The growing popularity of online home exercise equipment is having a surprise side effect: It’s allowing pro athletes to be discovered, or as the case has been, discover their own talents.
Tons of people spin and cycle, but very few actually race or care to measure their abilities in a serious way for many reasons. But the popularity of indoor cycling — buffeted by the likes of SoulCycle and Peloton (PTON) — has led more people to push their pedals and attain serious levels of fitness.
And for some people using Zwift, a bicycle training platform and video game popular with cyclists, it’s a ticket to becoming a professional athlete.
Thanks to today’s connected exercise methods, people can see precisely how good they are — workout devices that convert bicycles into stationary bikes deliver clear data that shows how much power (in watts!) a person’s legs can produce — and how they compare to others in the online fitness communities.
On Friday, Zwift finished its “Academy” men’s 2019 program, a series of races that saw 60,000 male bike riders enter — from the comfort of their own home. Though most people on Zwift are simply trying to improve their fitness, riders under 23 used the Academy’s platform to compete for a professional cycling contract.
The program has been going on since 2017 and successfully found pro athletes hidden in civilian clothing, though the transition has not always been easy.
Three riders had made the finals and competed for a one-year contract for 2020 with NTT Continental Cycling Team, an under-23 team based in South Africa. Drew Christensen, a 22-year-old from New Zealand, managed to win the contract to become a pro. Last year’s winner Martin Lavrič of Slovenia extended his contract into 2020.
The South African team has been a keen participant, telling Yahoo Finance in 2017 that it could be very useful to find talent far from the Euro-centric world of pro cycling.
Zwift has received over $164 million in funding, according to Crunch Base, with a valuation that was undisclosed but “approaching unicorn status” in 2018.