An interview with Pieter Avenant!
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you live, and what do you do? What do you like to do for fun? Family life, that sort of stuff.
My name is Pieter Avenant. I am living in the more higveld regions in South Africa, Johannesburg. I wish I could say I am 23 years of age still but with 20 years of experience added.
I always was a busy boy, somewhat split between academics and sport. I decided to go into the electrical trade and eventually became the leader of the pack at our plumbing and electrical company, namely WARB Plumbing and Electrical. We specialize primarily in construction.
I have been married to the love of my life, Jeannette, for the past seven years, and I have a very energetic daughter who recently started cycling with me on our tandem. Cycling trips to races across the country are our favorite, as we can road trip and spend some family time together.
What is your cycling story? When did you start competing, and what is your racing history? What is your most significant accomplishment racing on the road?
I always loved cycling when I was at school. Racing in the neighborhoods with friends on our BMXs, but as I lived in the countryside, we were never really exposed to cycling as a sport.
After I moved back to the city and had to decide to get to work, cycling was the only option to commute to work and home. I got an old secondhand bicycle and started commuting. It exposed me to cycling shops and cyclists with very fancy bikes.
After three months of commuting 40 km every day through all elements, my bicycle decided it was too much, and I was given my first aluminum road bicycle. Suddenly the commuting was way faster, and I could join the people on group rides.
It led quickly to also wanting to race.
My first race was in a neighboring town about 85km away, and I cycled there the day before to sleep over with friends to race the following day. Needless to say, with too many punctures and no spares, I never raced and took the train back home.
The following weekend was yet another race in the same town, and I was better prepared. I cycled there and pitched up the next morning for the race but forgot my water bottles for the 95km race. At 20 km into the race, I realized this and tried sticking with the front pack burning too much energy. Bonking so bad I was forced to stop at the water tables next to the route. The lady there had some marshmallows, which she gave me, and I had some energy drink to finish the race.
That all happened way back in 2002, and fortunately, never again.
For many years I only competed in our amateur leagues and had some podium finishes along the way.
When I met Jeannette in 2012, I also started competing in our Masters categories and soon realized I needed to up my game. Jeannette supported me fantastically, and I could put a few more hours a week on the bike. I started to find a good balance between work, social life, and cycling.
My first real Masters win came a few months after I recovered from a broken elbow accident over a 154km race.
A few months later, I also took part with an elite team in the Mauritius Tour, my first international tour, and even as a Master.
Podium finishes became a little bit more frequent. Eventually, they gave me a win in the 40-44 Masters Age Category of the Ride Joburg 947, South Africa’s 2nd biggest race after the Cape Town Cycle Tour, or as it’s also previously known, The Argus.
What is your virtual cycling story? How and when did you get involved in esports? What is your most significant accomplishment racing virtually?
With all this increased training and racing, the risks also increased, and I suffered a few crashes from 2015 until 2017. It also included a broken femur two days before our wedding anniversary in March 2016.
I broke my femur in a local race in the town where my cycling career started on a Sunday morning when a rider took my front wheel out.
The surgery was Sunday night, and I got a pin stuck in my femur. Wednesday, I took my first four steps during rehab. I was released from the hospital on Thursday. About two and a half weeks later, I could do some exercises on an indoor trainer with no resistance. I raced again on the road four months later.
With work and social life, training time became a bit hectic during peak-time traffic, and at the beginning of 2018, I got to hear about Zwift. I was very curious. I investigated and saw that I had all the equipment to start riding on Zwift. Dumb trainer, power pedals, and heartrate, there we go. It was 18th January 2018.
Not ever did I enjoy riding indoors, not even during bad weather or winter. It was horrible. But on Zwift, it became easy to adapt. I didn’t need to rush home to train. It was always available. And there were RACES whenever I wanted to race.
To date, I have done 1150 races and covered a tad over 80,000km on Zwift, which also brought up some huge successes and achievements along the way. I became spoiled by the convenience Zwift had to offer, and it became my training and racing grounds between the outside races. It became easy to get home, get dressed in my cycling kit, and jump on Zwift.
During South Africa’s full lockdown in 2020 of Covid, we had a family who suffered some bad times with work, and I decided that I could use my talents and do good for our family members struggling.
I took on a 24-hour Zwift session for fundraising, and the monies I collected during that session were able to provide some assistance to them financially. I covered 772km during that session.
The following year in 2021, I decided on the remembrance day my father passed away to cycle for 24 hours in his memory and did some fundraising for families that experienced tough times. I covered a total distance of 782km during that session.
My most significant achievement, not only on Zwift but from my entire cycling career, was to be able to take part in a World Championship. And that was also as a Master in the 2022 Esport World Championships.
Tell us about your esports team. How has racing with your team prepared you for this moment? Is there anything unique about your team that has contributed to your success?
Towards the end of 2021, I took on a race to see how I compared against some high-ranked racers. Hywel Davies, a huge inspiration to my indoor cycling, was in the race. I aimed to see how far I could last against his furious racing tactics. Somehow I took the win. That opened up a path I never thought I would be able to be part of—Wahoo Le Col wanted me as part of their Premier Division team.
It was hard, I sometimes thought I was never going to cut it, but the guys from Wahoo, John, Bryn, Hywel, and the rest of the team all kept sending uplifting messages and inspiration.
That inspired me to take part in the Continental Qualifiers for World Championships.
Wahoo le Col really supported me well, and Hywel also helped me a huge amount.
For a frame of reference, how tall are you, and approximately how much do you weigh in competition? What is your indoor PB for Peak Power, 15-second, 1-minute, 5-minutes, and 20-minutes?
I am 196cm tall, and my weight fluctuates slightly between 80-81kg.
My best indoor power was a bit over 1500 watts. My 15-second power is around 1100, and my best 1-minute power is 750 watts. My 5-minute and 20-minute personal best power are 400 watts and 370 watts, respectively.
What type of rider are you? Has your riding style evolved as you become more involved and successful in esports?
I don’t think of myself as a specific type of rider, but it would be a punchy type of rider if I must. I have some TT ability and used to go on long breakaways in road races. I never wanted to take part in sprinting.
Zwift gave me a bit more anaerobic capabilities I never could gain by riding with myself on the road. I gained a bit more confidence to take part in sprinting.
Racing on Zwift with so many international riders gave me much more insight into different racing tactics, which I could transfer to my road cycling.
What is your go-to training workout, and why do you enjoy it so much? Has your training emphasis and philosophy changed to make you a more successful eracer?
Go-to training workout?? Hahaha, that is something I don’t enjoy and rarely do. I LOVE racing on Zwift, and when I do easier riding, I join up with the pace partners and enjoy the banter.
What are your short and long-term esport goals? Do they involve qualifying and competing in the UCI Cycling Esports World Championship? What does that mean to you?
I definitely tasted blood by taking part in the 2022 Esport World Championships and want to have another go at it when the opportunity presents itself again.
I look forward to the news that esport might become an Olympic event, and hopefully, I will be able to qualify and perhaps take part in the Olympic games.
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
The amount of racing I have done over the last four years makes a huge difference. A lot of people love to mention it is only a game. But you still need to ride cleverly and put the hours into training to excel in esports.
How much do you factor in the gamification side of esports? Is there a learning curve that you must master? How vital are power-ups and other things unique to virtual cycling?
PowerUps are nice to have. But to be honest, if there were no PowerUps it wouldn’t stop me from racing on Zwift. In fact, I’d prefer to compete man to man without the PowerUps.
It is still essential to learn the game, and many people don’t want to learn a game.
Do you feel cycling esports will ever gain acceptance as a trusted discipline and gain popularity as a unique discipline? What challenges does it face?
As with any other cycling discipline, I think it will gain acceptance. Many people are skeptical about the so-called cheaters, but I believe we can eliminate cheating.
I think the challenges around esports are the same as with any other sports. There will always be the people who can’t compete clean.
As with the past 2022 World Championships in February, whereby everyone had huge verification steps to take part in and being on the same trainer type, it eliminated a considerable amount of gray areas.
Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?
The first set up in a spare room had a dumb trainer and power pedals. It changed a few times. All inspired by other arrangements from fellow Zwifters sharing their pain caves on Facebook.
Currently, I am set up in our garage. I have a 42-inch television as the screen in front of me. I use a Wahoo Kicker V5 trainer, the same trainer used in the World Championships.
I record my Garmin 2 dual-sided power output to my cycling computer to upload to Trainingpeaks.
With important races like the Zwift Racing League, I upload my dual recording to Zwift to make sure my trainer and power pedals compare.
Some cynics and detractors don’t trust the legitimacy of esports. What do you say to those who question the integrity and ability for a level playing field between competitors? What challenges does esports face in becoming recognized as a trusted competition venue?
I can hope and wish for the general public to know about the transparency and verification processes that came with the 2022 World Championships. The data verification, the weight and height recording protocol.
Esports is here to stay, and we can only prove to them through clean racing that it can be a trusted platform to compete.
Many of your fellow elite eracers have been publicly critical of the lack of standardization in esports. What is your view on the topic?
We are all unique, and we are all different. Our situations differ. We go through different stages in our own lives, not to mention different from our friends, family, and neighbors.
Not everyone can spend thousands of rands on equipment to make it standard. Zwift offers the perfect opportunity for people to be still able to train and race with the means of speed and cadence sensors.
The regulations about the verification requirements currently to measure the accuracy of power meters and trainers, unfortunately, eliminate the riders with a setup like that. But nothing prevents them from acquiring the equipment to comply and take part.
When we can appreciate and accept that we are all different, it will create a more lenient environment between people. It will generate more trust that esports is genuinely here to stay.
You are deeply involved in cycling and how it relates to the elite esports scene. How has the landscape changed during that time, and where do you see it going?
Many people have crossed my path on Zwift. And yet, a lot of people have left the platform as well. It may be because of injuries, personal issues, or something unbeknown to us. But overall, as the seasons change in different countries and continents, the regulars do stay, inspiring many more people to try out the digital world of esports.
There is a constant evolution around esports. Endless new people are joining and trying out the parallel worlds we can compete in the luxury of our own homes.
What is esports' future amidst the multiple platform landscape, and where would you like to be positioned?
I’ve seen constant changes to the software on many of the esport platforms. I am happy that I started when I started, not too early, not too late. Well, it’s never too late. Things change, as with everything in life.
I see that esports can only evolve more and even flow over to other sports as well.
Esports has come a long way in a short time. What do you envision it will be like in five years and further into the future? What will it take to get it there?
Personally, I don’t think the evolution of hardware will attract more people to the esport platforms.
What the software can offer, a broader spectrum of opportunities will make it more attractive to possible newcomers.
Esports will grow, but unfortunately, it is at the mercy of program developers, product owners, and the evolution of their product to the sportsmen and women.
If more diversity and exciting software are available, the security of transparency and accuracy will undoubtedly make esports more attractive. In addition to making it more affordable and accessible to the younger generation.
Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow racers or fans know about you? Please?!?
I am a data fanatic, and I love to know my fellow riders, their weaknesses, and their strengths. I do a lot of preparation for any race, whether in real life or on Zwift, even if it is only to see who is to line up.
The floor is yours! Is there anything you would like to say?
I would like to see esports become a respected discipline and all the benefits it offers. To see it grow to the potential, it has to offer. I would love the cynics to experience it other than being a game and that it truly still is physically challenging.
Thank you for sharing, Pieter!
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!