The 38-year-old amateur rider who won a turbo trainer competition to turn pro with Canyon-SRAM says that she is getting better and more accustomed to racing as she prepares to race today’s Dwars door Vlaanderen.
American Leah Thorvilson beat off 1,200 other people in the Zwift Academy programme to land a contract with Canyon-SRAM for this season.
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The former Olympic trial marathon runner made her debut at Omloop van het Hageland at the end of February, failing to finish, before racing Le Samyn a few days after, rolling home in 74th.
Thorvilson admits that she is a novice in the peloton but support among companions and rivals has helped her make significant improvements in just a short space of time.
“For my first race everyone was supportive, they all understood that the first one was mostly about the experience,” she said.
“Each ride my teammates are giving me advice: change my cadence, how hard to hold the bars on the cobbles, use a bigger gear. Even in training these things are helpful for the next race.
“Even in the peloton at one point a rider from another team was near me on the cobbled climb and she said to me “you’re going to make it, okay?” I wish I knew who she was so I could thank her and hug her. It felt like a lifeline and helped me more than I can explain!
“In my second race I had already improved a lot. I saw the front of the peloton, I ate during the race. I was aggressive on the cobbles and every section I was passing people.
“I got on the front twice and let myself drift back through the middle of the peloton. I used the advice of our DS Barry Austin for using the convoy to get back to the bunch. I finished and I did much better than the first race.
“And I saw the joy of my teammates after we had a rider on the podium [Tiffany Cromwell, third]. That happiness was special to see and can’t really be put into words.”
Today’s cobbled 114km race in Flanders features a number of the best riders in the women’s scene, but Thorvilson isn’t daunted by the talent and reputation that precedes them, rather she is focused on assisting her team that will be led by British road race champion Hannah Barnes.
She added: “I want to continue to learn and get comfortable. I want to keep progressing, to do better, race smarter and don’t work harder than I have to. I want to play a role in the team wherever I can and I hope that we can have a successful day!”