It’s no secret that eSports and online gaming have taken the world by storm, but despite its booming popularity, you likely don’t know anyone who has really gone anywhere with it.
Or maybe you do and just don’t know it, because he’s just a regular dad working at your local bike shop.
John Vanderveen has managed to combine his love of bicycling with online gaming and has recently returned from an all-inclusive trip to Europe – his second in less than a year – that he won by using his at-home trainer and an app on his phone called Zwift.
“It’s an online app that interacts with trainers attached to your bike,” Vanderveen says. “You’ve got a little avatar of yourself, just like in other video games, I guess, and you take the rear wheel off your bike, attach it to the trainer, and it creates resistance. So if you’re going uphill in Zwift, it gets harder to pedal, and if you’re going downhill, you can almost coast, even though you’re inside in your basement. You can even draft off people in front of you, just like you can in the real world.”
It’s a handy way to get in some bike riding in a climate where it’s raining as often as it does on Vancouver Island, he says.
And one day he was setting up to do some training, and there was a ride in the option list called the Zwift PowerUp Training Camp.
“I didn’t really know what it was, but I thought, ‘well, I’m going to be working out anyway,’ and just joined it,” he says.
He found out that it was a series of three group workouts at three different, pre-scheduled times, “and at the end I had to send in a little video saying why it would be cool to win this thing, and sure enough, three weeks later they messaged me and said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve won,’ at which point I said, ‘Great. What is it?’”
It turned out to be an all-inclusive trip to Spain to train with world-class coaches and nutritionists and ride with professional road bikers, stay in 400-year-old Spanish villas and tour the Spanish countryside on his bike.
Then he came home and practiced what he’d learned for about six months before being sent back overseas to France to ride the Alps – including an event called L’Etape du Tour.
“Essentially, they pick the biggest, hardest stage of the Tour de France, and they let a whole bunch of amateurs, like me, go out and race it,” Vanderveen says. “They start you out in waves of 1,000 people. I’ve never seen that many cyclists in my life, and we did three mountain passes for a total of 4,500 metres of elevation, which, if you know anything about biking, is a lot.”
Essentially, it would be like riding from the highway up to Mount Washington four times in one push. In fact, that’s how he trained for it.
“It’s a really tough day,” he says with a laugh. “But so worth it.”
While some would use an opportunity like this one to continue their training as they attempt to turn professional – and in some ways that’s what Swift contests like this are for – Vanderveen says he’s “firmly an amateur.”
“I’ve got two kids with a third one on the way in January,” he says. “My wife and I split duties at home, which is why Zwift is perfect for me. When the kids go down for a nap, I can hop on and do some training. And sadly, I think I’m past my prime. In cycling, if you’ve been at a high level, you can maintain it, but by mid-30s, it’s probably too late to get in.”
So he’ll just keep going to work part time at Pedal Your World in Merecroft Village, being a stay-at-home dad on his off days, and pedalling away in his basement when he can’t get outside on the road.
“I still have a long way to improve,” he says. “But most of all it’s just fun. I love cycling and this is a way I can do it more.”
And he’ll definitely be signing up for more contests, whether or not he knows what they’re about.
Because apparently sometimes they fly you to Europe when you win.