After an exhaustive 11-month search, CANYON//SRAM has announced the rider who will take a spot on its World Tour roster, after having scoured the globe via its innovative partnership with Zwift to uncover raw talent.
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 the pro-contract and the opportunity to race for the CANYON//SRAM Racing during the 2017 season.
“It’s been an incredible journey and a totally surreal experience,” said Thorvilson, after spending the better part of the 2016 summer participating in group rides and completing structured workout programs on Zwift, before training with the CANYON//SRAM team in Majorca.
“Prior to Zwift Academy, I never would have guessed this was possible. The other 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.”
“Our team is about challenging conventions and we’re super proud of Leah,” said CANYON//SRAM Racing rider Tiffany Cromwell, who first announced the competition during a virtual group ride with Zwift users.
“It’d be an honour to have any of the Zwift Academy finalists on team for 2017; they’ve put their lives on hold for this opportunity, but Leah distinguished herself in making the final cut. Leah is a welcome addition here.”
For each of the three rounds of competition, a panel of judges narrowed riders down by carefully analysing data gathered during online rides and workouts.
CANYON//SRAM Sports Director Beth Duryea, Professional Pursuit World Champion Mike McCarthy, and TrainSharp Founder Jon Sharples were part of the selection committee who chose twelve 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. 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. It doesn’t surprise us that Leah is our winner. We’re looking forward to seeing how she can develop into a bike racer,” said TrainSharp’s Sharples.
“When you see an idea really become something, it’s an amazing feeling,” added Ronny Lauke, CANYON//SRAM Racing team manager.
“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.”
Leah’s training and race schedule will be determined by the management of CANYON//SRAM Racing, including sport director Beth Duryea. “The immediate future is about further preparing Leah for bike racing at a professional level. 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. Leah will have a training program from our team coach and together we’ll discuss the first part of the season. It would be great to see her preparing to race sometime in spring.”
Zwift CEO & Founder, Erin Min concluded; “We knew that Zwift and its community were capable of producing a rider who could race at a World Tour level. But this was only made possible because of CANYON//SRAM Racing. This year was a pilot, and in this respect, our three finalists were true pioneers of their sport. No one can take this away from Leah, Jessie and Yvonne!”
Zwift, CANYON//SRAM Racing and Canyon have confirmed the Zwift Academy will return in 2017.
More on Zwift Academy Finalists
Thirty-seven-year-old Leah is a development director at her alma mater, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Leah’s prolific career as a marathon runner included multiple wins, and she competed in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. Injuries prompted a move to cycling in 2015, and Leah quickly dedicated herself to the sport.
A long-time endurance athlete and mother of three, Jessie lives with her family near Burlington, Vermont. The 40-year-old, three-time Ironman champion has repeatedly set triathlon-course bests on the bike, and has a background in backpacking and running as well as elite Nordic skiing. Jessie works as a senior enrollment analyst at the University of Vermont.
Yvonne van Hattum
Originally from Holland, Yvonne currently resides with her husband in Dubai, UAE and works in management for Valvoline. A veteran field hockey player, Yvonne, 37, has been a runner for nearly a decade but only discovered her talent for cycling in 2015.