Christchurch rider Ollie Jones switches from his international virtual online world for the roads around the Wairarapa, joining the Cycling New Zealand team for the New Zealand Cycle Classic starting on Wednesday.
The 24-year-old is part of the six-strong national team to compete in the first UCI level 2 sanctioned event and the sole Oceania UCI stage road event being held in New Zealand this year after all six Australian races usually run early in the year, including the Tour Downunder, were cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jones joins with current Vantage Cycling New Zealand Olympic track riders Regan Gough and Corbin Strong, and three European-bound professional tyros Laurence Pithie, Reuben Thompson and Finn Fisher-Black in the Cycling New Zealand national team.
He got his professional break courtesy of winning the Zwift Academy global competition in 2017, and more recently signed with Canyon ZCC, the Esport professional team in this fast-growing element of the sport.
While Jones is still disappointed that a failure with his supplied gear cost him the chance of a medal in the UCI Esport World Championship last month, where he had to settle for fourth place, he predicts a big future for this rapidly rising part of the sport.
“Esport is here to stay. All COVID-19 did was speed up the process,” said Jones. “It is going to be another discipline in cycling that is mainstream. It won’t replace anything. All the current disciplines will still exist but it will be another discipline within another five years.”
He sees himself continuing to split his professional life between esport and the road.
“Esport does not take up a lot of time as you don’t need to leave your house. Training is more time-efficient than road. If you do a Grand Tour you have to train six hours a day pretty regularly to have that ability in the legs. Esport races are all 45 to 60 mins so you need shorter intensity interval sessions.
“Physiologically esport is similar to things like mountain bike and cyclocross.”
This week Jones will stay with the national team during the tour, but he has never met any of his teammates in the Canyon ZCC esport team.
“One of the team lives in Belgium, there’s another kiwi, a South African, a German and a couple of Brits. Added to the women’s team and development team, there are riders from every continent except Asia.”
Jones predicts a bright future for esport in cycling.
“I see esport developing to the point where it becomes part of road racing. In USA, for instance, race organisers have a road criterium one day and virtual criterium alongside it the next.
“As there is more competition with the platform, we will get more ability for independent race organisers to bring in this sort of combination. That is where I see the future.”
Jones has no issues switching between the two disciplines.
“In New Zealand road races are not too long – like 130km to 150km, so I do not need to adapt my training too much. For a bigger tour I just need to adapt with some longer rides.”
He is excited about riding for the national team in the New Zealand Cycle Classic, his third time in New Zealand’s premier international tour race.
“I think we will gel together well. I ride with Laurence all the time in Christchurch and Finn is often down here too. I have ridden against Regan since we were 13, and rode in the same team as Corbin in Southland.
“Reuben Thompson is probably our best climber but there are probably four of us capable of winning the Tour if it goes well. We will be looking for a good team time trial on Wednesday and take it from there.”
Jones said the lack of international teams won’t mean a lack of excitement.
“We saw in Southland, which did not have international teams, that it was one of the most exciting tours that there has been with five guys split by 40 seconds in the end, and decided with the final sprint.
“We can expect more of the same in the New Zealand Cycle Classic. It is going to be a really exciting tour.”
The New Zealand Cycle Classic begins with a team time trial in Masterton on Wednesday evening. Stage two is 158km with five climbs before returning to Masterton; stage three features a multi-lap street circuit in Martinborough on Friday before the gut-busting stage four which finishes with a 10km ascent of Admirals Hill near Gladstone. The final stage on Sunday moves to Wellington for an exciting criterium centred on Lambton Quay.
Event details: www.cycletournz.com