The Zwift Academy is a program launched to develop riders and identify top talent to compete at the UCI Women's World Tour as part of the Canyon//SRAM Racing team.
The Zwift Academy is a project launched by Zwift in partnership with Canyon//SRAM Racing to identify new pro cycling talent for the Canyon//SRAM Racing UCI Women's World Team. The UCI Women's World Tour is the premier annual road cycling tour for women, held for the first time in 2016.
Canyon//SRAM Racing already has an international roster of the best cyclists competing at the highest level and working to inspire women to ride and advance women's professional cycling. The virtual cycling talent search program, labelled ‘The Canyon-SRAM Racing and Zwift Academy Project,’ was started in March 2016 to find raw talent using Zwift's social indoor cycling platform that allows indoor cyclists to compete with other riders around the world. The data-driven platform has tens of thousands of users globally and makes a large prospective talent pool for Canyon//SRAM.
The Zwift Academy program works to develop riders of all abilities through a three-stage process, identifying finalists who progress to compete for a pro contract with Canyon//SRAM Racing. The first stage, taking place in April and May, delivers three group rides each week for riders of all abilities, with Canyon//SRAM Racing riders participating alongside Zwift members, across all time zones.
The second stage marks the beginning of the qualification period and is held in June and August. As part of the program, all participants much take part in a minimal number of Zwift training rides and races, as well as complete a training program which begins with a FTP test. Stage two is open only to amateur riders over the age of 16. Riders must upload their ride data to Strava and Training Peaks platforms, along with a minimum number of outdoor rides. Only ten participants are selected at the end of this stage to progress to the final round of the qualifications.
In the third stage, taking place from September to December, Canyon//SRAM Racing takes on a more proactive role, assigning mentors to the 10 finalists. The finalists are tasked with following a prescribed training regime, with program partners supplying the necessary equipment. The training includes both indoor and outdoor rides and is structured to really put the finalists' skills to the test. At the end of the third stage of the Academy program, three participants are selected to attend the Canyon//SRAM Racing end-of-season camp, and the winning rider is selected by the team management and announced in December.
The Zwift Academy program has drawn considerable interest from cyclists all over the world looking for a chance to compete at the highest level. The accessibility of Zwift makes it easy for amateur riders to get involved regardless of their location and to rise through the ranks over the course of the program. At the same time, Zwift's substantial user base offers a new way for professional teams like Canyon//SRAM Racing to find and develop top talent.
The 2016 winner, former U.S. Olympic trials marathon runner Leah Thorvilson (37) from Little Rock, Arkansas, beat 1,200 other participants to win a place on the Canyon//SRAM Racing team for 2017. Those looking for a chance to do the same will be able to do so next year, as Zwift has already confirmed that the Academy will return in 2017.