As a second instalment from our FROM WITHIN THE VIRTUAL PELOTON WITH series we caught up with champion triathlete, medical researcher and Echelon winner Jacquie Godbe.
A very quick introduction from me! My name is Jacquie Godbe and I’m absolutely delighted that Eric from The Project Echelon Racing League has asked me to write about my experiences with the race series.
Like most of you, I’m relatively new to the sport of virtual bike racing. Before 2020, I was a professional triathlete which – although it involves a bike – is a radically different sport. For starters, that meant the draft was something to be avoided rather than embraced and I was supposed to have energy at the end of my bike!
But COVID forced all of us to break out of our normal routines. For me, that meant spending a lot of time on an indoor trainer and signing up for virtual races to satisfy both my competitive spirit and desire for chocolate. It’s also been a great experience to spend quality time with my partner (and fellow racer) John Cooper.
But that’s enough about me. Let’s chat about the Echelon Racing League!
How does the Echelon Racing League and racing on RGT offer an experience different from that of other platforms?
The series the Echelon Racing League has put together has been a fantastic experience for several reasons. First, it offers a longitudinal racing experience where you get to learn the platform, learn your strengths, learn your competitor’s strengths and develop a strategy. I’ve had the opportunity to grow as a cyclist throughout the series and that’s awesome.
It’s equally awesome to watch virtual cycling develop as a sport at the same time. RGT has been incredibly responsive to feedback about their racing. During the course of the ERL series alone, they’ve introduced features to reduce forced braking at the start, improved downhill draft mechanics and cornering.
The other thing that Echelon Racing League has done really well is offer times that work for racers in North/South/Central America. Weekend times have been massively important in my ability to commit to the whole series. As a full-time medical student, I often can’t commit compete in races on weekdays so the timing of this series has been great for my participation.
Overall, however, my favourite thing about the RGT platform is the physics engine. There is definitely a learning curve to figuring out how to optimize cornering/drafting/braking and that adds a huge intellectual component to the game. Having to factor in those variables really keep you on your toes and keeps the race fun! It’s not all about who can put out the most power for the longest. It’s also about who can use their power most intelligently.
What was the level of competition like? Was it authentic and professional?
The level of competition is phenomenal. We have numerous IRL professional cyclists and members of Team USA making regular appearances in the race series. To name just a few: Dr. Laura Matsen-Ko, like Krista Doebel-Hickok and Christie Tracy featured as regular racers. Top racers like Vi Nguyen and Lauren Stephens have also jumped into the mix. The top riders really show up to race here!
What makes it even better is that the competition is authentic and friendly. The women that show up to race are friendly, supportive and show excellent sportsmanship. There’s a real sense of community even if we’ve never met each other in person.
What made the Echelon Racing League feel more real and help create a bridge between IRL and virtual racing and their respective communities?
Echelon Racing League helped me to connect with my local racing team xXx. I’d only briefly crossed paths with them before as I was mainly in the triathlon orbit and I was wonderfully surprised at how welcoming and fun they were!
Just like among the competitors, the key word here is community. The sense of shared accomplishment after a race/ride really helps bring people together. One fantastic thing my coach, Chris Navin, has done is host regular meet-ups on RGT over Discord through the winter so that people can stay in touch and in shape despite sub-optimal riding conditions outside.
What was it like racing IRL courses of IRL races in the virtual space? What did you like about it or how did it help you make a connection to those events?
It makes me want to visit those places IRL. John Cooper (my partner and fellow ERL racer) have talked about visiting some of these rides as part of our honeymoon. How cool would that be?
How has participating in the Echelon Racing League improved your racing?
Racing in ERL has improved my racing in 3 different ways: fitness, drafting and tactics.
With regard to fitness, racing is just great motivation. In the JMSR, I set new 5 and 10 min power bests. In the Dirty Reiver, I set a new 90 minute power best. Even if we look at verified FTP numbers alone from standardized testing protocols done outside the RGT platform, I can tell you that my power has also increased.
At this time last year, my FTP was 10% lower than it is right now, but still at an all-time high. It’s awesome how consistent training combined with the motivation of racing can produce great results.
In terms of drafting, as a triathlete, I had always regarded the draft as something to be avoided. However, the heads-up display of draft assistance on RGT has really helped me to appreciate the power of the draft and visualize where it sits. Even outside of racing, it’s a super useful simulation tool that I will take with me into IRL competition.
Finally, learning race tactics has been a long road and I still have a lot to learn! The key to my learning has been the high quality of the other racers in the series. I’ve learned a lot watching Dr. Laura Matsen-Ko conserve energy at the back of a pack so that she can take a sprint finish. Dr. Stephanie Sydlik also provides a masterclass in consistent pacing and IRL race etiquette. Once again, I can go on and on because it really has been a fantastic experience!
What do you do outside of RGT?
I will graduate Northwestern University with my MD in May 2021! Before that, I finished my PhD in chemistry in March 2020 (#doubledoctor). My goal is to specialize in radiology and go on into medical research to develop new imaging agents and techniques.
If the sky were the limit, how would you like to see the Echelon Racing League evolve in the years to come?
First off, I would love to see more women race. Even though we have amazing buy-in from high-level racers, our corrals are usually only ¼ the size of the men’s. I think that committing to prize purse parity was a great first step, but we still need to recruit more women to the space. A stronger community makes everyone better.
Second, I want some longer races (but maybe that’s just my triathlete side talking). We’d need to shorten the broadcast format but I think that an imperial century ride would be a killer challenge.
Third, I think we need to figure out a way to award intermediate sprint points and/or primes. My very first IRL crit, I won $20 in the prime because the race director thought the pace was too chill and wanted to speed things up. As a newbie, I didn’t know anything about racing except to SPRINT AT HARD AS POSSIBLE WHEN YOU HEAR THE COWBELL so that’s what I did. As a result, primes always hold a special place in my heart.
Finally, I would love to see continued cooperation between IRL races and virtual races. It’s been absolutely incredible to be included as parts of the tradition of races like the Gila and Joe Martin Stage Race. It’s such an exciting opportunity to be invited to participate IRL after the virtual finish. I know that a large part of this has been brokered by COVID restrictions, but it’s also a special and exciting partnership I hope continues.