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Colombian rider Natalia Franco Villegas came to the U.S. on a cycling scholarship to Colorado Mesa University, and the multi-discipline athlete is now at the University of Tennessee working on her masters in sports psychology. This Wednesday, Natalia will be the special guest on the VeloNews Ride presented by NormaTec on Zwift, at 8:30am PT.
Join the Zwift ride here, or on your Zwift companion app.
We caught up with Natalia ahead of the ride with a quick Q&A.
VeloNews: How did you get connected with Team Twenty20?
Natalia Franco Villegas: Since I came to the U.S. in 2014, Twenty20 was a team I always looked up to. I emailed them every year for a spot, but it wasn’t until last year when [team director] Kristin Armstrong saw me race the Hincapie Grand Fondo in Boise and talked to [team general manager] Nicola Cranmer about me. Nicola called me and told me how much trust she has in Kristin Armstrong’s ability to see the potential in riders and the rest is history!
VN: How much time have you spent with the other riders in person, and more recently on Zwift?
NFV: I met some of my teammates during our two week training camp in February, where we also raced Valley of the Sun in Tucson, Arizona. I think I spent more time with them through Zwift. We have our weekly rides with the team “Road to Tokyo” and we do team time trials and recons for races together.
VN: What was the Virtual Tour of the Gila like for you?
NFV: Not how I expected to race my first Tour of the Gila, but it was an amazing experience! The first day on the team time trial, I had connection issues. Not gonna lie, I was screaming to the screen. But hey, same as flat tires or crashes in real life racing, we face adversities in the virtual world too. I finished solo in order to start the next day and I actually had two good days after that. In the Queen stage I was able to finish 12th, which has been my best finish on Zwift so far. It’s been a heck of a learning curve, but I get excited thinking that I’m getting a hang of it and getting closer every time.
VN: What are the ride restrictions like in Knoxville right now? Are you able to ride with people?
NFV: Sadly there’s no restrictions, but most of the cycling community stepped up and agreed to ride solo. Tuesday night world’s were cancelled as well as local races. I only ride with my boyfriend and my roommate.
VN: What do you think caused your interest in sports psychology?
NFV: I could definitely write an article about this ha! But I think there are multiple factors. My personality, my parents’ influence and my upbringing in a third world country such as Colombia. I’m the kind of person that likes to strive for excellence in everything I do, I’m competitive and I find fascinating understanding why some people are outliers like me. My parents always pushed me to overcome challenges and being persistent in the pursuit of my dreams. Here I am, achieving my goals and helping others achieve theirs too.
VN: And do you think your masters studies are a benefit to your own riding, or do they make you overthink things?
NFV: If I’m a little too honest here, I started studying this for my own benefit. Ha ha! Of course I apply everything I learn and of course sometimes is harder than what you think. I feel so passionate to see the effectiveness on the techniques. I’ve really fallen in love with the process and now I love to share my knowledge with those that want to be excellent at what they do as well.