And the winner is.....
Today we announce the final addition to our 13-rider roster for the 2018 season with Tanja Erath from Dortmund, Germany winning a professional contract from the 2017 CANYON//SRAM Zwift Academy. The second year of the program saw 2161 women enrol, and after four months of structured workouts, testing and training, the competition was narrowed to three finalists: Tanja Erath, Bri Torkelson (Seattle, USA) and Siri Hildonen (Oslo, Norway) who joined the team’s first training camp in Koblenz, Germany last week.
Erath, a former triathlete for 15 years, made the transition to focus solely on cycling just twelve months ago. After collecting several international triathlon podiums including at the European age group championships in 2014, Erath quickly demonstrated her capabilities were transferable to cycling, adding podiums in fixed gear criterium racing to her palmares within her first year. For 2018 she decided to focus more on road racing.
“My triathlon teammate told me about the 2016 CANYON//SRAM Zwift Academy last year but at that point it was too late to enrol and I didn’t have an indoor trainer. Instead I followed the progress of Leah Thorvilson (2016 inaugural winner of the Zwift Academy) in her first pro-year, borrowed a friend’s trainer and enrolled in this year’s academy,” said the 28 year old.
Erath, who recently finished her Medical degree said “I started with the dream of becoming a pro and saw the Zwift Academy as a “last chance” to make the dream come true before starting to work full time as a doctor. I didn’t really expect I could make it to the finals but told myself “if I could at least make it to the semi-finals I have my own Wahoo indoor trainer and one of those gorgeous Rapha team kits that the semi-finalists win!”
Erath admitted joining the CANYON//SRAM team, with the calibre of riders such as Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Trixi Worrack, to compete in the Zwift Academy finals had been daunting.
“The first day I was just overwhelmed and a little bit scared by all the new impressions. I tried to enjoy myself but felt the pressure I put myself under. Every step closer to the finals my dream to be a pro cyclist became more concrete and made me realise how bad I really wanted this,” confessed Erath.
“In the first evening I had a great conversation with Christa (Riffel) and she made me feel so comfortable right from the start. Over the next days I started to feel more and more relaxed, especially when we finished our first mountain bike (MTB) ride. Since I have no real MTB experience I didn´t know what to expect. But it turned out to be really cool and fun to train with the team like that.”
Barry Austin, Sports Director and Performance Analyst at CANYON//SRAM Racing was part of the selection process, along with representatives from Zwift and TrainSharp to narrow the field to the finalists. “The three finalists were all very determined in their own way, and they all had an engine. This determination coupled with a good amount of talent brought them to the end point of the competition,” said Austin.
“Ultimately the team liked how Tanja used that determination and engine. She was naturally at ease and on top she impressed the team with her online Zwift race and the lead out simulation exercises on the road,” added Austin.
Erath agreed she started to feel at ease with the team. “On the third day everything started to feel more natural. From that point on I guess I lost my fear and a lot of my self-pressure and just wanted to get to know better the girls that I admire as the great athletes they are. On the last day with the tactical lead out challenges, I was paired with Hannah (Barnes) and Tiffany (Cromwell) and I found them both so supportive. That felt great and already like being a part of the team!”
Erath now realises her dream of a pro contract and, like Thorvilson did in 2017, earns the opportunity to race with team for the 2018 season. Austin said “Tanja will now have a winter training block before joining the team’s next training camp in February. “We will monitor her via Training Peaks like we do all of our riders and the team will form a relationship between Tanja and her coach to set some early goals. At the next camp we can assess how much she has improved before finalising her race program that is likely to start at national level races and leading to UCI international races from April onwards.”
Austin added “Tanja has demonstrated she has other qualities beyond a big engine that makes for a successful sportsperson. It’s the right mix to be a top level cyclist and we’re excited to see her year unfold.”
Ronny Lauke, CANYON//SRAM Racing team manager said “After more than one year in the making we are pleased to have finalised the second round of CANYON//SRAM Zwift Academy. We gained invaluable experience and learned many lessons from Leah’s first race season with the team. Together with Zwift we have adjusted the qualification workouts and had a different look at power numbers, but also skills. The growth of over 100% of women signing up for that chance shows that the academy has received strong attention and recognition all over the globe.”
Lauke emphasised, “We are proud that CANYON//SRAM Racing together with Zwift is leading the way to show our beautiful, but mainly tradition-driven, sport a new pathway to identify talent and make the sport attractive to new audiences. We are looking forward to see our new recruit Tanja becoming part of our team.”
Zwift CEO & co-founder Eric Min, added “Zwift’s community is bigger than ever before and brimming with fit, talented cyclists. While it’s the rare few that can compete at CANYON//SRAM Racing’s level, we know there’s more talent out there in Zwift, ready to be discovered. Huge congratulations to Tanja as well as [Zwift Academy finalists] Siri and Bri, and big thanks to CANYON//SRAM for recognising the value of Zwift Academy once again.”