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Zwift competition leads to WorldTour contract for Arkansas rider

Published December 19, 2016

MAJORCA, Spain (BRAIN) — A racer from Little Rock, Arkansas, will join the Canyon/SRAM Women's World Tour team for 2017 after being chosen from about 1,200 women who showed their talent on the Zwift indoor cycling application this year.

Leah Thorvilson spent the better part of last summer participating in group rides and structured workouts on Zwift, then participated in a training camp with the team in Majorca. The former marathon runner was chosen from among three finalists who attended the Zwift Academy training camp.

"It's been an incredible journey and a totally surreal experience," she said.  

For each of the three rounds of competition, a panel of judges narrowed riders down by analyzing data gathered during online rides and workouts. Team sports director Beth Duryea, professional pursuit world champion Mike McCarthy, and TrainSharp founder Jon Sharples were part of the selection committee who chose 12 semi-finalists before narrowing it down to the final three.

"The immediate future is about further preparing Leah for bike racing at a professional level," Duryea said. "The learning curve is going to be incredibly steep, but we will provide a plan with some specific areas for her to work on over the rest of winter. Leah will have a training program from our team coach and together we'll discuss the first part of the season. It would be great to see her preparing to race sometime in spring."

Zwift's CEO and founder, Erin Min, said, "We knew that Zwift and its community were capable of producing a rider who could race at a World Tour level. But this was only made possible because of Canyon/SRAM Racing. This year (2016) was a pilot, and in this respect, our three finalists were true pioneers of their sport."

Thorvilson, 37, is a development director at her alma mater, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Her career as a marathon runner included multiple wins, and she competed in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. She began cycling in 2015. 

The other finalists were Jessie Donavan, a longtime endurance athlete and mother of three from Vermont, and Yvonne van Hattum, a veteran field hockey player and runner, originally from Holland, who now lives in Dubai.  

Zwift and team officials said they plan to hold the Zwift Academy again in 2017.

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