An interview with Team France and Hexagone’s elite cyclist Sebastien Havot.
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 26 years old and live next to Reims in the east of France. I’m a halftime cyclist, and I work 2-3 days a week as a cook depending on my cycling schedule. I like spending time with my friends (often on the bike), crafting different things, or playing video games.
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 8, racing MTB, road, and CX in my town club. I became U19 France CX Champion in 2014, 10th in European Championship, and 15th in Worlds Championship.
The following year I became an Elite road racer in France, and I chose to race only on the road joining a National 1 team. In the eight years racing this level, I did some top 5 in 1.2 and 2.2 races (3rd of Tour d’Eure et Loir, 5th of GP de Lillers).
Some injuries (2 collarbones) and COVID stopped my season, so I never had the chance to reach a professional contract. Then I decided to have more fun on the bike, so I went back to CX, started ecycling, and rode my bike for new challenges
What is your virtual cycling story? How and when did you get involved in esports? What is your most significant accomplishment racing virtually?
For a long time, ecycling wasn’t appealing to me. I was not too fond of home trainers and used them only on rainy days. In August 2021, Romain Malbreil, the manager of the team who became Hexagone, started to create a team to race ZRL in the winter.
He contacted my friend Pierre Fell who used to race on Zwift and was among the best french riders. There was still one place on the team, so Pierre tried to convince me to join the group. At first, I wasn’t very up for this, but on a rainy day, we raced together, and he guided me during the race, and finally, I won.
So I said ok to join the team but as a tenth man. I did some races during the first ZRL season, and my teammates taught me how to race. I started to have good results and had a lot of fun. After the second season, we finished 2nd in the ZRL playoffs and participated in the Zwift Knockouts, where we reached the final.
My last race in this competition was in the quarterfinals, the elimination race I won against Abus LeCol. It was my most significant result when I realized that I could compete against the best riders in the world.
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?
As I said, I wouldn’t have started ecycling without the team. Now we are one of the best teams in the world, and we have many riders who race every week. We work together, learn together and have a lot of fun. We all give our best to be on top.
I love the team atmosphere; it’s the essential part.
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 179cm tall, around 66-67 kg.
My indoors PBs are :
15 sec : 1067w / 16.11 w/kg
1 min : 691w / 10.43 w/kg
5 min : 461w / 6.96 w/kg
20 min : 379w / 5.72 w/kg
What type of rider are you? Has your riding style evolved as you become more involved and successful in esports?
I’m a complete rider. I can sprint, and I can climb. The best races for me are when it’s hard but not so much to stay with the best climbers but when sprinters get dropped. I really love these races.
As a good sprinter, I often wait for the last km on the big races like Zwift Grand Prix. We have different roles in the team, and this is usually mine. I’m more offensive in other races, and I like to try to win in a breakaway.
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?
I don’t have any workouts that I like more than others. What I love is to do something different every day. I go training on the road, in CX, in MTB, or on Zwift, which allows me not to fall into a routine where I do the same thing every week. Of course, as a racer, the goal is to be more successful, so since I’m an eracer, I work a lot on my sprint, and I also felt this on the road.
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 take it step-by-step. One year ago, I would not have imagined racing at this level. Of course, becoming World Champion is a dream. I think it is for every eracer. This year I have the chance to be selected for the French team to race in the world championships. The level will be very high, but one true thing is that I’ll give my best to be ready, and then why not?
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
One of my best qualities is always learning from my mistakes and remembering what happened in previous races. I spend a lot of time analyzing my races to improve on the next ones.
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?
I think we have to keep this part of gamification because this is esport, it’s a game, and this is why we like ecycling, which makes races more fun and tactical. Of course, you need to master this to be competitive, we see many racers coming from the road or other sides with big watts who don’t win races, but this is the same in every video 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?
I think so. Ecycling is still very young and needs time to grow, but the racing format is shorter and more intense. I like watching as much as racing, and it has become popular.
For a few years, we have seen the UCI interested in this discipline, and more and more national federations are doing the same. I’m looking forward to seeing which place will take up ecycling in a few years.
This year, the french federation created its own competition, the Coupe de France Ecycling. It is a great initiative to develop ecycling in our country, we see some road racers taking part in these races, and I hope it’ll stay that way.
Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?
My pain cave is in the basement of my house. I race on a Saris H4 loaned by my team. I’m using two computers, the first for Zwift and the second for streaming or watching movies or other things when I’m not racing. Also, I’m dual-recording my races with a Quarq D Zero on my Garmin.
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 have many “community Zwifters” talking to me about cheating on weight or calibration, who think it’s easy. I explained the weight verification process, the ZADA pre-verification Data request, and the dual recording. After that, how would you be illegitimate?
For me, the next step is to have doping controls. If we want to see ecycling at the same level as other UCI disciplines, we must be controlled at the same level.
Many of your fellow elite eracers have been publicly critical of the lack of standardization in esports. What is your view on the topic?
Rules are good for Zwift Grand Prix or big races, but for others, it’s free, with no weight verification or minimum accuracy smart-trainer. I understand that it’s a lot of work to check every rider, but I think we can find solutions.
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?
In the last year, we’ve seen races becoming shorter, with different formats. That’s the big difference from what we know about road races, and I think this is a great idea. We’ve got to make tactical choices for racers that make races very strategic. We do a lot of preparation before each race to choose the best strategy.
If we want to see the discipline at the same level as others in cycling, we don’t have to do the same as road races on a smart trainer. I mean long races with the first across-the-finish line win, but create our own characteristics.
What is esports' future amidst the multiple-platform landscape, and where would you like to be positioned?
Personally, I know only Zwift. I never tried anything else. Positioning ecycling on different platforms would permit the scene to grow. But Zwift is still the best for me!
What is your opinion of the new race formats being used during the Zwift Grand Prix and the World Championships?
I like it, it’s something we have already tested in the Zwift Grand Prix, and it’s more attractive for spectators with three different races. As a racer, I can’t compare to the previous format because, as I said previously, I’m young in ecycling, and it’s only my first season in elite racing.
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?
If we compare ecycling five years ago and today, it has grown at a crazy speed. Now we have structured teams with sponsors and races with prize money. I hope in five subsequent years we’ll have teams with pro-eracers, a professional division with real-life events like the Super League in triathlon.
Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow racers or fans know about you? Please?!?
On road races, my teams provide us with all the food we need before each race, and last year I kept each energy gel in my bag to use on Zwift.
The floor is yours! Is there anything you would like to say?
Starting Zwift racing was one of my best decisions, and I would advise everyone to do the same!
Thank you, and good luck, Sebastien!
Connect with Sebastien!
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!