Dec 19, 2016 – While many of us dread the hours, minutes and sometimes even seconds we spend on the trainer, added motivation can pay major dividends. And in January of 2016, Zwift and Women’s World Tour team Canyon/SRAM offered up the ultimate motivation- A pro-contract with the team.

Zwift PR/Peloton

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When Zwift, the online social fitness platform for cyclists that turned unbearable trainer rides into exciting spins and even competitive events, partnered with German woman’s team Canyon/SRAM to form the Zwift Academy, more than 1,200 women across the world geared up to compete in a series of events, battling for the pro-contract.

One special rider taking part in the event was 37-year old ex-marathoner Leah Thorvilson. A big talent coming from Little Rock, Arkansas, Thorvilson has a background as an elite-level marathoner in the USA, but after she was dogged by injuries, Thorvilson decided to transition her talents to the bicycle.

Thorvilson made the elite selection of just three women at the Zwift Academy, who were then selected to join the Canyon/SRAM team in Majorca, Spain to take their talents to the road and see how they applied to the real racing.

But the search may have pioneered a new framework for the selection process at professional cycling teams.

“Finding talent in cycling is a numbers game, in terms of casting the net wide and drawing performance data back in. That’s what excited us about the Zwift Academy concept. Indoor training provides the accessibility for participants, a safe environment to train and a controlled environment to analyse data, then Zwift adds the social element to build a community of riders and spur them on,” commented Jon Sharples, the founder at TrainSharp and official coach at the Zwift Academy.

Zwift Academy finalists Jessie Donovan, Yvonne van Hattum, and Thorvilson were carefully analyzed during the training camp in Majorca, and only one of them would be selected for the team.

After hours of rigorous training and hundreds of kilometers in the mountains of Majorca, Canyon/SRAM announced that in fact, they had found their hidden gem from Little Rock in Arkansas, Leah Thorvilson.

“I never would have guessed this was possible,” said Thorvilson. “[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.”

Fellow racer at Canyon/SRAM Tiffany Cromwell says she is proud of her new teammate and proud to be on a team that challenges cycling’s conventions like the Zwift Academy.

“It’d be an honor 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 Zwift Academy will return once again in 2017.