The Zwift Academy Finals are just around the corner! Many non-professional riders joined the academy and in just two weeks’ time, we’ll know who has earned a professional cycling contract: one with CANYON//SRAM Racing and one with the U23 Men’s Team Dimension Data. Huh you say? Let’s explain this all.
Zwift is one of the most well-known software platforms for virtual cycling (check out this article for more info). For the fourth year in a row, Zwift has initiated the Zwift Academy: a mass global talent program with a professional cycling contracts at stake.
Anyone with a Smart bike trainer and a Zwift membership can join the academy for free and this year over a 68.000 cyclists have signed up for it. For only a few this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to become a pro, but for most it is a great way to get fitter and faster using this community-based program.
The Zwift Academy started on August 5 this year and ran through September 29. In order to graduate, the participants had to complete a series of eight tough varied workouts and four social rides or races during this period of time. They were able to do this in their own time, at their own pace.
To show the growing popularity of the Zwift Academy, Zwift has released some numbers:
WHAT’S IN IT FOR THE TEAMS AND RIDERS?
The Zwift Academy is a great platform for talented riders to get the attention of the pro teams. “I grew up in New Zealand where it’s incredibly hard to get noticed as we are so far removed from the professional scene–especially that in Europe. Typically I would have to travel long distances to races. However, Zwift allowed me to prove my ability on a global stage from the convenience of my home,” last year’s women’s winner Ella Harris said.
Harris is riding for CANYON//SRAM Racing and just re-signed her contract for yet another year of racing at the UCI Women’s World Tour level.
The women’s team started participating in the Zwift Academy in 2016 and team manager Ronny Lauke is more than happy with this way of talent scouting: “After three editions, with the winners showing medal success at national championships, earning national team selection on world-class stages, and winning jerseys on a WorldTour level, it has been proven that the CANYON//SRAM Zwift Academy is a program that helps identify talented riders that can be immediately competitive on the highest level of the sport.”
After September 29th, a committee comprised of coaches, sports scientists, ex-pro riders, team management, and cycling experts identified the 10 semi-finalists for both men and women. This was a long and comprehensive process to ensure the most fitting and top performing riders were selected. They took a look at the results of the FTP tests, watts per kilogram of the riders, performances during the Zwift Academy group rides and workouts, power at heart rate and so on. Also, their outdoor rides on Strava were taken into account in comparison to their indoor performances. All in order to check who are capable of racing at WorldTour level.
When this selection procedure was completed, the 20 remaining candidates started the semi-finals on October 15th. This second round was more challenging and consisted of four Zwift workouts and three longer outdoor rides. The riders were interviewed and required to use the equipment they were rewarded for the semi-finals: a NEO 2 Smart that was provided by Tacx. While their physiological abilities remained focal to selection, the overall cycling skills and potential fit for the team also played a big role in who moved on or not.
On November 12th, the six riders were announced who made it to the finals. These three men and women will join a week-long training camp with Team Dimension Data (men) or CANYON//SRAM Racing (women) in Spain in order to fight for that coveted professional contract. They’re put to the test on their race craft, communication and ability to fit in the team. Only one man and one woman will be awarded a contract for the 2020 cycling season and this time the selection procedure is done by the team coaches, staff and riders. You can follow everything of these training camps on the social channels of Zwift, these teams and of course Tacx. The exciting finals are on December 9th (women) and on December 16th (men), so don’t miss it!