The path to a professional cycling contract may be in your living room: Canyon-SRAM and Zwift launch talent competition

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UCI Women’s World Tour team Canyon-SRAM is taking a novel approach to talent identification, on Thursday announcing it will partner with Zwift and use the social fitness platform to help pick a member of its squad in 2017.

The search for a rider, labelled ‘The Canyon-SRAM Racing and Zwift Academy Project’, is set to start in March 2016 with riders who enter completing a series of tasks on Zwift to identify their physical attributes and potential. The field will be reduced through 2016 until only three riders are left. The final remaining female amateur athletes will then compete on virtual and real roads for the chance to become a professional.

“The world is full of young cyclists with raw talent that we may not be noticing. That’s a huge problem for the sport and we want to challenge this as much as possible,” Canyon//SRAM director Ronny Lauke said in a statement “Of course, there are other criteria to becoming a pro cyclist, like attitude, bike handling and a good tactical brain, but without an exceptional engine you won’t get too far.”

The road to a professional contract in the women’s peloton is far from easy, with limited opportunities for development and even those that do exist have been shown to be vulnerable in the past year. Cycling Australia announced a cut to its European development program last year, although it was quickly replaced with the High5 Australian Women’s Road Development Team, and Swiss Cycling’s support and development program for elite road riders was cut after the loss of a major sponsor.

“Unfortunately the development pathways for female riders don’t compare to the men’s side of the sport,” Canyon-SRAM rider Tiffany Cromwell, who launched the competition during a Zwift virtual bunch ride, said in a statement. “But rather than swim against the tide, we’re taking the bull by the horns and shaking things up with Zwift. Cycling’s stars possess extraordinary physical attributes and we’re confident one or two of those rough diamonds are out there to be unearthed on the Zwift platform.”

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