Meet Maud Oudeman, Zwift Academy winner

The 18-year-old talks about keeping her cool, meeting her new teammates, and diving into the Classics.

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It’s been three months since Dutchwoman Maud Oudeman found out she had won a Women’s WorldTour contract with Canyon-SRAM. The then-17-year-old would-be pro entered the sixth edition of the Zwift Academy in September 2021 alongside hundreds of thousands of male and female hopefuls competing for a contract with either Canyon-SRAM or Alpecin-Fenix.

“I was still in my road season so I did my road race on the weekends and then during the week, I tried to finish all the workouts we had to do,” she tells me over video call from her second training camp with Canyon-SRAM. “I was already super happy that they saw me and that I made it to the finals.” 

The finals took place just a few months after her 18th birthday and, although 2021 was the sixth edition of the Zwift Academy for women, it was the first year that the process was made into a reality-TV-style series on YouTube, produced by GCN. 

In a kind of Love Island-meets-pro-cycling mash-up, both the male and female contestants were sent to a Mallorcan villa where they underwent five days of challenges designed to determine who was most suited to their respective pro team. Oudeman, though, was far too calm and collected to let the bright lights get to her. 

“The filming didn’t put any more pressure on me I think,” she says. “Sometimes it was just a bit hectic and we weren’t really used to being in front of the cameras as well.”

In fact, she is glad that the process has been immortalised for the YouTube series. “I think it was really nice that they filmed it because now we can just look back and we have all the footage of the challenges in the week,” she says. So yeah, it was an extra factor in the week, but I don’t think it put any more pressure on us.”

For the most part, Oudeman simply enjoyed the taste of a pro training camp. “It was really nice to be in the kit and to really become like a little part of the team to see how that feels,” she says. “Kasia [Niewiadoma], Elise [Chabbey], and Neve [Bradbury] were there so it was nice to meet them and to hear the stories, especially from [previous Zwift Academy winner] Neve, about what’s going to happen and how it works.

“And yeah, near the end of the week, I really felt like, ‘OK, this is definitely what I want.’ And the living this week is like, yeah, living the dream. So if I would win, then I’m extremely happy that I become pro.”

Despite her youth, Oudeman stayed calm throughout the entire process, with Canyon-SRAM DS Beth Duryea describing the Dutch youngster as “really calculated with her efforts and with her tactics and how she reacts to things” and “beyond her years of experience in racing … very impressive.” 

Oudeman sums up her experience as “really nice” and while some might use different adjectives to describe turning oneself inside out on an indoor trainer or up Mallorca’s famous Sa Calobra climb, Oudeman completed every task with aplomb.

Although she was one of the quieter personalities in the group, her efforts on both the real-life and virtual roads spoke volumes. She decimated the field in almost every task including the final race on Zwift where, despite having put more than one minute into her nearest rival, she continued to push 7-8 W/kg all the way to the line – an effort which left her draped over the handlebars in exhaustion.

Those efforts were enough to ensure that she was the clear favourite to take the contract. Footage of the result being announced shows a tearful Oudeman looking shell-shocked as she says: “I can’t describe how I feel right now … it’s unreal.” 

She had time to let it sink in before the news became public. “After I won, I had to keep it a secret for more than a month, I think. So it was really hard to not tell anyone, only my parents and my sister knew it,” she says. “I was really happy that, after the release of the final episode, I could finally tell everyone.” 

Now, two training camps later, Oudeman has started to absorb the reality of her achievement and what the contract will bring.

“Our first team camp was in the beginning of January and it was really nice to meet everyone and also really special to now become like a real part of the team and to ride with the girls,” she says. “Everyone has been really nice, and I feel really welcome.

“It’s really special to be on a team camp with these riders. I mean, I’ve looked up to them. I see them on the TV riding, I see them in the races, and it’s really cool to be there with them. I really learned a lot also on the rides, they just give me tips on some trainings, or like cornering or whatever … they give me tips or tell me their experience in a race and how you can deal with that. And yeah, that’s really special that they want to help me so much.”

Prior to the second training camp Oudeman spent some time in Girona where previous Zwift Academy winners Ella Harris and Neve Bradbury have set up home. So did she get any tips from them? “They’ve just told me the stories about what what their experience on Zwift Academy finals was like and how their first races went and how it goes through the season,” she says. “So I think I’ve just learned a lot from hearing their experience and that I know what’s coming for me.”  

Like many of her predecessors, Oudeman is still relatively new to the sport, having started in triathlon aged 14 and only switching to road racing in the summer of 2020. This rapid ascendency from novice to WorldTour has caught some out in the past but Oudeman plans to take it in her stride. “I feel like the more you experience in the peloton the better it goes,” she says. “So yeah, I hope that, of course this year, I will get more and more experience. [I’m] really excited to see how I can handle the pro peloton.” 

Her first race in Canyon-SRAM colours will, fittingly, be the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships at the end of this month. On the road, her first test will be Le Samyn des Dames on March 1. “I’m really excited,” she says. “My goal for now for this season is just to really learn from my teammates and to experience the races and how it is in the women’s pro peloton. And yeah, just more on the learning side before I can really look at what’s possible on the results side.” 

Having had a few months to adjust to her new team and with the racing season fast approaching, what is she most looking forward to in 2022?

“That’s a really hard question … because already these team camps, I’m just learning so much,” she says. “I feel like I’m already developing so much more as a rider but also as a person, because of all the experience already and it’s only our second team camp. So I’m just really excited to start racing and to gain more experience and develop more.

“I think just the first race will be really special to be able to start in the Canyon-SRAM kit on the Canyon bike and that makes it all very real. So I think I’m looking forward the most to my first race.”

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