Nils Laengner @nils_laengner

“I want to show the Zwift Academy is an opportunity for the peloton” – Tanja Erath blogs for Voxwomen

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Hello! As this is my first blog for Voxwomen, I would like to introduce myself before I write about my new experiences as a professional cyclist.

In a nutshell, I am the Zwift Academy winner 2017, what makes me a part of the CANYON//Sram Racing Team in 2018.

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Dan Foster @danfzwift

Before the ZA win changed my whole life, I used to be a medical student, a former triathlete and a cyclist based in Dortmund, Germany. I started triathlon in the age of 11 and in the “end”, mainly raced middle distance races, as well as some sprint and olympic distance races, in the German National League with my team.

A leg injury in 2014 followed by two years of chronic pain finally forced me to quit triathlon in 2016, since I was unable to run.

As cycling has always been my strongest discipline and wasn’t affected by the injury, I took part in more cycling races. I ended up racing a Dutch fixed-gear criteria the end of the 2016 season and immediately fell in love with fixed-gear racing.

Around the same time my theoretical studies came to an end and I started my final practical year. Three four month internships in surgery, internal medicine and my specialisation of choice – anaesthesia. I wasn’t sure how much time would be left for proper training alongside my working hours in the hospital. Therefore I decided to give the rather short crits a try, combining racing and traveling.

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I signed up for the Red Hook Crit Series, the NL Crit Series and the German Fixed Crit Series in 2017 with my team Fixedpott. It turned out to be a quite successful season for me.

Back when I finally gave up on triathlon completely, my teammates saw how broken-hearted I was. To encourage me, one of them told me about the Zwift Academy. Back then it was already too late to enroll, so I decided to give it a try the year after. In September 2017 I started this three month journey, that took me to the finals and eventually to where I am now.

Come February, it was already time for the first training camp as a full member of the team, a camp followed by my first UCI, and first stage race, at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana. An early start to the season and a good start in the country that is supposed to be my new home – Spain.

The training camp turned out to be a tough one for me. As the only non-climber in my group I had to suffer a lot during those training rides around Benidorm. It should be emphasised that the only possibility to ride around Benidorm actually is going uphill or downhill (my new best friend). My training stress scores reached as many tops/peaks as we did! But it’s great to be pushed by the team spirit and to see the girls’ dedication.

After some days of recovery, I felt well prepared for my first race with the team. Still I was super nervous, but excited. I knew my task – protect the girls as long as possible in the flats, to get them into the climbs with full power by covering attacks and overtaking the pacing. There were also two intermediate sprints in the first 118km stage from Ròtova to Gandia and I was about to give it a try.

The race started perfectly. As the first intermediate sprint came closer I increased the pace more and more till we reached the line and I crossed it first. I wasn’t 100 per cent sure if I had really won the sprint until my teammate Hannah (Barnes) gave me a huge smile across the peloton. I felt ready for the second one.

As the second sprint came up and the peloton was still together, I tried to follow the same tactics as the first time. This time Belle de Gast, who took second in the first sprint, was the stronger one. Led out by her teammate, she won and I came in second. So even points for the two of us.

I tried to recover during the following descent and made my way back to the front to support the girls pushing the pace on our way to the climbs. Our goal – the stage win.

Also my own small goal grew – surviving the climbs and crossing the finish line in front of De Gast, to take home the Sprinters’ jersey.

We were still descending and I moved forward on the left side of the peloton. Suddenly a girl swung out and our handlebars stuck into each other. First I thought I might be able to save it, but the high speed and the sudden stop made my flip over my handlebars. I crashed on the street, landing on my right hip.

At first, I couldn’t move and the pain in my hip scared me, it made me feel that this season might already be over. Instead of my bike, I took the ambulance to Gandia.

Lying in the ambulance car, as soon as the adrenaline rush was gone, not only the pain, but also the disappointment rose. I felt like I’d let my teammates down. I really wanted to race and show that I am strong on my bike, not just on a turbo trainer. I felt like I already failed. Because in the end the crash is what remains.

A lot of people still doubt the Zwift Academy, but I love the idea of not just coming in to bike racing in the classic way. In my former sport triathlon, everyone had their own story how they came into the sport. Either they were triathletes right away or started with one of the three disciplines. I loved the diversity of it.

And isn’t that actually what makes life and our sport great? The people and their diversity?

I’ll try my very best and really hope to show that a program like the Zwift Academy is an opportunity for the peloton, not a burden.

So for the first time in my life, I went to a hospital as a patient instead of a student or worker. I have to admit, I prefer working! Thankfully, after the X-ray and some treatment I could leave again, with some bruised skin, a bruised sacral bone but without any fractures.

My sports director picked me up and he had great news – Hannah had taken the stage win. Back at the hotel, it was now my turn to give her a huge smile and a hug.



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