Ella Harris becomes first Zwift Academy winner to take victory in pro race

The Kiwi lost touch with the front of the race multiple times, but 'kept clawing back'

(Image credit: CON CHRONIS)

Ella Harris said she was left “speechless” after a truly inspirational victory in the Herald Sun Tour, becoming the first Zwift Academy winner to take a pro win.

The New Zealand rider claimed a defiant victory on the 44km-long second and final stage of the women’s race in Australia on Thursday (February 6), which culminated at the summit of a 20km climb in Falls Creek.

After making it into the elite selection of 15 riders in the final, Harris (usually Canyon-SRAM but riding for the New Zealand national team in the Sun Tour) was dropped multiple times but repeatedly fought back on, eventually beating Sarah Gigante (Tibco-SVB) in the dash for the line.

Speaking after the victory, her first since turning pro with Canyon-SRAM last season, the 21-year-old said: “I am speechless, I can’t believe it.

“At the [Tour Down Under] and [Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race] I felt like I was close to getting a result, like I had the legs. Today didn’t start so good, and as it went on I kept clawing my way back and I kept accelerating, I’ve got zero punch.

“I kept getting dropped so I just kept dieselling myself back on, then with about 500metres to go I felt like I had a little bit more power than everyone else. To cross the line in first after the surprise crosswinds yesterday, I can’t believe it, and it means so much to me. I’ve got so many people to thank and I am just ecstatic.”

Harris followed an unconventional route when turning pro, when she triumphed over 4,900 other women who entered the 2018 Zwift Academy, a talent-scouting programme run through the online training platform.

After completing a series of workouts, races and group rides on Zwift, Harris qualified for the finals held during a Canyon-SRAM camp in Malaga in late 2018, and emerged as winner to secure a one-year pro contract with the team.

Her first pro season was marred by injuries, but Harris still comfortably proved she deserved her spot on the team, winning the youth classification at the Vuelta a Burgos and taking and handful of top-10 finishes throughout the year, which all resulted in her extending her contract for 2020. 

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Harris has already stepped up for 2020, taking a stage of the Sun Tour, winning the mountains classification and finishing fourth overall, while becoming the first Zwift Academy winner, male or female, to win a race.

She said: “To win my first professional race is just crazy. It’s not a weight off my shoulders but it’s just nice to tick that box and it’s Waitangi Day as well, to win on New Zealand’s national day in the national kit is pretty cool. It’s pretty awesome.”

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