Kiwi Mum rides the world championships in her garage

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Changing room

With Covid sweeping New Zealand, Sonia Foote has found a global cycling race that the virus cannot touch. Even better, it’s in his garage.

This Sunday morning, while most of the country is still in bed or planning to have breakfast, Sonia Foote will be in her garage in Rotorua: windows and doors open, heart thundering, legs screaming, flying sweat.

On a special training bike, she will wince at a screen while pedaling feverishly, as elite cyclists from around the world set off on a futuristic course in New York.

It will hurt. Many.

“I hope it’s painful because if it’s not painful then I’ll just roll over, and that’s no good,” she laughs.

Foote represents New Zealand at the World Cycling Esports Championships. Competitors participate via Zwift – the popular online racing platform that connects your home trainer to a virtual world, where you can race against thousands of people on a variety of different terrains.

The faster you pedal through your living room, the faster your on-screen avatar accelerates, creating an addictive and exhausting experience that’s been enjoyed by pros and weekend warriors alike.

Foote wasn’t sure about Zwift when her partner first suggested it. There was nothing exciting about riding a training bike, something she had done for years as a former national mountain bike champion and Commonwealth Games racer, and the video game side was unfamiliar.

But as a mother of four, it was hard to get outside and being able to cycle from home was appealing.

Sonia Foote waves as she crosses the finish line of the Whaka 100 mountain bike marathon in her hometown. Photo: provided.

She used it for training initially, limiting herself to two or three workouts a week while she was still breastfeeding her youngest. This intensified once Covid began canceling many of her events last winter, and she became involved in a six-week series on Zwift organized by Triathlon New Zealand. It didn’t take long before she got hooked.

From there, Foote got involved in the Zwift Racing League, which is a team competition. This led her to meet like-minded athletes who enjoyed training and having great conversations.

“I met all these wonderful women and most of us are moms, and it gave me that sense of connection and belonging that you get from sports,” says Foote, who represented Nova Scotia. Zeeland in cross-country mountain biking at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, and was world champion in the Xterra off-road triathlon.

“Once you’re postnatal and away from work, home becomes your biggest place. Connecting with others outside is not that easy so it was just super lovely.”

As she was riding one day, she saw the details of the qualification process for the Esports World Championships appear. This piqued her interest and, as someone who has always been ‘a bit of a star pusher’, she signed up for the continental qualifier.

“I know I’m going to have to hang on like a pig!”

She needed a top-five finish to qualify automatically, but after only a few minutes of racing she was shocked to see a notification pop up excluding her from the event.

“I was just absolutely devastated…and I was like I wasn’t going back on this thing!” she says.

Foote emailed one of the organizers and discovered that she was using one of the only trainers that wasn’t recognized by Zwift because it wasn’t reliably reading her power data with enough power. precision.

She shrugged and started thinking about planning for the following year, until she saw that Cycling NZ had two places up for grabs and she could apply for selection.

“I was like ‘Oh my god, they’ll never select me, because I’m old and I’ve been there, it’s done’. But I was like ‘Sonia, you never know if you don’t ‘don’t try, just put your name in the hat,'” the 43-year-old said.

And it was just as well that she did, as Cycling NZ promptly sent her an email confirming that she had been chosen for the world champions.

“I was just ecstatic, you really can’t put it any other way, it was so cool. And it’s such a privilege,” she says.

Since then she’s been training hard, jumping on the bike once the kids are in bed and racing late into the night – and even the next day once or twice.

While Zwift seems like a fun video game, cycling’s governing body, the UCI, doesn’t mess around when it comes to the integrity of world champions.

Each athlete received the exact same trainer to ride, which was assigned a serial number. Foote had to prove her identity, as well as her weight and height, and send videos of her data test to show that it was her on the bike showing her accurate power numbers.

She must also provide her contact details for drug testing purposes during the period during and around the competition.

Sonia Foote has a habit of hammering and clamping on the training bike in her garage for hours. Photo: provided.

Foote will be joined by World Tour pro Ella Harris, almost a Zwift veteran, and Sarah Morrison on Team New Zealand, and she mixes her excitement with some caution ahead of the nearly 55-kilometre race.

“I am very aware of my expectations of myself. I know I don’t have the experience of the top girls and I know I don’t have the watts they have…so this is a really huge step up.
she says.

“But hopefully it’s part of a springboard to getting better and better, and I know I’m going to have to hang in there like a pig!”

While last year’s race saw Ella Harris shuffling on her bike at 2 a.m. to compete, the timing is much more civilized in 2022. Foote will race shortly after 7 a.m. on Sunday, which suits her well. .

She’ll also have the support of her kids watching, though she’s unsure how interested they’ll be, as the novelty of seeing mom playing hammer and pliers in the garage has slowly worn off.

“Sometimes they don’t even bother to walk through the door before going to school. But the other morning Amelia said, ‘I tried to say hello to you mum, but you were so focused on your screen,’” she laughs.

*You can watch Sonia Foote and Team New Zealand live Sunday morning on Zwift’s YouTube channel.

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