Almost a year ago it was announced that CANYON//SRAM Pro Cycling would offer a pro contract to one woman who made it through the Zwift Academy and today the winner was announced.
Over 1200 women signed up to the first stage of the process and all of them benefited from completing structured training sessions via the online platform. Eventually, testing whittled the riders down to just twelve, then three.
The three semi-finalists - Jessie Donovan, Leah Thorvilson, and Yvonne van Hattum – spent the last week in Majorca with the team and today it was announced that Leah Thorvilson will join the squad for 2017.
Thorvilson is a former US Olympic trials marathon runner who took up cycling after injuries prevented her from running in 2015. The 37-year-old quickly fell in love with the new discipline and used Zwift to pack workouts into what limited time she had.
"Prior to Zwift Academy, I never would have guessed this was possible."
The final episode of the Zwift Academy video diaries showed Thorvilson lost for words after she heard she had won. Speaking once she’d had time to digest the information, she commented: “It’s been an incredible journey and a totally surreal experience. Prior to Zwift Academy, I never would have guessed this was possible. [Finalists] Jessie and Yvonne are tremendous athletes whom I now consider close friends. I’m so grateful for the opportunity, and I can’t wait to begin this next chapter with the CANYON//SRAM Racing team."
The Academy process saw 1,200 women sign up to the first stage, where they completed group rides and structured training sessions using the indoor riding platform. CANYON//SRAM rider Tiffany Cromwell announced the competition eleven months ago and commented: “Our team is about challenging conventions and we’re super proud of Leah. It’d be an honour to have any of the Zwift Academy finalists on team for 2017; they’ve literally put their lives on hold for this opportunity, but Leah distinguished herself in making the final cut. Leah is a welcome addition here."
The idea of using the platform to seek out a new rider is certainly unconventional but CANYON//SRAM have broken from the status quo in many ways and retaining all nine of their 2015 riders is a strong sign that they’ve created a positive environment in which riders feel happy and secure.
Team manager, Ronny Lauke said: “When you see an idea really become something, it’s an amazing feeling. We took a chance with the Zwift Academy and we’re very pleased with the potential we saw not only in Leah, but in the other finalists as well. Watching and seeing all these women dedicate themselves to the sport, it makes one wonder how many more are overlooked."
Thorvilson now faces many challenges as she develops her natural strength to face the speeds of the pro peloton. Lauke added: “The immediate future is about further preparing Leah for bike racing at a professional level. The learning curve is going to be incredibly steep, but we will provide a plan with some specific areas for her to work on over the rest of winter. Leah will have a training program from our team coach and together we'll discuss the first part of the season. It would be great to see her preparing to race sometime in spring."
The six-month Zwift Academy program was supported by CANYON//SRAM team partners Rapha, Wahoo Fitness, Zipp, and Quarq.
Intrigued about what Zwift is all about? Check out our reader diary 'Virtual Training through Injury: Using Zwift to Survive Three Months off the Bike'.