The Zwift Triathlon Academy welcomed eight age-group athletes to its elite team at the start of the year with the audacious goal of having them all qualify for and podium at the Ironman World Championship in Kona this fall. It seemed like a lofty ask, but we are just a few weeks into the 2019 season and already six of the eight athletes have stamped their tickets to Hawaii – some doing so in commanding style. We’ve written in the past about our initial reservations around the concept of building a powerhouse age-group triathlon team, but have been impressed by the stories that have come from the team.
In what was only her second triathlon, Maggie Walsh, from Littleton, Colo., took the overall women’s age-group win at Ironman Boulder back on June 9, posting an impressive time of 9:36 that would have placed her fourth overall in the women’s professional race. Zwift Triathlon Academy teammate Paul Lunn, from the UK, was in action at Ironman Cairns, where he finished 6th in the 40-44 age-group in 9:40.
Walsh and Lunn will be joined in Kona by their teammates Yvonne Timewell, of Canada, and Natia Van Heerden, from South Africa, who both qualified after winning their respective age groups at Ironman 70.3 Honu on June 1. Ruth Purbrook, from the UK, earned her slot at Kona last year and Australian Levi Hauwert secured his at Ironman Texas in April. This leaves two Zwift Academy athletes with Kona spots still to earn: American Justin Lieppert, who will go long for the first time when he races Ironman UK next month, and Philipp Herber, from Germany, who is hoping to qualify at Ironman Austria on July 7.
The Zwift Triathlon Academy team, which launched last year with four athletes, is unlike anything else in age-group triathlon. The level of support given to each team member is comparable to, if not superior to, that which world-class triathletes might receive. Zwift partnered with Specialized, Wahoo, Roka, and Science in Sport to bring together an enviable sponsorship package.
Each Zwift Triathlon Academy age-group athlete on the team receives:
- A custom Specialized S-Works Shiv Disc bike
- Specialized cycling shoes and helmets
- Zwift account
- Wahoo KICKR smart trainer and indoor training gear, a Wahoo TICKR heart rate monitor, a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt bike computer
- Roka Maverick X wetsuit, speedsuit, custom Roka aero short sleeve tri suits, Roka sunglasses, swim caps and goggles.
- Science in Sport nutrition products and access to nutritionist
- Various kits and apparel from all of the partners
- Race fees, travel and accommodation costs covered for Ironman qualifying race and an all expenses paid trip to Kona upon qualifying, with access to full support staff throughout race week at Kona.
- Every team member also has almost unlimited access to the Zwift Tri Academy mentors, pro athletes Tim Don and Sarah True, who are on hand (via a WhatsApp message group) to offer advice on all aspects of training and racing.
During the team’s week-long training camp at Specialized’s headquarters in Morgan Hill, Calif., in May, each athlete spent time with expert scientists and engineers, dialing in their bike position in the wind tunnel, and undertaking a Retul bike fit session, as well as metabolic testing with Specialized’s exercise physiologists to determine their optimal bike position based on their physiology.
Each athlete was selected because they have the potential to podium or win their age group in Kona this year, and Zwift seems to be leaving no stone unturned in its quest to help get them there.
Craig Taylor, director of growth marketing for Zwift Triathlon, said: “The key focus for the team is that they all make it to Kona. When you look at triathlon, aside from the Olympics or the ITU Grand Final, Kona is the pinnacle of our sport. It is the one world championship race where an amateur athlete gets to share the same venue as the pros at the exact same time. You never hear of an amateur football player stepping onto the field at the Super Bowl or a pick-up basketball game happening during the NBA Finals, but at Kona you get to do that. We wanted to set ourselves the goal of seeing if we could help these athletes make it there, perform at the highest level, and hit the podium.”
But why a team of age-groupers and not a team of pros? Taylor says one of the most important goals when setting up the academy was to help show that Zwift is a hugely effective training tool for time-crunched triathletes – and age-group athletes certainly fit that time-crunched bill.
“Age-groupers’ training has to be as effective as possible,” Taylor says. “For them, triathlon is a hobby, and they want to perform at the highest level, but they’re doing so balancing work, family, and other commitments. We want to show that Zwift provides the best training tool – it’s not just something you use on a rainy day, but something that helps you get the most from your training while connecting you to an amazing community. Ultimately, we want to help grow that community and the sport as a whole.”
Here’s the Zwift Triathlon Academy team at a glance:
Levi Hauwert, 32, from Australia
Philipp Herber, 29, from Germany
Justin Lieppert, 23, from USA
Maggie Walsh, 36, from USA
Paul Lunn, 46, from UK
Ruth Purbrook, 29, from UK
Yvonne Timewell, 51, from Canada
Natia van Heerden, 28, from South Africa