INTERVIEW Benji Naesen Part 1 | Becoming a mainstream content creator, Lanterne Rouge Cycling Podcast, Zwift and 2023 plans (2024)

"I basically got into cycling because I played Pro Cycling Manager as a kid, much that I was so intrigued by that I knew so much about it that it was like, this is something I want to follow. And I got in depth into following it by 2008, 2009... When I was hardcore watching every single race I'd say 2014."

Pro Cycling Manager (or PCM for abbreviation) is one of the most popular cycling videogames, specially when it comes to road cycling, a discipline which at times does not gather as much excitement as the likes of BMX and downhill which have a more mainstream and skills-based approach.

However, it was in this game that Naesen began to grow within the cycling world. "I had aYouTube channel on the side that I started 2015 where I started making PCM videos, created stories about teams that are Continental (level) tryingto build them up in that game to get them to win the Tour de France, creating my own stories. And shockingly, people were interestedby that," he explains. "At the start, you're justmaking that content because you're enjoying the game. But over time, it becomesclear that there's actually content there for people to watch if you make itintriguing enough. So that grew over the years to the point that other peoplesaw what I did, other people noticed what I knew about cycling because of thatgame."

INTERVIEW Benji Naesen Part 1 | Becoming a mainstream content creator, Lanterne Rouge Cycling Podcast, Zwift and 2023 plans (1)

Naesen was a prominent figure in the game's community, having been a key part of the WorldDB - which remains to this day the most subscribed fan-driven database in the entire game. Having briefly written for Etape.CC, Naesen understood that the motivation and interest from fans were the PCM series.

This has seen him become one of the most popular PCM Youtubers and gain a meaningful online presence. A following of 16.7k subscribers on Youtube (at the time of writing) sees him as the most followed English-speaking content creator of the game. However after building a community through his video creation, he has grown in social media to become a familiar face in many other fields when it came to cycling.

INTERVIEW Benji Naesen Part 1 | Becoming a mainstream content creator, Lanterne Rouge Cycling Podcast, Zwift and 2023 plans (2)

How did he make the transition? "The issue was that I didn't really know where to start... I do try and make sure that opportunities present itself. As in, I try to follow the right people, I try to interact with the right people. When it comes to Twitter, I try to connect with the right people. Even on LinkedIn, I try to connect with the right people to see, can opportunities be presented to me here? Can I actually get something going here? I try to talk with random people saying 'oh this is what I do. What do you think about maybe collaborating in the future?' Stuff like that."

Sure enough this strategy eventually worked. As Naesen himself stated in the interview, "I think networking is something I'm really good at", which has seen him create a web of contacts through many sides of the cycling community; whether it was other fans, content creators and journalists. One of those creators was Patrick Broe - more commonly known as 'Lanterne Rouge'. An Australian lawyer, Broe had made a name of himself with extensive race analysis videos and the two linked up to create something which would grow the platforms of both: Lanterne Rouge Cycling Podcast.

INTERVIEW Benji Naesen Part 1 | Becoming a mainstream content creator, Lanterne Rouge Cycling Podcast, Zwift and 2023 plans (3)

With 30.7k subscribers (at the time of writing) the Podcast has become one of the most viewed of it's kind. "One ofthose people was Patrick of Lanterne Rouge... I've never thought about starting a podcast. And he was like 'mate,I've actually thought about starting a podcast. How about we do a podcasttogether?" He said. And the idea was born," Naesen described.

Their first episode was regarding the 2020 Bretagne Classic, "we felt like there was chemistry. So we winged it. And that worked in Plouay.We had about 2,000, 3,000 listeners on our first podcast, which is only thecase because we both had an audience beforehand from each of our YouTubechannels. And from that point, it started escalating to the front after that,went to 5,000 and then the Pogacar Roglic stage (2020 Tour de France stage 20, ed.) went to 20,000 at theend. So that was crazy."

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"But obviously that one stage at20,000 doesn't change your audience to 20,000 people," he acknowledges. Releasing their podcast on several platforms however, the duo have begun to achieve consistently higher numbers. In 2022 the popularity of both has seen both take a shot at working in the sport full-time, with Lanterne Rouge Media. Whilst Broe has in the meantime become Andorra's first certified UCI agent, Naesen continues to be a content creator, working with several brands including Zwift and The Breakaway apps, aswell as his position in the podcast and several temporary appearances and gigs in other forms of media.

"For example, in even 2022, I was interacting at the start of the year to people working for Sporza, a host for the Tour de France official talk show at the end of the day after the Tour de France race in Belgium," Naesen says. "I think like 700k live viewers, which is kind of crazy." None were perhaps as extraordinary as the analyst and tactics planning role that he and Broe took part in together with Jumbo-Visma throughout the 2022 season including the Tour de France - which will be discussed in part 2 of this interview.

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A former web developer, Naesen took the leap in 2022. "Since January 2022 this is my full-time job... So as a consequence, you're always looking at opportunities and ways to improve the business of your content while making sure that the content remains the number one priority." This has seen him more recently personally partnering with online training platform Zwift which has become over the last few years an incredibly popular features amongst amateur and professional cyclists, specifically geared towards indoor training.

"I had connections with Zwift, for example, who came to me with the idea of starting a series with them which was to become a sports director (DS, ed.) evolve an eSports team and try to beat their competition... Now I did have the idea because I had been trying to lose weight for the year in 2022, I lost 20 kilos, and that was a big move for me," he continued, combining this new format with his more traditional PCM series, which continue to gather a large audience.

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"I'll be honest about it, there's the factor of 'I think this is great content' and there's a second factor of 'I think it's healthy for me'. The third factor of 'I'm actually really enjoying making that stuff', and the fourth factor that 'I think I'm going to have it easier to obtain merge sponsors or an equipment sponsor'."

This strategy displays the mindset behind some of his decisions. A mindset which has, in both past and present, proved effective at getting Naesen in the cycling world professionally, despite having a far from traditional uprising. "That's something that Business Benji has in mind when making an idea like that, because at a certain point, being a content creator is all about making content. But at a certain point, it starts becoming a bit of a business that you have to run as well, because I have to survive as well."

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Networking and marketing himself feels like something Naesen was born with. An easy-going person, he has taken the time to explain: "I think it is important to try and be that, though, because when I look at what I am in the industry, I consider myself at the moment an influencer or a cycling commentator, as in not on TV, but someone that commentates on cycling on the internet and so forth".

Heading into 2023, Naesen is one of the faces of cycling's new type of media. As some traditional outlets have suffered through 2022, opportunities arise for new types of content in an ever-changing environment, and an ever-growing audience for the sport which every year becomes more international, and sees it's women's racing calendar expand very significantly.

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So what will be Naesen's plans for a brand new year? "The goal with the podcast is basically to continue what we're doing, make sure that the quality that we deliver already doesn't go down," he answers, aswell as "we are probably going to try and do more in-course and stuff," referring to more presences at races such as was the case in Budapest, Hungary, where Naesen met Broe for the first time in-person.

"We're also playing with the idea of live shows at some point during 2023 in certain places. We're not far with the idea yet, so don't get your hopes up yet, but plenty of stuff like that. Potential watch-alongs at certain races where we watched the last hour of a race together," he says is another possibility for the evolution of the Podcast channel in 2023.

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"There'salso a few other things that I can't talk about that we're considering, butthat's the main grasp. We just want to do what we do, but better," Naesen confirms. "Let's behonest about it, I feel like we're at a point where we are at or nearingthe point where we're one of the most listened to podcasts in the world when itcomes to cycling. So we need to make sure that we live at that standard."

Now, outsideof that, on my personal YouTube channel, I alreadymentioned that I went from PCM into other content towardsDecember, where I started making videos together with Zwift," he details. "I also have thecontent now where I do my own personal cycling journey. That first episode wasup where I talked about my previous weight loss journey and the goal is tocontinue on that and continue that going where I occasionally throughout theyear, hopefully at minimum monthly."

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"Next to that, there's also stuff in media,for example. I'm starting to get picked up by Belgian media a bit, I'm notsure that's something I want to go through because I'm more a content creator than a media person. There is a team that's having an Amazon series in 2023,I've had a day where I did records as an on-screen analyst .I'm trying outopportunities that are being thrown at me," he concludes.

Part 2 of the interview with Benji will be regarding his work with Jumbo-Visma throughout the 2022 season. You can check his platforms over on Twitter and Youtube where he frequently posts different types of content.

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INTERVIEW Benji Naesen Part 1 | Becoming a mainstream content creator, Lanterne Rouge Cycling Podcast, Zwift and 2023 plans (2024)
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