Benji Naesen: How a Gamer Became a Pro Cycling Analyst


, by Fabienne Lang

All photography courtesy of: Benji Naesen

Cycling has taken Benji Naesen on a whirlwind journey, transforming every aspect of his life in the most unexpected ways. From a childhood game to love, from health struggles to a thriving career, cycling has become an integral part of his existence.

At the age of nine, Benji's interest in cycling sparked through the virtual world of Pro Cycling Manager. "It's not because I saw Tom Boonen winning on TV or because I was cycling myself. Of course, as a Belgian, I knew about Tom Boonen. Otherwise, I would have probably been kicked out of the country," he chuckles. Little did he know that this childhood hobby would lead him to shed 20 kilos, conquer mountains, and cycle his way into a new life.

‘What’s Pro Cycling Manager?’ – we hear you ask. “It’s an online game where you manage your own cycling team and try and win races,” Benji explains. “You got to get to know your riders well, so as a consequence, I got to know what was important in cycling. I didn’t really have any plans to do anything in cycling.”

Benji Naesen with Lanterne Rouge co-host Patrick Broe and Remco Evenepoel (L).

Fast-forward 17 years, Benji is now a renowned pro cycling analyst who swapped his gaming chair for an office chair and a bike saddle. Co-hosting the popular 'Lanterne Rouge Cycling Podcast' and creating relatable content on his YouTube channel, he’s also found himself in a one-off consulting role with Team Jumbo-Visma. Moreover, you are likely to find him virtually pedaling in a Zwift race or up a real mountain. Reflecting on his gaming roots, Benji explains, "I was going to become a coder."

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From gaming to coding, and then to cycling, little did then-teenager Benji know that his gaming hobby would become a flourishing business. In just a few years, he transformed from a developer with no social life and health issues to a thriving content creator, cyclist, and analyst. The turning point came in 2022 when he faced burnout and health problems, “I had no social life to dream of and did no physical activity,” he admits, prompting him to reassess his life. Co-hosting the 'Lanterne Rouge Cycling Podcast' with Patrick Broe had already given him a taste of success in the cycling world, with the podcast's listenership skyrocketing from 4,000 to over 100,000 in just two years. In that timeframe he knew he wanted to focus on the sport: “I wanted to get in better shape and I wanted to cycle more,” he says.

With a clear goal in mind, Benji turned to Zwift as his training partner, embarking on an indoor cycling journey that became a weight-loss success story. "I lost 20 kilos, mostly cycling using Zwift because I enjoyed indoor cycling. It was in the comfort of my home, and that was fun," he grins. Zwift became the catalyst for his content creation journey, with a YouTube channel that quickly gained over 26,000 subscribers.

Benji Naesen lost 20kg in nine months.

More than that, gamer and developer Benji, who was used to spending up to 14 hours a day in his office chair until the start of 2022, would have never pictured himself cycling to the top of the mighty Col d’Ordino in Andorra or along the famed cobblestones of Oude Kwaremont in his home, Flanders, by the end of 2023 – less than two years after he picked up cycling.

These cycling achievements will remain etched in his memory forever. Looking back on his Ordino triumph, he recalls how his now-wife, who had cycled up the opposite side of the mountain, came whistling past him when he was 2km from the top. “I was not having it anymore and then she descended past me and said ‘Come on! You can do it!’ which kept me going until the top.”

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Benji's transformation wasn't just physical; it extended to his approach to life. His motto of "be better than yesterday" resonates in both his physical training and business ventures. As he transitioned to full-time content creation, he found success in authenticity and relatability. “I don’t consider myself an expert at all so I wouldn’t ever risk giving training advice. My cycling journey has been a game of trial and error! But the one thing I’ll say is: During a cycling journey, you shouldn't be comparing yourself to other people if you're trying to improve yourself. Just focus on yourself and compare your progress to who you were yesterday,’ he advises.

Benji Naesen with Lanterne Rouge co-host Patrick Broe at Rouleur Live.

“Consistency is also key. Taking small steps regularly, setting a long-term goal, and being happy with the results, even if they’re small to start off with, they’re still significant,” he explains.

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Amid all these career highs and fitness triumphs, Benji's top moment shines as bright as the morning dawn: "Meeting my wife," he beams. Their paths crossed in Budapest during the 2022 Giro, “I met my wife through cycling. That's probably the most memorable moment, the most important moment in my life. Without Pro Cycling Manager, I would have never met my wife.” From conquering mountains to finding love, Benji's cycling journey is a tribute to facing fears, pushing boundaries, and embracing unexpected adventures along the way. So, hop on your bike and join Benji in the ride of a lifetime!

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