Inaugural Zwift Academy winner Leah Thorvilson will line up in her first race for CANYON//SRAM Racing in Sunday’s UCI 1.1 Omloop van het Hageland in Tielt-Winge, Belgium. The American rider will join fellow teammates Hannah Barnes, Lisa Brennauer, Barbara Guarischi, Mieke Kröger and Alexis Ryan for an exciting debut.
A little more than two months ago Thorvilson was one of three finalists in the team’s innovative talent ID project with Zwift, a global online fitness platform. The former elite-level marathon runner was amongst hundreds of women who registered for the 2016 Zwift Academy, completing indoor cycling qualifying sessions, before progressing through to a final ten-day training camp with the team that saw Thorvilson earn a professional contract for 2017. Now she will pin on a number for her first ever UCI race.
Thorvilson says she is as ready as she can be after a quick transition into the world of professional cycling. “At the end of January I left my full-time job to focus all my energies on the 2017 season. Having the day time to get outdoors and spend many more hours on the roads has given me a lot more confidence in simple things you can't experience on the trainer. I've put in the time building my strength as well as improving my comfort levels riding in faster bunches. I've done what I can do in these two months. Now the rest just comes with the experience itself.
In 2016 Omloop van het Hageland was won in a bunch sprint, with Tiffany Cromwell the team’s best place-getter in tenth. Whilst Thorvilson has been working with team coach Andreas Lang since joining the team two months ago, she admits that training and racing will be miles apart.
“I know it will be different from anything I have done before, and I anticipate having to negotiate cobbles, wind, possibly rain, as well as a more aggressive field of riders than I have been in before. I want to come out of Sunday's race with that "first one out of the way" feeling that should give me more confidence going into the next race. I will be able to assess what went well and what didn't, what felt comfortable and what didn't, and look to improve on it all.”
Thorvilson, who joined the team in Australia in January when the announcement of a second 2017 Zwift Academy was made, says she’s been constantly impressed by her new teammates. “I've been surprised with their ability to seamlessly adapt to any situation with racing. I expected there would be one or two key riders who the rest of the team was working for all the time but it doesn't seem to be that way so far. They really flow well with setting up whomever is in the best position to be a contender on any given day, and they will each completely go to the well to help get her there. I've been continually impressed with their maturity.”
Racing starts at 13:30 CET / 05:30 PST / 12:30 GMT / Monday 27 February 00:30 AEDT. A live stream of the race will be shown by Motomedia from 13:00 local time with this link.