Henrique Avancini is a Brazilian powerhouse on the World Cup circuit. His rise in the sport has been steady yet he has made a strong impact on his competition and the World. Not only is he a consistent World Cup contender he also hosts two TV shows and employs 17 people in Brazil.
Bec: Henrique, you have been riding and racing bikes almost your whole life, at least since you were a young boy. In 2017 you achieved your first Top 10 in a World Cup and backed it up with the 4th place at the World Championships the same year. It seems that was your breakthrough as you stepped it up again in 2018 and 2019 taking World Cup win’s in the Short Track and several podiums across both XC and Short Track. Tell us a bit about your early years racing World Cup’s before people know who Henrique Avancini was.
Henrique: I’m around for a while, even if a lot of people didn’t notice. My first international try was back in 2009. I took all my money and went to Cyprus. My hope was to do well enough to get a team in Europe. A few things happened on this solo trip and I ended up in need to race for a top 10 result every race otherwise I wouldn't have money for food the next week.
In the end of 4 weekends of racing I got a contract with a team based in Italy. I spent 3 years there and could never really make a big step up. My best result as an Under 23 was a top 20. During this time a team manager told me that maybe I should reconsider my career cause I didn't have what it takes to be a good rider in Europe.
And I did that! I just realized that I was not talented enough to just do the same like the other guys were doing. Doing the same type of training just put me on an average level.
Once I moved to the Elite in 2012, I just decided to change my way of working. I told myself: “I’m not that good, but I gonna learn how to try harder than anyone else”. After that I started smashing myself, and obviously faced some big up and downs waves, but little by little I was getting there. In 2013, I achieved my first top 30. In 2014 my first top 25. In 2017 my first Top 10. In 2018 my first World Cup Podium and then a win in Short track… all of a sudden people just realized I was there for years.
B: You have won in the World Cup Short Track and been so close in the cross country, is the plan to keep doing what your doing to continue your progression or are you making changes to make your first XC win happen?
H: It will come. I started 2019 believing that I could achieve that. In 2020 I started knowing that I'll get there. I needed more racing at the front experience. I don't have as much racing experience (for big events) as the top guys. I still don't, but I see myself on a good place now.
The difference is that on the other hand, I believe that the top guys don't have the same training experience that I do. I worked so much in so many areas over the years that this gives me a small advantage over those guys.
When a rider is super talented they developed fixed protocols. At one point they don't feel confident to make big changes. It's too risky! As I never saw myself as a talented rider, I feel open to change.
B: In 2018 you won the Marathon World Championships earning the Rainbow jersey. Is this your career highlight so far and was it a big focus for you?
H: I came prepared, for sure! We wanted to do both World Champs on a good condition. The week before I finished 4th in Lenzerheide, and it was a massive frustration to me. Next week I started with just one goal: Win.
It is the highlight of my career and I'm really happy with all I could achieve after becoming a World Champion. Also, I lived in the same area for some time, during the period I was not so sure if I would be able to continue to follow my dreams as a pro Mountain Biker. To go back to the same mountains and become World Champion was quite something.
B: You have a very strong personality and you are not afraid to put yourself out there and throw your weight around both on and off the bike. You are aggressive in your racing and you take opportunities, do you think your determination is one of your biggest strengths and does it ever get in the way of making good decisions tactically?
H: I don't see myself as an aggressive person. I have a big passion for riding and racing bikes and I like to fight for things I want to achieve. I race the way I do, cause I don't like to win when things just fall in place. I love to win (or achieve a good result) when I feel that I made it happen. Every big win I had in my career I was very pro active in the race. I like to race that way, but it's not easy to capitalize.
B: What kind of mindset do you approach a race with? Do you pre determine how your race is going to play out? Do you focus only on your own performance or does your race plan depend on other riders? Do you have expectations for results and positions and how do you re-assess during the race if things aren’t going your way?
H: I like to plan things, a lot! One thing that MTB has taught me is that you need to deal with adversity, cause it is always there. I like to read the race and adapt the plan I have in mind.
B: You’re a huge deal in Brasil, what team do you have around you personally to help keep up with the demands of your success and fame?
H: Everything just went bigger and bigger. In 2012 I had no contract, now I have a TV Show, 2 UCI Teams, a training centre and a bike shop. I work with the National Federation and race organizers to develop the sport and have some personal social projects. At times I have no idea how I can handle all that. All the projects employee 17 people.
Basically my father helps me to control expenses and I have a personal assistant to help me out with general things. In general I'm still ahead of everything.
B: There are not many successful racers out of South America, what makes you different?
H: I stopped fighting against what makes me different. First, I wanted to become a "European". After many years I understood that my cultural origin should never be left apart. So I kept learning from the best in our sport, but I put attention on developing the characteristics that I got from my roots. I'm no better than other South Americans. But we tend to put drop our heads when we think we are not as good as other people. I just refused to act this way.
B: I know first hand there are a lot of extra challenges on the riders who live outside of Europe when it comes to racing, what have you found to be your biggest challenges in this area over the years?
H: In the first years I never felt really welcome. This aspect always bothered me a lot. Nowadays is for sure to keep the amount of travelling I do. I can't afford myself to live in Europe for long periods cause of the other projects I have in Brasil, so going backs and forwards is quite a big challenge.
B: You spend quite a lot of time with your team during the offseason, in an individual sport how much does the team play a role in your success?
H: I guess it’s very important when you are in a place where you are important to people and the same the other way around. This is how I feel with the team. The mutual trust makes me want more for myself and for them.
B: To represent your country at the Olympic Games is already a huge privilege, but to do it in your home country at Rio 2016 must have been an incredible experience?
H: It was shocking actually. I struggled so much that season with a vertebra injury and I was so much under stress that I couldn't really enjoy the Games. During the race I overstretched a muscle and got a new injury. I had to stay away from my bike for 2 months. Something that I never did in my life since I was 8 years old. This period was very important to me to rest and reset.
B: Finishing with the two tough questions. You stand by three simple statements. Follow Jesus. Work harder. Don’t dope.
The speculations are not new but it has recently been confirmed that your former teammate Helen Grobert tested positive for testosterone in November 2017 and received a four year ban from racing. How did you feel when you found out?
H: I went mad and sad when I got the news. I never like when I see someone testing positive, but when it is a team mate it’s horrible, cause all that puts the job of people you like under risk.
At the time, we were asked to not comment anything cause for weird reasons it was not an open case and stayed like that for years. I'm happy that this came to light. Some people knew in the backstage and I think it's important to show that a rider who made a wrong choice is paying for that.
B: You had quite a run in with Nino Schurter at the Cape Epic last year and were quoted saying ‘He just gives shit to every rider, in the peloton you know. Nobody knows this side of him and I really hate that. I’m a guy who has worked quite hard to get on this level, to get on this point of a professional career.’ You were not afraid to speak up for how you felt but it also indicates that you haven’t had an easy road to get to where you are. How do you feel about the way the elite of the elite treat the other riders and is it important to you to be open and respectful of the emerging talents?
H: I understand that, for a guy who has been always at the top, is not easy to accept some kind people. I try to respect every rider, no matter who they are. I expect at least the same effort. The main reason why I spoke out is because the way he behaves when people see and when people don't see is very different. We are two different types of persons. I don't consider myself better or worse in any aspect, just different.
Photo: Supercup Massi