Zwift Community Q&A: Aaron Spivak
Something that we believe is extremely important in our Zwift community is highlighting those people who make Zwift racing and riding what it is: Indoor Specialists.
This week we asked avid Zwifter, Aaron Spivak, some questions so the community could get to know more about him. Read up below!
How did you get into Zwift?:
After the summer riding season of 2015, I bought my first trainer so that I could keep my fitness gains through the winter. I tried a couple of different apps to train with but I didn’t find them engaging. One day, a friend mentioned that there was a new app gaining popularity that had just come out of beta. Of course, he was talking about Zwift. I gave it a try and I was hooked. I started with the structured workouts and was amazed at the improvements to my FTP. I would do several workouts a week and then a weekly ride of the Watopia Pretzel to see my gains. When the next spring came along, my friends were starting their fitness from scratch, having not been on a bike for (at least) 6 months while I was cruising up the hills in mid season form. The following March, a friend convinced me to give racing a try. It brought the fun of training to a whole new level. I have also participated in many group rides and other events. This past autumn/winter I completed an 8 week structured training plan which brought my FTP to levels that I didn’t know I could reach.
Spivak’s dedicated steel trainer bike and dual-screen setup for riding & racing: “I hated the hassle of taking my bike on and off the trainer, so I picked up a steel frame on ebay for $100. I got many of the components I needed (no brakes or back wheel) from things that I had laying around or from friends who had upgraded. The crankset and saddle were new.”
How long have you been riding or racing a bike?:
That is actually an interesting question. As a kid, I never learned how to ride a bike. I got involved in a lot of other sports and activities, but I never managed to figure out the bicycle. In August of 2014 (when I was 35 years old), a friend of mine (the same one who later told me about Zwift) came back from a two day charity event that he was part of called Bike4Chai. He made it sound so amazing (accurately so) that I knew I had to take part. The next day, I took my 10 year old son’s bike and went to a class that teaches adults to ride bikes. I got to the park a bit early and by the time the instructor showed up, I had managed to figure it out. At the time, I was an avid Rollerblader and had very good fitness, so it didn’t take long for me to do some relatively long rides. I took to the sport quickly and haven’t looked back.
What team on Zwift are you on?:
One Wednesday night this past May, I signed up for a race called Team Celebration Series. This was actually a preseason race which didn’t mean anything to me at the time. I was not on a team and had never participated in a series or league before. I simply found individual races that were convenient and did my best. In that particular race I stayed with the lead group and on the final short riser, I managed to pull away for the win. Shortly after the race, I was contacted by the leaders of two different teams, asking me to join. Team Cryo-Gen seemed like a good group (not that the other didn’t) so I figured I would give it a shot. I joined the team in time for the Team Celebration Series to start officially.
CRYO-GEN C Grade team gained the most points out of any other team in the Team Celebration Series. Talk to us about the experience and some strategies the team used to do this?:
Racing with a team makes the racing experience incredibly more fun. Instead of feeling isolated in my pain cave, I have teammates to talk to before and during the race, as well as rehash and celebrate with afterwards. As you mentioned, we were quite successful in this series. The first factor in our success is the fact that we were committed to the series and showed up in numbers for each race. We spoke on discord during the race with a non-racing team member watching the race and acting as “team car.” He would alert us to the strengths of different racers as well as to who would factor in the ZwiftPower results. Of course, he also encouraged and pushed us to keep going. We also strategized about who would attack and when and which attacks to cover.
What was your favorite race from the series?:
On June 5, we did the full Richmond UCI circuit. I had my doubts heading in if I would be able to hang on in the final miles with those three steep climbs (I’m over 90 kg). In the end, I was coming up the last hill with two very strong riders. I emptied myself and edged out my closet rival at the line. It felt really cool to read Peter Sagan’s book where he describes his win on this course (in the real life version) to win the 2015 World Championship. I was really able to relate to his description of the final meters.
Will you be competing in the next series: Morning Grind Fondo? If so, what can we look out for from the CRYO-GEN team?:
As a school teacher (among other things), I really only get to ride outdoors during the months of July and August. For that reason, I only do Zwift in those months if the weather is bad (or to finish my last two races of the Team Celebration Series). I will probably not do the Stage 1 TT in the MGF, and the following week I will decide if I will participate or if I will save my legs for the outdoors and rejoin the racing circuit in the fall. Regardless, I’m sure that my teammates will pick up the slack and be highly competitive in this series.
What’s something your competition on Zwift might not know about you?:
I am an Orthodox Jew (an ordained rabbi). For that reason, you won’t find me on Zwift from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday because that’s our Sabbath.
What’s your pre-race ritual?:
I get some sugar into my system, ride a few warm up miles with a couple of bursts to test my legs. I like to get to the pen with about a minute to go and practice some mindfulness exercises to keep the jitters in check. With about 10 seconds to go, I get on the discord mike and say something encouraging to my teammates. With 3 seconds to go, I get out of the saddle and start pounding for that initial burst from the gate.
What’s your favorite “staple” (regular) race?:
Anything in the 20-30 mile range without major climbs, but some short punchy ones. I’m always up for 3 laps of Volcano Flat or Greater London Flat. Lately, I’m realizing that Park Perimeter Loop also suits my strengths.
Do you ride/race outside in addition to Zwift? If so, what discipline(s)?:
I don’t race outside but I definitely ride. I use Zwift as my platform to compete and my outdoor riding as a means of socializing, being alone with nature, or competing against myself. I stick to the roads (no mountain biking or CX). I enjoy anywhere scenic and quiet (I am fortunate to live just a few miles from Harriman State Park which is beautiful and hilly). I challenge myself on the local mountain (Bear Mountain, NY). I especially enjoy finding destinations to ride to. A couple of weeks ago, I rode to a sleep-away-camp to visit some of my students. The total round trip was 160 miles with over 9,000 feet of elevation.
Do you think Zwift racing is different from outdoor bike racing?
Having never participated in an outdoor race, I’m not really an authority on this. However, from what I can see when I watch a race, it’s clear that the starts on Zwift are much faster. Also, there is less in the way of logistical concerns like getting bottles. Also, without the concern of crashing or the ability to steer, there is no strategy in choosing your line.
What kind of fuel do you use to keep yourself going while riding?:
On outdoor rides, I pack Cilf Bars and gels with only water in my bottles. If the ride is long enough that I will be stopping at a gas station to refuel, I will drink a large gatorade and munch potato chips and a banana to keep my electrolytes levels up. When racing on Zwift, I have a bottle of water and a gatorade next to me. I make sure to save the second half of the gatorade for the last 15 minutes of the race.
If you could race anyone head-to-head on Zwift, who would you pick?:
Anyone who pushes me beyond where I thought my limits were.
What is your favorite post race snack?:
In the morning, a chocolate whey protein shake. At night, something salty and a beer.
What one tip would you give to Zwifters looking to improve their racing in-game?:
Be efficient with your energy. Use as little power as possible to stay with the pack. Find moments for recovery whenever you can. Even a couple of seconds break can help restore your muscles for when you will need to get everything out of them.
Where do you see eSports for cycling going?:
I hope that it remains a separate discipline from road racing. I heard some talk by the Giro that in the future, there could be grand tour stage held on Zwift. I think that would be like having a CX or MTB stage. I think eRacing has an advantage for spectators in that they can see more of the action and statistics. In outdoor racing, we don’t see the live speed, power, and heart rate numbers for all of the racers the way we can in Zwift. Also, for those who attend an outdoor event in person, you can only watch the racers for the one moment when they pass your position on the road. If an eRace was to be held in an arena, spectators could come and watch the racers the entire time as they worked on their trainers while also watching there avatars race on-screen. Of course, outdoor racing offers the real life speed and action that eRacing lacks. In the end, they are two different disciplines.
What’s your favorite Zwift memory?:
I was in the C cat In a race around the Jungle Circuit. As I approached the top of the climb, I saw a group of Bs a short distance ahead. I knew that although the C pack I was with was riding stronger, the Bs would hit the descent first at which point he Cs would not be able to catch up. I made my move and emptied myself to bridge over. I caught the Bs just as they crested the climb and I rode their draft to victory.