CANYON//SRAM Racing will return to Belgium tomorrow to race Dwars door Vlaanderen in Tielt. The team's roster will be British road champion Hannah Barnes, Lisa Brennauer, Tiffany Cromwell, Barbara Guarischi, German road champion Mieke Kröger and Leah Thorvilson.
The 114km race has five climbs including the cobbled classics of Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg and can be considered a prelude to the spring monument of Ronde van Vlaanderen just ten days later.
Thorvilson, the inaugural winner of Zwift Academy, will have her third race with the team and her rate of progress in the first month of the season has surprised even herself. Thorvilson raced at Omloop van het Hageland and GP Le Samyn in February and said the time spent with her teammates has been invaluable in a steep learning curve.
“For my first race everyone was supportive, they all understood that the first one was mostly about the experience. Each ride my teammates are giving me advice: change my cadence, how hard to hold the bars on the cobbles, use a bigger gear. Even in training these things are helpful for the next race."
"In my second race I had already improved a lot. I saw the front of the peloton, I ate during the race. I was aggressive on the cobbles and every section I was passing people. I got on the front twice and let myself drift back through the middle of the peloton. I used the advice of our DS Barry Austin for using the convoy to get back to the bunch. I finished and I did much better than the first race. And I saw the joy of my teammates after we had a rider on the podium. That happiness was special to see and can't really be put into words."
Thorvilson said the camaraderie in cycling continues to astonish her. "The community support from Zwift has been great and really helpful for keeping confidence. Even in the peloton at one point a rider from another team was near me on the cobbled climb and she said to me "you're going to make it, okay?" I wish I knew who she was so I could thank her and hug her. It felt like a lifeline and helped me more than I can explain!"
Is she happy to have won a professional contract with the team? "I never thought I could be the one to win Zwift Academy. There are challenging and self-testing moments for sure, but for the most part I feel like I am living this charmed life and I am so blessed to be here. It's amazing."
For tomorrow Thorvilson said she will be looking to improve further. "I want to continue to learn and get comfortable. I want to keep progressing, to do better, race smarter and don't work harder than I have to. I want to play a role in the team wherever I can and I hope that we can have a successful day!"
Dwars door Vlaanderen starts in Tiel at 13:00 (CET) and can be followed on the team's twitter @WMNcycling and using #DDV.