Pro Pain Cave: Aaron Borrill’s clean and clinical battle station

Aaron Borrill riding on Zwift in his pain cave
(Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

For many of the riders who are taking part in the 2022 UCI Cycling Esports World Championships, happening 26 February, cycling is their livelihood. Riders such Ed Laverack and James Barnes stream their races live but, for Aaron Borrill, things look a little different. The 39-year-old South African puts in his time riding for the Toyota CRYO RDT Elite eSports team but you won't find a streaming set-up as part of his Pro Pain Cave. 

The number boards in the background cover an impressive array of accomplishments. Races such as Absa Cape Epic and three-day MTB stage races such as Wines2Whales, Gravel and Grape and Berg and Bush serve as a reminder that tough times can be overcome. They set an authoritative scene for ZRL Premier Division 'Zoom calls' but they don't represent a career as a professional athlete. Instead, Aaron spends his days right here on Cyclingnews crafting stories and reviews for you to read.  That said, he's no slouch on the bike - a fact underscored by his call-up by Cycling South Africa to race at the upcoming World Championships.

Number plates aren't from professional races

Number boards are a reminder that tough times can be overcome (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

For the past 16 years he's covered wheels of all kinds as a former gear editor of Bicycling magazine and associate editor of TopCar magazine. That career brings him to his current post as the Tech Editor for Cyclingnews. He continues to write about bike technology and gear from his home in the Surrey Hills and will be representing South Africa in this year's UCI Cycling Esports World Championships. 

Although Borrill is a part of the team here, we are still learning about his pain cave set-up for the first time. The generous natural light makes it less of a cave. Plus, the windows serve a dual purpose as a source of ventilation and as a shelf for water, gels, phone, and whatever else might be needed while riding. Aaron shares this space with his wife, which was once a home office.

Sitting beneath those windows, the bike that sees use indoors is a Cannondale SuperSix Evo Disc, the same bike Aaron wrote about for the 'Our Bikes' series back in 2020. Aaron reports he's "always enjoyed Cannondale products" being partial to a geometry that works with his physiology. As a testament to that statement, you can see a total of five Cannondale products in the small room. The SuperSix Evo Disc on which he'll race sports details such as a Fizik Arione R1 Versus Evo saddle, Zipp Aero handlebars, a Zipp stem, and wheels that are 55mm deep despite not having much need for aero indoors. 

Shifting duties will be more important than usual as rules require trainer difficulty set to 100% on Zwift's NYC Knickerbocker course. Trusted with managing fast, reliable shifting will be a Shimano Ultegra R8070 Di2 groupset. The benefits of electronic shifting, as long as it's charged, are important even inside where dirt and grime aren't an issue. 

Underpinning the bike will be a race-supplied Wahoo Kickr v5. This is a change from the normal Elite Direto XR direct-drive smart trainer that sees use in Aaron's Zwift racing. Moving up to 100 per cent trainer difficulty is also a change mandated by race rules but Aaron has had time for over 1,300km getting used to things. What isn't new is the Saris MP1 Nfinity Trainer Platform, which provides realistic movement. 

Lending the processing power for Zwift is a Macbook Pro. Although it doesn't take a power house computer to run Zwift, something with a discreet graphics chip is a big help. In an event this important, you want to make sure there's no stutter if there's lots of competition on screen. The Macbook Pro connects to a Samsung 42-inch LED TV with HDMI to make sure that the view of the course ahead is clear. 

Racing is all about controlling as many variables as possible and Aaron isn't immune to that pressure. He's got a Garmin Edge 520 and Garmin Edge 830 on hand for multiple recordings of the same rides. In case there's an issue with power, he's got Favero Assioma Duo pedals and either a Stages Ultegra LH, or Power2Max, on hand for multiple power meter options. Connecting to the computer, he chooses ANT+ for the stability it offers and he's got it moved away from the computer to decrease any potential interference. At the other end, the ANT+ receiver has tape applied to keep it from falling out at a crucial moment. 

There are a few accessories on hand helping to make the whole experience a little more bearable. That includes a high-velocity floor-standing fan with three settings and a JBL Xtreme 2 speaker for music. Apple Airpods handle conversations with the team through Discord. To manage sweat, and prevent corrosion of metal parts you'll find a towel on the handlebars and the Saris MP1 platform.

Take a look around the room and it's not so removed from a lot of enthusiast pain caves. There's no effort to mitigate massive sprint wattages or anything you might find out of place. Just a clean and tidy room with a few small details that clearly come from the experience of a lot of hours riding in front of a screen. Whatever happens the day of the race it will come down to Aaron's abilities, not a last-minute pulled cable or malfunctioning power meter.  

The UCI Cycling Esports World Championships will be broadcast live on Eurosport, discovery+, GCN+ and Zwift's YouTube channel from 6pm on Saturday 26 February 2022.

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Josh Ross

Josh hails from the Pacific Northwest of the United States but would prefer riding through the desert than the rain. He will happily talk for hours about the minutiae of cycling tech but also has an understanding that most people just want things to work. He is a road cyclist at heart and doesn't care much if those roads are paved, dirt, or digital. Although he rarely races, if you ask him to ride from sunrise to sunset the answer will be yes.
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 140 lb.
Rides: Cannondale Topstone Lefty, Cannondale CAAD9, Enve Melee, Look 795 Blade RS, Priority Continuum Onyx