Say goodbye to the days when becoming a pro meant you had to start riding in elementary school or grow up in a cycling hotbed like Boulder, Colorado. Starting in March, Canyon-SRAM, one of the top women’s pro cycling teams, will begin talent scouting on the indoor social cycling program, Zwift.
Last week, Canyon-SRAM racing team announced a partnership with Zwift—the multi-player gaming company that allows cyclists with indoor bikes to compete against others around the globe in a 3D-generated world—to identify riders with raw talent. During a live virtual ride with Zwift users, Canyon-SRAM rider Tiffany Cromwell said her team would use the virtual riding medium to unearth fast women, with the top qualifier earning the opportunity to ride alongside her in 2017.
“The development pathways for female riders don’t compare to the men’s side of the sport,” says Cromwell. “But rather than swim against the tide, we’re shaking things up. Cycling’s stars possess extraordinary physical attributes, and we’re confident one or two of those rough diamonds are out there to be unearthed on the Zwift platform.”
Aspiring racers will need to join the trials program, dubbed the Canyon-SRAM Racing & Zwift Academy Project, through their membership on Zwift. Once onboard, they will face a series of tasks, including group rides and structured training programs, that will be used to identify riders’ physical attributes and potential. Because Zwift allows wireless transmission of power and heart-rate data, Canyon-SRAM staff will be able to single out the strongest riders. Throughout 2016, coaches will cull the field to a final selection of three athletes, who will then compete on virtual—and eventually real—roads for the opportunity to become a pro in 2017.
“This isn’t a marketing gimmick,” says Zwift CEO Eric Min. “Zwift is a global, reliable, and data-driven platform. And with tens of thousands of users, we’re confident we can be a development platform for professional cycling.” Min adds that he was gratified when Canyon-SRAM came to Zwift with the idea, but not surprised. “We’ve been working on a similar concept for some time,” he says.
It’s too early to know whether the program will prove fruitful, but Canyon-SRAM racing director Ron Lauke is bullish about the concept. “The world is full of young cyclists with raw talent that we may not be noticing,” he says. “Of course, there are other criteria to becoming a pro cyclist, like attitude, bike handling, and a good tactical brain. But without an exceptional engine you won’t get too far.”
If the program works, the implications for professional sports like cycling are huge, as it means a much larger prospective talent pool for teams to mine. But even for the average rider, with no hope of ever making it big, innovative programs like this one on Zwift presage the day when fans and laymen might ride alongside some of the biggest names in the sport.
Details of the Zwift Academy Project will be rolled out over the next few weeks on both Zwift’s and Canyon-SRAM’s websites. Would-be applicants have just enough time to get set up on Zwift and sneak in a training block before the competition begins.
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