A young Christchurch cyclist has beaten more than 9000 global competitors in an extraordinary competition to win a professional trade team contract.
Ollie Jones was announced as the winner last night in Cape Town after he faced off against two other finalists in a series of challenges during an end-of-season training camp run by Team Dimension Data and Zwift Academy.
"To say this is a dream come true is the understatement of the year," he said. "It's a life changing experience and I still can't believe it's happening," said Jones, who will join Team Dimension Data's under 23 squad in Lucca, Italy, for the 2018 season.
Zwift, the organiser of the competition, is an online program that has taken the cycling world by storm. It enables fitness enthusiasts on indoor trainers set up in their garages to enter a virtual environment and train or race in real time against other cyclists from around the world.
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The software company teamed up with Team Dimension Data to challenge under-23 cyclists internationally to get the best results in a six-week program of workouts. Out of 9,200 entrants, 10 were selected for a two-week long semi-final round of workouts.
During the Zwift Academy semi-finals, Jones was not only competing in the Tour of Southland but also preparing for his end-of-year engineering exams at the University of Canterbury.
Two weeks ago Jones joined fellow New Zealander Sam Mobberley and Australian Nick White in Cape Town, along with big names of the sport such as Mark Cavendish, where the three finalists were put though a series of rigorous tests alongside the Team Dimension Data training camp.
"Finding the next young talent is never easy, but Zwift's reach and data collection opens our team up to the whole world," said Team Dimension Data's Team Principal Douglas Ryder.
"Of course, there's no substitute for the tactics, bike handling, and skills a rider needs in real-world racing, but these finalists presented us with the raw materials we need to find the next generation of world class talent. This isn't a marketing gimmick; many of our riders are passionate about riding Zwift and they've seen first hand what a capable rider Ollie is."