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Zwift Academy Returns with Development Team Ambitions

Similar format to 2016 with additional plans to create support team

After a successful first year that saw Leah Thorvilson join Canyon//SRAM having proved herself via the ‘Zwift Academy’, the online cycling platform has confirmed that the format will return for 2017.

As well as repeating the programme, Zwift have confirmed they are in talks with Canyon//SRAM and hope to establish a development team for the 2018 season using the platform.

Zwift founder and CEO Eric Min said: “[Launching a development team] is a natural progression for Zwift and CANYON//SRAM Racing. This new and unique project will ease many of the budget constraints in women’s cycling by allowing rider talent to be developed online, in many geographies, and within a team structure.”

Ex-runner Leah Thorvilson got a pro contract via the Zwift academy

The digital talent ID programme launched in 2016 with an end goal of recruiting a new rider to join the team with a professional contract and the same approach will be taken though 2017. However, it wasn’t just about seeking out pro-level talent but also nurturing amateurs with quality training.

Over a thousand women signed up to the programme and received structured workouts as they progressed through the ‘Zwift Academy’. Weekly group rides and discussion forums provided a friendly community – albeit virtual – for women to connect.

Zwift lets you see your progress on the bike when you’re training indoors

TWC asked Catherine Gaskell to take part in the programme and she commented: “I completed the programme… 2 days before the deadline and am really looking forward to getting back outside more but also adding in a Zwift workout at least once a week. It has really helped me to see the benefit of more specific training sessions. It was great ‘riding with others’ virtually and it definitely reduced the turbo boredom. The Academy laid on ‘ride leaders’ too who were also great, and gave tips on how best to tackle the sprints and hills.”

Describing the community created, she added: “The Zwift Academy Facebook group was great during this tough time as everyone was going through the same pain. It’s been a fantastic support and it was great to have met loads of other female cyclists from around the world.”

Zwift, and managers at Canyon//SRAM, hope that to reach even more women over 2017’s Academy and have set a goal of attracting 3600 riders as  well as recruiting another expert rider for 2018.

Team manager, Ronny Lauke commented: “Zwift has showed itself as a credible talent identification platform and the 2016 Zwift Academy proved that CANYON//SRAM Racing were committed to adding a new dimension to women’s cycling in their very first season. Our Year 2 program will build on what we achieved in 2016 by delivering new angles to boost registrations and benefits for all participants.”

“The best thing was that any female cyclist could take part and benefit, whether they were a newbie, an enthusiast or a racer.” – Tiffany Cromwell, Canyon//SRAM rider

Team rider Tiffany Cromwell added: “Zwift Academy became famous when Leah Thorvilson earned a UCI World Tour contract but the very notion of an academy meant everyone should benefit. In 2016 the Zwift Academy brought together a global community of female cyclists who supported and encouraged each other regardless of ability level or experience on the bike. The best thing was that any female cyclist could take part and benefit, whether they were a newbie, an enthusiast or a racer. I’m looking forward to seeing this inclusive vibe go from strength to strength in 2017”.

Registration for the second Zwift Academy is expected to open in June, with qualification beginning in September. As per the 2016 version, participants will complete group rides, structured sessions – but eRacing will be an additional element during the semi-final stage in November.

Zwift uses power and rider weight data to mimic what would happen outdoors – virtual riders competing against each other will fall back if they soft pedal and surge past the group if they attack – just as they would outdoors. This already happens on a Zwift group ride, eRacing just takes the experience to another level and will give Academy members the chance to test their tactical abilities.

Zwift’s Eric Min siad: “eSport is coming to cycling and Zwift is leading the charge. Introducing a racing component to Zwift Academy provides the judges with another important evaluation component. Zwift Academy racing will be an ideal testing ground for measuring and gauging new talent in a fair, effective, competitive environment.”

As per the 2016 Academy, three 2017 Zwift Academy finalists will be invited to the Canyon//SRAM Racing team camp at the end of 2017 and one will be chosen as a 2018 rider. Details of the development team are yet to be firmed up.

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