This time last year, Zwift Academy winner Tanja Erath was only just beginning her Zwift Academy experience, juggling the rides while studying in her final year of a Medicine degree. On being named 2017 winner, she was catapulted into life as a pro cyclist, with a shiny new contract to ride for leading women’s team, CANYON//SRAM.
With the 2018 Zwift Academy underway (you can still join up until 19 August) and a group of new hopefuls competing for their chance to win a pro contract, I checked back with Tanja to see how she’s enjoying her new life as a professional cyclist.
This time last year you were starting your Zwift Academy experience. Now, you’ve had five months riding for CANYON//SRAM. How has your life changed?
Well, my life changed completely. It would have changed even without Zwift Academy since I finished university and wanted to move to another city. But instead of applying [for a job] in a hospital, I live in Girona now, with my two teammates Alexis Ryan and Leah Thorvilson and I spend my time riding, racing and travelling.
What does a typical day look like now?
Normally I get up around 9am… don’t judge me. I’ve been a night-owl since I was a kid and my wake-up time for the last few years was between 5 and 6am, so I’m enjoying getting up late right now. Breakfast is banana-oat pancakes – yes, every day, because they make me happy! Depending on my training plan, I go for a ride, to the gym or whatever my coach wants me to do. Done with ‘work’, I have lunch and do what I have to, or if there’s nothing on my to-do list, I’m spending my time with friends, watching Netflix or I try to keep my mind up-to-date in medicine (Tanja graduated from her Medicine degree last year).
Most evenings Leah, Alexis and I have ‘family dinner’ together and my early bird roomies go to bed soon afterwards. And I enjoy the lonesome evening hours.
Has it helped having former Zwift Academy winner, Leah Thorvilson, around to ask questions?
Absolutely. Whenever I wanted to ask a stupid question, I could ask her instead of annoying the team. Furthermore, there a few [Zwift-related] things that nobody else in the world knows or understands, that we can talk about. Well, Ollie Jones (male ZA Winner) joins our secret club, but he is more complicated in answering questions than Leah. Also, Leah is super-fun and I don’t want to miss her being a part of my life.
How did you find the first CANYON//SRAM training camp in Benidorm and its hills?
Well to make it short: Loved the camp. Hated the climbs. I was lucky to be thrown into a group with climbers only. This fact made every training ride a 300+ TSS (Training Stress Score*) session for me. I only knew such a high score from races. Well, I guess it helped, but it was painful!
(*Training Stress Score is a measure used to gauge how much effort or suffering an activity involves)
Were there any learning curves or things you had to adjust to once you joined the team?
I had a lot to learn and to adjust to, and I still am. Just the small things during the races, the schedules, what do I have to do and what shouldn’t I do. Everything about bike racing on a World Tour level. Interviews. Seeing myself on video. Travelling around the world. Stepping up my social media game. The list is endless. I feel like I’m growing into my new role and I really enjoy what I’m doing.
How has your training changed since joining CANYON//SRAM?
I’ve worked with my coach Utz Brenner already as a triathlete. I ‘kept’ him as my coach since we already switched successfully together to fixed gear racing and I trust him and his training 100 percent. For me, this is the most important thing in the athlete-coach relationship next to communication. And since we’re both from the same area in south Germany and both love to talk a lot, the communication is as good as the trust and his training.
So overall we increased the volume and the quality, and recovery plays a role in my training now – it didn’t before Zwift Academy.
What does a typical week of training look like?
That’s a tough question to answer since it depends on the time of the season, the races ahead and the training period. But normally it includes everything you’re asking about: long rides, time trial, hill efforts, strength training. Oh and yoga, swimming and core.
Is most of your training now spent outside or do you ever use the turbo?
Since I’m living in Girona now and feel like my bike handling skills and descending are the things that I have to work on, I like to spend most of the time outside riding with other cyclists living in Girona. But in case of bad weather, efforts that are really hard or long in a steady pace and therefore done easier on the trainer, I prefer Zwift. And I guess it’s just an easy decision sometimes: cleaning the bike or Zwifting!
Which Tour have you enjoyed riding the most so far and why?
So far I enjoyed every race since I feel my knowledge increasing from stage to stage. But I really loved the TOC (Tour of California) since it was so different to everything you’re used to from European races and countries. The best crowd so far we had, was in Yorkshire with a beautiful uphill finish. BUT today I just finished La Course and the ‘Le Tour de France’ crowd is hard to beat. Sorry, Yorkshire!
Is life as a pro cyclist what you expected it to be?
It’s different since I didn’t expect that much travelling. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that part, but I just didn’t. But so far I’m still enjoying every second of it, especially British airports – high five on the Meal Deal.
Which races are you looking forward to this year?
So far I only have my race plan till the end of August, which included BeNe Ladies, Prudential Ride London and Holland Ladies. I really looked forward to London and I hope I can do some more track racing.
You can keep up with Tanja’s racing for CANYON//SRAM via her social feeds: www.instagram.com/taennele, www.twitter.com/tanjaerath89 and www.instagram.com/wmncycling. To find out more about this year’s Zwift Academy visit https://www.zwift.com/academy/zaw2018.