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For the third year, Zwift has offered everyday riders a pathway straight to the pro ranks with the Zwift Academy program. This year, three female finalists went to a Canyon//SRAM team camp in Spain to compete for a single spot, while three Under-23 men went to the NTT Pro Cycling (formerly Dimension Data) team camp to do the same. VeloNews joined the Canyon//SRAM camp to document the competition, and reveal the winner.
“What we are trying to find is of course strength, but also a good personality as well,” said Ronny Lauke, Canyon//SRAM team manager. “We can see the power output [from Zwift]. What we cannot see is the bike handling abilities, and the personality overall. And that’s why we have the finals.”
Thousands of women entered the Zwift Academy program by completing workouts on Zwift, where their power output was recorded over various durations. The Zwift Academy coaches examined these riders for power-to-weight output for 10-second, 1-minute, 4-minute and 10-minute durations.
“From those power durations we know what a good athlete at this level is able to achieve,” said Kevin Poulton, Zwift Academy coach. “So for example, for a 60-minute threshold effort, a very high world class level is 5 watts per kilo. and what we’ve seen in this year’s Academy is participants record levels of 4.6 and 4.8.”
“For 10 seconds, for women, if they are achieving above 13 to 15 w/kg, that is a very high, elite level,” he said.
The three finalists are Samara Sheppard, Jess Pratt, and Catherine Colyn.
Sheppard hails from New Zealand, and wants to represent her country at the 2022 UCI world road championships. Pratt joined the Zwift Academy search after she met two previous Zwift Academy winners and got inspired. South African Colyn qualified for the top 10 in last year’s Zwift Academy.
“What we are looking for, when having these finals days, is who can become the most complete athlete in the future,” Lauke said. “Numbers is one variable in this whole picture, but it is not the complete answer.”
“I strongly believe that the overall performance of success of a team depends on the personalities, not simply on power output produced by the legs,” he said. “It’s more, what brains do we have, and how do those brains connect with the legs. This gives at the end the answer, and makes the team where it stands at the end of a bike race.”
Watch the video to see the process, and which rider lands a 2020 contract with Canyon//SRAM.