A former winner of the Cycling Weekly Club 10 Zwift race is one of five riders fighting for a pro contract with Alpecin-Deceuninck in the Zwift Academy finals.
Will Lowden, who races for NoPinz-R3R, has ridden the weekly Wednesday evening event four times winning on two of those occasions in January this year and October 2020.
In the competition for a spot alongside Mathieu van der Poel, he will face off against riders from Australia, Belgium and Italy. The winners announced on 17 December.
On the road Lowden rides for WattShop – the shop team of the aero cycle-parts business owned by Ineos Grenadiers performance engineer Dan Bigham – and boasts a 19:57 personal best for a ten mile time trial, set in October this year.
In the women’s competition for a spot on the Canyon-SRAM team British hopes rest with Alex Morrice (LDN – Brother) who registered a top ten at the Curlew Cup earlier this month.
Two Americans have also made it through to the final Elena Wu-Lang and Liz Van Houweling and will compete for a place alongside team leader Kasia Niewiadoma.
Van Houweling is a cycling coach by trade but got to be an elite Zwift racer largely just by having fun and told Cycling Weekly in 2021 that she eschews doing intervals on the bike (see below).
The ten finalists have been whittled down from more than 96,000 riders who participated in this year’s Zwift Academy.
The finals will be broadcast by GCN, with five films being released starting on 13 Dec. and finishing with the grand final on 17 Dec.
Zwift Academy finalists
Alex Morrice, Great Britain
Chiara Doni, Italy
Elena Wu-Lang, United States
Liz Van Houweling, United States
Nele Laing, Germany
Cooper Sayers, Australia
Jasper Paridaens, Belgium
Luca Vergallito, Italy
Lucas Hoffman, Australia
Will Lowden, Great Britain
How Van Houweling conquered Zwift
In late 2021 Cycling Weekly spoke to Liz Van Houweling as part of a bigger feature on the best Zwift riders in the world about how she got to be ranked so high, this is what she said.
Sometimes you don’t get to top by being the best physically, sometimes you need to be smart. That’s how van Houweling, who is a cycling coach by trade, got to be the third best woman in the world on Zwift.
“I don’t try to do structured intervals anymore. I’ve decided that I’m at a point in life that bikes are supposed to be fun and intervals aren’t as fun as racing or just cruising,” she explains.
She’ll later add: “I haven’t actually won that many honestly. I do the men’s races… A lot of women only do women’s racing. It’s harder to get points in the women’s field, because there just aren’t as many points available. If you put me in a field of the 50 best women in the world I definitely wouldn’t be third, maybe top ten.”
Van Houweling got into racing bikes in real life while at the University of Northern Colorado and continued for several year afterwards before she decided to prioritise her young family over racing. She only got back into it through online racing just over a year ago.
“My youngest turned one year old, I just decided I needed to get in shape…” she says. “My brother bought me a one month pass, and initially I hadn’t been riding consistently for a while and so you see the numbers improving really quickly which is really motivating. The competitiveness just got me again.”
It helped that Iowa, where he lives is below zero degrees C for months at them during the winter making the turbo trainer more attractive.
She says her initial foray into C-category races allowed her to “fake” a certain level of skill and fitness that meant she could finish in the pack. However, her sprint or lack of it was holding her back. That’s where racing men came in handy as she says it forced her to up her short bursts of power. “Before I was at, around 9.2 watts per kilo for 15 seconds. Now I’m at like 12.5 watts per kilo for 15 seconds. So that’s a pretty big improvement,” she explains.
Her immediate goals are to go to USA cyclo-cross Nationals at the end of the winter and do more women’s racing and see if she can get into the American eSports World team, “I don’t have super high expectations but it’d be fun to do some more high quality women’s racing. With little kids I can be a Zwift racer but I can’t be a full time outside bike racer.”