Feature Interview: Joss Lowden

When the women’s Virtual Tour de France started last weekend, one of the stars was Joss Lowden who was second on stage 2 – we get some great insights from Joss on eRacing!

Feature Interview: Joss Lowden
Photos: @breakawaydigital & @jameshuntlyphotography

Joss leading her team during an effort on the road – photo: Drops cycling team

A rider who has had success on the road in ‘real’ races is Joss Lowden who races for the Drops women’s team and when she took to eRacing, the success kept on coming as she showed with 8th on stage 1 of the Women’s VTour de France and then second on the next stage.

Asked if she is new to eRacing in 2020, Joss replied “yes. I was positively anti eRacing and had not done any Zwifting. It wasn’t that I had a problem with it, I just didn’t have a need for it. I was quite happy on the turbo with some music never watching anything and just enjoying training”.

“Then in May, we had the ‘Tour for All’ (eRace) and I got my first taste of it. I’d had a crash course in Zwift the week before and a ride around it and had some really good advice from a friend of mine Ian who does a lot of racing on Zwift. We also have a really good DS in Frankie Hall, and she talked me through it and then I was thrown in at the deep end.”

“I could not believe how good it was. I was really surprised how much I enjoyed it.”

Being the Tour de France and a history making event especially for the women competitors, I asked Joss, did she feel extra pressure to do well? “Yes but you block it out. It was one those things that you don’t over think and it’s not until afterwards, on Saturday evening, I watched the highlights and then saw the men’s race too and it was then you kind of get the sense of how big it is”.

“When it’s just you and your team and the girls you race with, it all feels familiar and then you watch it on Eurosport with the commentary which was so good and it felt like I was watching the Tour de France. Then you have that sense of how big it is so as the weekend went on, it felt bigger and bigger but going into it, I didn’t over think it that much.”

The event is not the usual 21 stages that are in a Tour de France pre pandemic but six stages over three weekends. Which ones did Joss go for I asked? “We were told we could do four stages and when I had a look at them, there were three that had the climbs in them, stages 1, 2 and 5 so I naturally chose them and the final stage on the ‘Champs-Élysées’ (virtual). In hindsight, stage 1, I didn’t think there was much of a climb in it and it was more a sprinters stage so I was really looking forward to getting a proper climb. So I knew stage 2 was going to be a hard one. I was chasing the Polka Dot jersey and so that was what we were gunning for and that came together. I knew the QoM was going to be tough but it was what came after that which was like hell.”

“It went up to 13% and it started to string out and I was in an absolute hole. My dad was there telling me – ‘stay on the wheel, stay on the wheel’. My heart rate was 195 or something. I was struggling! When I looked back at my numbers, I was expecting to see I’d ridden really well but saw the numbers and thought they were not that spectacular! It just really hurt!”

Winning the 10 champs and part of the best team too with Emily Meakin  and Emma Lewis

Describing the finish of stage 2 where she was pipped for the win, Joss says “I did not have another watt in my legs in the finale on stage 2. I had a power up at the end which I think was an ‘aero helmet’ which is a super boost and it just ran out a fraction before the line I think. I was then relying on my own watts and I’m not a strong sprinter. I didn’t have anything left though. I still feel sick after that stage! (on Monday). I went so deep”.

“It is not real world and you do have to learn how to play the game and April is really really good! Her timings are unbelievable. My timings are massively helped by Frankie the DS. She is speaking to me the whole time; knows what power ups I have got and tells me when to use them and we’re speaking all the time and so much of it is about timing and how you ride it. We are fortunate that we have all this experience on our side”.

Several times I have seen the mention of power ups on social media and had no idea what they are so I asked Joss. “In Zwift, you have a number of ‘power ups’” she explained, “you get at certain points of the game and it’s a bit of pot luck which ones you get.”

“There are five of them I think; an aero helmet which I think of as being the super boost. There is a feature which makes you light (feather), and a van where you get more of a draft benefit, a breakaway which stops people able to draft you and a ghost that makes you invisible”.

“They all last a certain amount of time and there is an element of pot luck to it as to when you get them and whether you know how to use them. I don’t whether we should have them for the races like the Tour de France and Tour for All, because I think it makes it less fair but I can also see it makes it more entertaining.”

Joss described her set up for the weekend stages. “It was in my parents garage with a big TV connected to my laptop and I had a big fan because keeping cool is a game changer because you can lose 20 or 30 watts overheating. Saturday (Stage 1) was quite funny, because my mum had invited my grandparents down, my sister and her fiancé, my parents and it was mad house and so much fun with them cheering. I was like saying to myself, ‘don’t get distracted! Don’t get spat…’”

Joss was using a Wahoo kickr core smart trainer (direct drive) and is lucky to be a pretty techy rider herself so hooking all the things together wasn’t a problem. “A lead sponsor of Drops is ‘itelligence UK’ which is the company I work for part time and they are so good at supporting my cycling. They are an analytical IT company so I am pretty tech savy. You have the HDMI cables, multiple laptops because you have Zoom web cam as well , the smart trainer, heart rate monitor, power meter and all sorts of bits and pieces talking to each other and all the time you are panicking your wifi is not going drop out!”

Could Joss break the world hour record? Watch this space …

Asked about the split for her training on a turbo and on the road, Joss replied “it’s different for different weeks depending on the weather. I tend to do my volume outside so I’ll go out and do my three to four hours outside and then the intensity stuff, I’ll do on the turbo. So it’s probably 50/50. I am pretty at home on the turbo.”

Having seen how well Joss can go uphill, I asked her does her climbing ability on the road transfer across to eRacing and the climbs? “I think being able to climb transfers across massively because in eRacing, there is no escaping the fact that watts per kilogram is so important and it is something I have on my side.”

“It’s a tricky subject because in the real world it is not the most important thing (being light as a rider) and something we should not all be obsessive about because there are other things like how aero you are, how skilledd you are on the bike and so on but in eRacing, watts per kilo is the key factor so being a climber pays dividends. It’s where the gaps occur on the climbs and you could see that yesterday (Sunday) when it blew part”.

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The eRacing is all a far cry from the start of the season when Joss says she was fortunate to be racing the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana (UCI 2.2) at the end of February. “That race was really good and I was 12th on GC (first British rider), just ahead of Lizzy (Banks). I was really pleased with that and it was a good opener to the season. I then came to Derby (velodrome) to do an ‘hour’ test ride on the track and after that test ride was when I decided I would go for the World hour record. In Derby, I rode over a kilometre more than the current British record”.

“We then analysed the numbers which Dan (Bigham, her partner) is very handy at running all those numbers and when my numbers were transferred up to altitude which was where we were planning on doing it, it looked like the world record would be within my capabilities”.

“So I was in full prep mode and I went to altitude at Tenerife and then lock down happened there and it was put on hold. I then refocused and changed my focus to the Worlds and Europeans that I am hoping to go to and salvage whatever I can from the season.”

Escaping from altitude though wasn’t as simple as it sounded! “It was a bit stressful” says Joss. “I was in a little house with Franki who is a DS for us at the Tour de France and next door we had the Huub boys. The houses were next door to each other and then lockdown happened and we were on top of this mountain”.

Climbing hills fast is something Joss is rather good at!

“There is nothing there, just us at 2,000 metres but the Guardia Civil decided to pitch up at the end of the lane (dirt track) where these shacks were. So we couldn’t go out and they were properly enforcing it. It was like, you are not leaving the house! It was scary!”

“There was a day when Dan and I decided to go for a walk. We knew we could not ride the bikes but didn’t know we couldn’t go for a walk and so we went for a walk in the lava fields and the Garda were descending on us out of no-where and we legged it and hid in the house! It was scary as they are proper tough out there!

With time trials now allowed on the roads, Joss says that racing outside is something she will be pursing when she returns from Denmark. “In Denmark, we should be able to do some TTs and may even be able to do a road race at the beginning of August in Norway. Then in August, we’ll try and get into as many TTs as we.”

“I really want to get to the Worlds and Europeans for the time trial and the road race too and am gunning for one of the two places in the team… I have had some good conversations with GB who are trying to put together the best team they can given the lack of racing.”

To finish, I asked Joss the $64,000 question… will she carry on with eRacing next season if normal racing resumes? “I think I will do some. It is really good and I was very surprised by how much of a buzz you get from the eRacing. You sure as hell don’t go that hard when training so if you want to get a buzz and push yourself, then I think it’s really good so in the winter I’ll probably play again. It’s been amazing that the team has been given the opportunity to do them by the organisers and we thank them for that”.

All the best to Joss for the coming months and some rather big goals! Great chatting as always.

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