the hang of it, you can be competitive in the racing.”

“You get a lot of pros who have switched to it because of lock down and they just don’t know how to ride it. I was helped by Mouldy (Jon Mould) and Bibby (Ian Bibby) last year (at Madison Genesis) and they taught me a lot about how to ride it. It’s hard but as long as you have the technique, you’re all good.”

Joey says the effort was about 40 minutes. “It’s short but harder than anything you’d do on the road by far. You’d think it was a similar effort to a crit but it’s a lot harder because in a crit, every corner, you are freewheeling but on Zwift, even if it’s 180 degree bend, you are just doing 300 watts into it! You literally don’t have any respite from the effort, if it’s 40 minutes, it is 40 minutes full gas pedalling so it is savage”.

In his Zwift races, Joey is using his Vitus bike which is hooked up to a direct drive trainer where the back wheel comes out and he says it’s a good little set up. To help keep him cool, Joey says “I have a window open and a big fan on my back going full chat. You still get hot and sweaty and I came off looking like a tomato yesterday (Thursday) but you can’t help that. I see a lot of people doing it outside but I live in flat so I can’t do that.”

Asked does he use drinks during his effort, Joey replies “In crits, I never really take a bottle and if I do, it’s just a bit in the bottom to wet the mouth. I always think for an hour crit, if you hydrate before, you should never really need to hydrate in the race so in Zwift, I don’t really drink and prefer to hydrate before.”

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Warm Ups
In the article with Chris McNamara of trainSharp, he says for a Zwift race you have to warm up well and Joey agrees. “The way it’s raced, it’s a like a cyclocross start and the first few K are just max so if you are not warmed up properly, then there is no chance you’re going to get up there. It needs to be all systems go from the start.”

Joey explained whilst there are people who are negative about Zwift, he adds what else do they have during lock down? “It is good to watch as well so I think it’s a positive thing that it is growing”.

For Joey’s team, it was certainly a positive thing in a race that had quite a few ‘familiar names’ in it and they came out with the team award. Joey explained “We had Tom Mazzone, Chris McGlinchey, Mikey Mottram and Adam Kenway. We had a plan before where Tom would go for the flat sprints which he did along with Mikey and I think Mikey won two. Chris was the KoM man for the team and I was the one for the finish . Adam was there for the experience. Chris got the KoMs and I was second in the finish so it was a perfect team effort.”

Having explained how it is such an intense effort, I asked Joey what else was he doing training wise during lockdown? “Training now is a tricky one because I had an hard winter with Dean (Downing) looking after me and I have come into real good form now so if we had racing on the road, it would be a good time just before the Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour Series”.

“So I have this form and feel I need to use a bit of it which is why I have been doing a lot of Zwift racing but I don’t want to carry it on too much because we don’t know when racing is going to resume. When it does resume, I think we’ll see some funny races with people blowing left right and centre.”

Joey says he’s been doing about three Zwift races a week and in between, two or three hours steady. With all the good weather, I assumed Joey was also doing a lot of training on the road but he says “not so much really. It is one them where you have your daily exercise and my girlfriend and I have been going for walks and then I don’t want to go back out on the bike as that would be selfish so I’ll go on the turbo. If I don’t go for a walk, I’ll go out on the bike.”

Joey pictured before his last race in France.

The hardest thing about lockdown for Joey is a familiar answer. “We are quite fortunate we can go out but it’s hard not being able to see family and friends. You can’t see anyone so that is the hardest. And I’m missing racing … Zwift is mentally helping in racing but it’s never the same as road racing or a crit. The element of bike handling and being in a bunch with the wind in your face. You can’t replace that feeling so we have to be lucky that we have got something where we are racing …”

To help the team continue to bond and feel ‘together’ they do team rides each week with their sponsors and team boss Cherie Pridham. Joey adds “we also have an app (Discord) where we get together and have a chat together on that too” something which his team boss Cherie is a ‘scream’ to listen to and proof that even in lockdown, the team can get that on the road banter they are missing actually being on the road and at races.

“We were going to use it in the racing” says Joey to finish, “but because there is a lot of heavy breathing going on, we decided not to LoL and have music”.

Thanks to Joey for the chat and good luck in future Zwift races…

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