Online talent spotting - what it takes to get noticed on Zwift

The pathway to the top tier of cycling looks like a map of the London Underground. Starting at Club Network, the high-aspiring cyclist will be calling at the Development Centre, the Regional School of Racing, the National School of Racing, the Junior Academy, the Podium Programme and finally fame, glory and a summit finish victory in yellow on Mont Ventoux

At least that’s how the fairytale should pan out. But how does the talent development system – within British Cycling and more broadly – find the best young riders out there and get them started at their journey’s beginning?

And could the virtual world of indoor training and racing on smart-trainers be about to greatly broaden the reach of the talent-spotters?

Among the many elements of its programme – track skills, cyclo-cross, strength and conditioning, rollers sessions, nutritional advice, the list is a long one – BC has recruited the popular virtual cycling app Zwift to help identify talented young riders who have a real chance of cracking the professional cycling scene. Smart trainers provide an easy and effective way to track metrics in a controlled environment, and BC recently ran a pioneering pilot scheme in partnership with Zwift.

CW spoke to BC’s development coach Joe Malik to find out how he is using the ‘game’ to find super-talented 13-16-year-olds.

“It brings people together,” said Malik. “The riders who use it may get the opportunity to see each other only four or five times a year, but Zwift has the potential to bring them together more frequently, and the app even allows them to chat to each other.”

Participants in the Skoda DSI Cycling Academy
(Image credit: Charlie Forgham-Bailey)

He is quick to point out that turbo training is just one piece of the pie, and that, in isolation, figures garnered from Zwift will not necessarily book you a place at the next Olympics.

“As a British Cycling programme, using Zwift is about complementing our offer and shouldn’t be taken in isolation. Transferring from a static trainer to riding a bike isn’t always successful – in a bike race, you need to be able to attack, descend and counter-attack.”

Read the full article on online talent ID and see the numbers you'd need to produce to get spotted in this week's Cycling Weekly magazine, on sale in supermarkets and newsagents, priced £3.25. You can get CW delivered direct to your door with a subscription with a six for £6 offer or a 31 per cent saving by quarterly direct debit. 

Simon Richardson
Simon Richardson

Editor of Cycling Weekly magazine, Simon has been working at the title since 2001. In that time he has written product reviews, features and news. He has covered the Tour de France more times than he can remember along with two Olympic Games and many other international and UK domestic races. Once an aspiring bike racer himself, he can still be seen at his club's evening races through the summer.