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Canyon-SRAM has announced the winner of its novel approach to talent identification, the Zwift Academy. Beating out 1,200 participants world-wide, American Leah Thorvilson has been awarded a pro contract with the Canyon-SRAM cycling team.
“It’s been an incredible journey and a totally surreal experience,” said Thorvilson. “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.”
Thorvilson, 37, is a former US Olympic Marathon Trials runner who fell in love with cycling only a year ago after injuries prevented her from running.
“I was told [in 2015] that I might not ever be able to run again, so for sanity’s sake, I begrudgingly bought a bike. I never expected to enjoy cycling. I was terrified of it. One ride in, July 2, 2015, and I was hooked,” she told Zwift. “I have logged nearly 12,000 miles since and loved every bit of it.”
In the program, participants completed structured training and testing sessions for several months using Zwift. Part training tool, part multiplayer online game and part social network, Zwift enables cyclists to virtually ride together in real time and compete on the virtual copies of famous race courses while never leaving their own home.
The talent pool was eventually dwindled down to three finalists who were invited to join Canyon-SRAM at their training camp in Mallorca, Spain last week for some final rides and testing.
In the end, 14 weeks after starting the program, Thorvilson beat out finalists Jessie Donovan and Yvonne van Hattum to be offered a spot on one of women’s cycling’s biggest teams.
“It’s not been an easy decision,” said Ronny Lauke, the Canyon-SRAM’s director sportif. But Thorvilson was exactly what he was hoping to find, a proven athlete but also a ‘rough diamond to develop’.
“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.” he said.
Australian rider Tiffany Cromwell is pleased with the new recruit, stating, “Our team is about challenging conventions and we’re super proud of Leah,” commented rider Tiffany Cromwell. “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.”
Meet Thorvilson in Zwift’s latest video, here.