An interview with 2022 Zwift Academy Finalist ABUS-Le Col’s Jasper Paridaens.
2022 Zwift Academy Finalist Jasper Paridaens is one of five men who remain of the over 96,000 participants in this year’s edition. He will join the nine others (four men and five women) in Denia, Spain, in mid-November for the shot at an Alpecin-Deceuninck pro contract.
GCN will broadcast the finals beginning on December 13 and announce the winner on December 17. Good luck to all of the finalists!
An interview with 2022 Zwift Academy Finalist Jasper Paridaens!
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.
I’m Jasper Paridaens, 27 years old, and I live in Belgium. I have a chemistry degree and work at the universal hospital in Jette (Brussels).
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’ve been passionate about cycling from an early age and have been competing in this sport since I was 12 years old. It was always a dream to make this sport my profession.
What is your virtual cycling story? How and when did you get involved in esports? What is your experience racing on Zwift’s elite level? What is your most significant accomplishment racing virtually?
Before discovering Zwift, I rode on the online platform of RGT. Due to the low number of participants on RGT, I switched to Zwift. My first race on Zwift was the Wahoo socials race organized by Zwift NL, which I won immediately.
Due to this positive start on Zwift, the platform sold me right away. I raced in the highest-ranked races on Zwift, such as the Zwift Racing League, Premier Division, and the Zwift Grand Prix.
The top 3 places in the Zwift Grand Prix a few weeks ago and the selection for the World Cup last year are the things I remember even though I raced this world championship with a covid infection and illness.
Tell us about your esports team. How has racing with your team prepared you for this moment?
Actually, I owe my Zwift adventures to Christoph Verkruysse, who immediately contacted me to include me in his esports team Sportsolid.
On the other hand, Stephan Tytgadt, this man, is committed to making ABUS-LeCol an esports top team, which works!
ABUS-LeCol is a continuation of the merger between Sportsolid and BZR to bring together the best Belgian esport riders for top performance.
Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?
I ride every Zwift race on a Wahoo Kickr power 5.0 trainer in combination with a Shimano dual-power recording. My setup is in the garage, which can be very cold in winter.
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
I owe the final place in the Zwift Academy mainly to my perseverance to successfully complete the hard workouts. Even though it is sometimes still 25 degrees and other riders prefer to ride outside. This year I also prioritized the Zwift Academy over the competitions in Belgium. The mental aspect of wanting to hurt you even though you’re not in a race is something you have to transfer.
Will cycling esports gain acceptance as a trusted discipline and popularity as a unique discipline? What challenges does it face?
By mainly making it attractive to the public. Ecycling is an individual indoor event where fans can only follow the action on TV through streaming. Bringing a large audience together in a big hall where dozens of esport players compete against each other would be great. This way, the fans are in direct contact with the athletes.
What is your opinion of the new race formats used during the Zwift Grand Prix and the World Championships?
I think it is still in its infancy and will probably improve. The format is already much more attractive to the public. Sometimes it is quite complicated, and it is absolutely necessary to keep your attention.
Congratulations on being named a Zwift Academy Finalist. It's a tremendous achievement. What is your Zwift Academy "why?" What motivated and inspired you?
The story of Jay Vine inspired me. A few years ago, he was the Zwift Academy winner, and this year, he is winning stages in the Vuelta. I followed last year’s edition, and afterward, I felt I could do this too. This year, as I said before, I focused on the academy and wanted to seize my perhaps small, opportunity.
How were you notified that you were a finalist and what's the first thought that entered your mind?
I got the good news through an email and later followed some video conversations with those responsible. Of course, I was thrilled and tried to stay calm.
Was the decision difficult, and what factors did you consider before accepting the invitation?
I didn’t hesitate for a second and took the opportunity. All my life, I have dreamed of being a professional cyclist, and now I finally get the chance.
What goals do you have for yourself? What will make your Zwift Academy experience a success in your mind?
Of course, I’m going to the finals, intending to win. However, I am aware that it will be challenging and tough. Also, at 27 years old, I already have a considerable disadvantage. I will give myself entirely to the limit. Only then will I have nothing to regret.
What do you envision the experience like living in a house with the other finalist while competing against them for the only pro contract?
Hopefully, the other finalists will be friendly and not hostile. Even though we all have the same goal, besides the bike, I hope everyone acts normal against each other.
How do you feel about the reality show marketing aspect of the Zwift Academy finals? Are you okay with having all your data out there, the rider of the day competitions, the made-for-tv surprise workout challenges, and the eliminations?
I have absolutely no secrets about my data. The marketing show will be quite an experience in itself because you need to get used to the cameras around you. The workouts will be hard anyway. Hopefully, I’m ready. The eliminations at the end of the day will definitely be the least fun part of this whole trip, and hopefully, I won’t be eliminated.
The Zwift Academy finals consist of a combination of virtual and road performance competition. How do you feel about going head-to-head on the road? Does success on Zwift translate to the road?
Absolutely not. A good Zwift rider is not necessarily a good road rider. On the road, there are so many aspects that are just as important as being able to push a high number of watts. Just think of placement for an important climb, bend or final sprint.
Riding in the wind is also something you can’t imitate on Zwift; yet, at least in Belgium, it is an essential aspect of road cycling. I have been racing in Belgian races for many years, and I think I have mastered the positioning. Placing and wringing in a peloton is also something I am usually successful at, so let the road competition begin.
What advantages do you have over your competition? What challenges do you face?
The final will be hard and exhausting anyway, and we will cover all aspects of cycling, such as sprinting, climbing, etc. It comes down to giving the best of yourself in every competition. Only in this way can you show and prove yourself.
What is the first thing you are going to do when you win? How will it change your life?
I haven’t thought about it yet and don’t want to think about it. I’ll let it all come to me and wait for the results. But of course, I will be delighted if I would be the winner. It would be a dream come true.
Will the decision to accept the professional contract be a difficult one? What factors will you need to consider?
Absolutely not. Becoming a pro cyclist has been a goal in my life for a long time. Achieving this would be the culmination of the perseverance and sacrifices of recent years. It is a lifestyle that I have wanted to practice and pursue all my life.
How will it change your life if you aren't the last rider left standing?
As a big disappointment, this is my first and probably only chance in life. So I have to grab it with both hands. It would feel like a big missed opportunity that I’d rather not think about right now.
Any words of encouragement or wisdom for Jasper?
Comment below! I know he’d appreciate it.
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!