Former marathon runner wins pro-cycling contract thanks to her rides on turbo training game Zwift

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You might see Zwift as a neat training tool to help whittle away the hours on the turbo trainer, but for one lucky rider it has become her gateway into professional cycling.

Leah Thorvilson is a former U.S. Olympic trial marathon runner, but has now won a place on the Canyon-SRAM team in 2017 thanks to the Zwift Academy programme.

Thorvilson fought off 1,200 women for a spot on the team, impressing judges over three rounds of competition.

Each round saw the number of riders narrowed down by a group of three judges, who analysed the riders’s data from online rides and workouts.

>>> Zwift: Everything you need to know

Competitors included people from all round the world and from a range of backgrounds – with mothers, businesswomen, artists and students listed by the competition – who balanced becoming highly accomplished athletes at the same time.

Thorvilson’s win gives her the opportunity to ride and race as part of the Canyon-SRAM squad in 2017, alongside riders like Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and British national champion Hannah Barnes.

“It’s been an incredible journey and a totally surreal experience,” said Thorvilson on the competition.

“Prior to Zwift Academy, I never would have guessed this was possible. [Finalists] Jessie and Yvonne are tremendous athletes whom I now consider close friends. I’m so grateful for the opportunity, and I can’t wait to begin this next chapter with the Canyon-SRAM Racing team.”

Canyon-SRAM will race the Women’s WorldTour next season, which kicks off with Strade Bianche on March 4 and concludes on September 10 at the Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta.