Canyon – SRAM signs elite runner after Zwift Academy talent search

Leah Thorvilson, an elite marathon runner, signs with the Canyon – SRAM team after winning an unconventional try-out competition on Zwift.

Canyon – SRAM announced its Zwift Academy winner after an 11-month search for new WorldTour talent through Zwift’s virtual training platform. Leah Thorvilson — a former U.S. Olympic trials marathon runner from Little Rock, Arkansas — fought off 1,200 women from around the world to win a pro contract and the opportunity to race for the Canyon – SRAM professional women’s team during the 2017 season.

“It’s been an incredible journey and a totally surreal experience,” said Thorvilson, 37, after spending the better part of the 2016 summer participating in group rides and completing structured workout programs on Zwift. “Prior to Zwift Academy, I never would have guessed this was possible. I can’t wait to begin this next chapter with the Canyon – SRAM Racing team.”

Thorvilson’s training and race schedules will be determined by Canyon – SRAM management, including sports director Beth Duryea. “The immediate future is about further preparing Leah for bike racing at a professional level,” Duryea said. “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.”

The Zwift Academy’s competition took place over 11 months and was comprised of three rounds. A panel of judges narrowed riders down by carefully analyzing data gathered during online rides and workouts. Duryea, professional pursuit world champion Mike McCarthy, and TrainSharp founder Jon Sharples were part of the selection committee who chose 12 semi-finalists before narrowing it down to the final three.

“Finding talent in cycling is a numbers game, in terms of casting the net wide and drawing performance data back in,” Sharples said. “That’s what excited us about the Zwift Academy concept.”

It’s an unconventional way of searching out new and underdeveloped talent. But maybe that’s what women’s cycling needs right now; something unconventional, exciting, and approachable to the average woman who rides “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,” Ronny Lauke, Canyon – SRAM Racing team manager said. “Watching and seeing all these women dedicate themselves to the sport, it makes one wonder how many more are overlooked.”

With the success and excitement of the new talent ID program, Zwift, Canyon – SRAM Racing, and Canyon have confirmed the Zwift Academy will return in 2017