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How to turn pro on Zwift

Stu Bowers
10 Jan 2020

20-year-old Slovenian rider Martin Lavric on joining the pro ranks after coming top at the Zwift Academy

Cyclist: What was your background prior to winning the Zwift Academy?

Martin Lavrič: I competed in Slovenia and as a junior I was part of my national team. I wanted to enter the Zwift Academy in 2017, but I was riding for a Pro Continental team at the time, which meant I wasn’t eligible. But in 2018 I was without a team, so I could enter.

Cyc: Were you a Zwift user before that?

ML: Yes, I was using it a lot to train indoors. But I did that even before I found Zwift. I used to watch movies, but about one and a half hours was my limit. When I started using Zwift I immediately noticed how quickly the time passed.

I would do a 30-minute warm-up, followed by a Zwift training session or race, then a cool down, and just like that two hours had passed really quickly.

Cyc: What numbers were you hitting to win the Academy?

ML: I would say my form at the start was well below average, but as I went though the training my power and fitness progressed quickly.

By the time I got to the semi-finals I had lost some weight and I was feeling really powerful, and my numbers were looking great.

But winning Zwift Academy in the end is not just about numbers alone. I think by the time you get to the final selection they are starting to look also at things like your personality, how you are as a rider and your professionalism.

Cyc: Is the Academy the right kind of format to prepare someone to make it as a pro rider?

ML: The workouts are certainly going to push you to your limits. You have to give it everything to progress through the programme. And it tests everything you need to have to be a racer.

Cyc: But it can’t teach you how to ride in a real pro peloton.

ML: You’re right, riding in a pack is obviously something you cannot learn on Zwift. Also in races you need to be able to hop your bike over pavements and onto roundabouts and stuff like that, which Zwift cannot teach you either.

These are skills you can only learn by doing as many actual races as you can.

Cyc: Have there been any negative reactions towards you from other riders who maybe don’t approve of you being awarded a pro contract for winning a computer game?

ML: Yes, I guess, a little bit. I sometimes hear people saying, ‘That’s the Zwift guy,’ and maybe they think that I can’t ride a bike, but I don’t worry. I can show them pretty quickly that I’m capable. I’m not saying I’m an incredible descender or anything, but I can handle my bike.

Cyc: Your prize was a one-year deal with the Dimension Data for Qhubeka Continental team, which is a feeder team to the UCI WorldTour outfit. Do you immediately feel under pressure to make that next step?

ML: Yes, I feel like I want to perform at my best, because if I achieve good results here there is more chance that a WorldTour contract might come.

But regardless, this is the best route to the WorldTour because the team targets the high-level UCI stage races that lend themselves well to giving riders the experience they need to make the transition to compete at the top level.

Cyc: Do you think we’ll see more people coming into pro racing through Zwift or other online platforms in the future?

ML: I think we will, but I also know a lot of people are still quite dismissive. They are sceptical about whether being a successful online racer can translate into the real world.

Also I’ve heard pros who have tried to race on Zwift say things like, ‘I was holding 600 watts and getting dropped,’ and I think they assume online racers are cheating, but these guys really are good and it’s not because they are doing game hacking or something.

They do still need to learn the craft of road racing, but if you have the power, the skills part is easier to learn.

Primož Roglič is also from Slovenia, and he got his first contract based purely on his physiological test results, not from racing. Now he is a Vuelta winner.

Cyc: With Roglič and the likes of Matej Mohorič and Tadej Pogačar, there suddenly seems to be an influx of good riders from Slovenia. Why is that?

ML: We really have Italy to thank. Because it is so close we can go there to race. This is honestly where we get our racing experience, because there are five races every week, but we only have a few decent races a year in Slovenia.

Also, racing in Italy shows us how good others are and that gives us the motivation to get to the same high level.

Cyc: How has your family reacted to your new job as a pro cyclist?

ML: I am really grateful to them. They do so much for me as a racer, and they are all really supportive. Before a race my father will always help me clean and prepare my bike, and my mother looks up meals and recipes to make sure I get the right nutrition.

Even my brother does a lot of the things I should do at home – like chores around the house or cutting the grass – so I can rest and save my energy.

Cyc: Did you try any other sports before settling on cycling?

ML: Yes, I tried a number of sports as a kid. I liked volleyball and football, but I didn’t really stick at these sports for too long. I started cycling aged eight, and I liked it straight away because I was immediately good.

On my first group rides I was never the last rider, and that motivated me to stay in cycling and continue with it.

Cyc: There are rumours the Giro d’Italia may start with a stage raced on Zwift. Is that a good idea or just ridiculous?

ML: Well, that is quite crazy, but it would actually be fun to see. Why not? To be honest, sometimes prologue stages are not that exciting, and this could actually be something very different. At least the weather wouldn’t matter, plus everyone would have the same chance to win.

Cyc: Finally, do you have any advice for anyone thinking they may have what it takes to win the Zwift Academy and join the pro ranks?

ML: For me, riding a bike is something I love doing. If you have that, I think that’s half of the battle. You need to enjoy it because only then can you put in the maximum effort and give it your best shot. And you will need to give it absolutely everything you’ve got. It’s not an easy prize to win, that is for certain.