Elite Cyclist Jo Pirotte—The “Salon-Coureur”

An interview with ABUS-le Col’s elite cyclist Belgian Jo Pirotte.

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 Pirotte Jo, 34 years old, a father of 2 beautiful daughters, and a lovely girlfriend. 

 

We live in Paal, located in the province of Limburg in the Flemish part of Belgium. 

 

I work as a production operator at Master Builders Solutions, a global brand of advanced chemical solutions for construction. 

 

What I do for fun besides riding a bike is spend time with my girls. It’s such a satisfaction to see them happy.

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 started cycling when I was 15 years old. Before that, I played basketball and tried athletics. 

 

Mainly mountain bike and cyclocross in the beginning, and more road cycling as I got older. In my youth, I was often labeled as a talented rider. My Physical tests also seemed to confirm this. (A VO2 max of 85 is rather rare.) But I wasn’t aware of this at that time. 

 

Everything went perhaps too well, and the victories followed too easily. And once I got out with friends, it went a lot less. After school, I immediately went to work and stopped cycling.

 

After a year without riding a bike, I did everything I could to try still to achieve something in the sport. If only not to blame me for anything. 

 

But my body could not handle all that training work, resulting in injuries. And partly because of the choice to choose cyclocross as the main goal. In retrospect, this is really the discipline that suits me the least. 

 

Now it’s more to hear my girls yelling from the side and make them proud. 😍 

This year, as an amateur, I achieved a Belgian title on the mountain bike in the cross-country and the marathon discipline. 4th at the World championship gravel in the age category 19-34, Co-European champion Cyclocross 35-40y and Co-Belgian champion Cyclocross amateur category. 2022 has been good to me. 

What is your virtual cycling story? How and when did you get involved in esports? What is your most significant accomplishment racing virtually?

When virtual cycling was new, I jumped on the train. Thanks to Zwift, I found joy in cycling again and regained that competitive mentality.

 

I’m someone who’s anything but a lot and long on the bike. Never mind that I would do this in the winter when it can be really wet and cold here. 😔 

 

No, I’m really a “salon-coureur” as they say here.  Someone who only cycles when the weather is good. 🌞 You will, therefore, rarely encounter me outside on the road in the winter but rather find me nice and warm on the bike inside. 

For the limited training hours I make (roughly 5 to 10 hours a week), this is really the way to get the most out of every minute. Truly a life changer who might have helped me break through 15 years ago.

 

My most significant accomplishment racing virtually was to be a member of team Belgium at the UCI Esports World Championships. Then it came very unexpectedly. 

Now I’m proud to say I qualified again for the Worlds! 👌

Click here for Jo’s ZwiftPower!

Click here for his Strava!

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?

I’m very grateful to the Abus-Le Col eRacing team.🙏 I’ve been with the team since the start and can say that I’ve grown every year thanks to them. 

 

The bigger competitions I can participate in because of them are those where you try to go to the extreme and get better.

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 1m83 tall and weigh between 63 and 69 kg all year round. My girlfriend cooks way too well to be sharp as a knife all the time. 🤤 If it really matters, I sometimes try to watch my diet, and then I’m able to stay under that 65 kg.

 

My indoor PB for:

Peak power 1100W

15 second 913W

1-minute 679W

5-minutes 440W

20-minutes 385W

What type of rider are you? Has your riding style evolved as you become more involved and successful in esports?

I think I’m more of an all-rounder. I can do everything a little bit, but just not enough in something to really stand out. I come out best when it’s a very hard race with a constant high pace. 

 

Esports has definitely taken me to the next level. I used to hardly ever get out of the saddle, but esports has allowed me to develop a different riding style. Now I stand on the pedals more often to keep the pace high.

I think teammate Lennert Teugels is a well-known example of this. Although I can’t turn 50-60 RPM but rather around 80. I used to have an average RPM above 100 but felt that it didn’t give me an advantage online.

 

It also helped me outside. A shorter climb will now be taken on the power, on the pedals to keep the speed and no longer in the saddle.

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?

Just watch the Zwift companion app, pick out a race, put on a bib short, fill a bottle, and you’re good to go! Less training, more fun.

 

If you feel there’s something you need to train, you can go to the training programs and search for the one that you want. I really like those interval workouts with hard efforts and short recuperation times.

What are your short and long-term esport goals? Do they involve becoming the UCI Cycling Esports World Champion? What does that mean to you?

I don’t think I’m a good enough sprinter to become a World Champion. Or it has to happen with a late solo attack or a very small group after a hard race where no fast men are left. Never say never. 😉 

 

Becoming a World Champion is really the highest achievable in my eyes.

 

My long-term goal will be trying to compete with the very best. But most of all, keep having fun. 

You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?

Because I’ve been playing the game for a long time, I know how and what to do and when. Course knowledge and a lot of experience are factors that shouldn’t be underestimated. 

 

I can handle quite a bit of effort and am not afraid to take control of the race. Sometimes you have to gamble a bit and don’t wait for the sprint, in my case.

How much do you factor in the gamification side of esports? Is there a learning curve that you must master? How vital are PowerUps and other things unique to virtual cycling?

Virtual cycling is a combination of hard effort, tactics, position in the pack, and correct use of the powerups at the perfect moment,.. 🤓

 

You can be a really strong rider on the road, but if you’re not into gamification, you wouldn’t be that great online.

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?

I think that the top can still increase a lot, but the combination of IRL and ecycling competition on a high level is not ideal.

 

 Many riders prefer riding outside and don’t like it inside on the smart trainer. Even if they have the qualities. Nevertheless, there are more and more riders who fully concentrate on ecycling.

Photo: UCI Gravel World Series

Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?

My setup is in the basement. I use a 15 year old bike with a rotor inpower power meter (as a second power meter), and it is on a Wahoo kickr V5 trainer. (main power) This bike always stays there and never sees the sunlight. And maybe that’s a good thing. It’s not really an award winner! 🤦‍♂️😁

 

The tablet on which I run the cycling software is mounted on my handlebars. I also use three fans. I’m equipped with speakers to play some music and a tripod to set up the mobile phone when there is a zoom participation.

 

Oh yeah, and some championship jerseys in the background to show off. 🤣

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 hear here and there that people are a bit skeptical about the whole esports thing. They have an image of cheaters and assume that there is no control. In small competitions, there are always those who lower their weight by a few kilos or something like that. 

 

But this is certainly excluded in the larger competitions with the mandatory weigh-in videos, dual recording power control, and mandatory heart rate registration. I think this is enough proof that the efforts are indeed justifiable.

Many of your fellow elite eracers have been publicly critical of the lack of standardization in esports. What is your view on the topic?

I am not aware of the criticism that has been expressed. I have not followed this and do not know what has been said. But the fact is that there must be complete control. 

 

With us in the team, it’s also expected to do dual recording, even if it only concerns small competitions. The more data there is, the more credible it comes across. 

 

Although I can imagine that those weigh-ins before the race can also have some effect. It can cause a certain eating disorder to creep into people. And, of course, that can’t be the intention either.

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?

More and more great competitions are added. And other cycling platforms are trying to compete. There are already some races to be streamed via Facebook or Twitch. 

 

But maybe even more publicity will be involved over time. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could set up the TV and follow an ecycling event just like that? 😎📺  Only then would it boom and attract sponsors so that teams can work even more professionally. 💰

The ability to call yourself a professional esporter would be dope! 🤙😜

You can already see that more pros are appearing or strong eracers who are also getting opportunities outside. 💪

What is esports' future amidst the multiple-platform landscape, and where would you like to be positioned?

Perhaps large live events in specially equipped halls where you can work with a whole group. Personally, I find it quite a hassle. And the advantage of quickly getting on the smart trainer at home, in a familiar environment, is gone. Of course, there will also be more stress.

What is your opinion of the new race formats being used during the Zwift Grand Prix and the World Championships?

Not really a huge fan of the new format. Just a little more in favor of the explosive types. For me, personally, the races could take a little longer.

 

I understand they want to make it interesting for the spectators to watch. But in the end, it’s so complicated to be able to handle it as a racer, but certainly as a spectator. Now every time, there is a whole preparation to find out everything; how, what, where, and when.

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?

I think they should start thinking about what they want to achieve with esports. Everything is still in the testing phase. The Zwift GP is a very nice competition where everything revolves around team performance.

 

Multi-day competitions with a classification could also be possible, such as grand tours in real life. With General Classification on time, points, GPMs, etc. 

 

The problem is that most eracers also start work and cannot just coordinate everything with each other.

Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow racers or fans know about you? Please?!?

Not really a juicy exclusive to share.

Sorry for the disappointment. 🤷‍♂️

 

But many don’t know that I inherited the genes from my mother, Hilde Quintens. 👑 

 

A woman to respect with many titles to her name. National titles in cyclocross and many on the mountain bike, in disciplines such as cross-country, downhill, and even world champion downhill in her age category.

 

Competition rode by elite women into their 50s. Rebellin was certainly not the only one.

The floor is yours! Is there anything you would like to say?

I definitely want to thank my girlfriend for all the times she’s on her own with the kids and for the support I get. This is certainly not self-evident; without her, it wouldn’t be possible to achieve something that even looks like a level! 😅

 

Thank you, The Zommunique, for this interview. It’s really an honor! 🙌 

 

The Abus-Le Col team, to give not only this old man a chance but everyone else the opportunities they deserve. 👊

 

RIDE ON! 🤘Enjoy the beautiful things the bike has to offer you. 🥰 

To one of these! 👋

Thank you, Jo!

Anything you'd like to ask Jo?

Ask away. Comment below! I’ll see what I can do.

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