This is a sponsored article in association with Zwift
Tanja Erath is in a good mood. Right now the German, a first-year pro having crossed over from triathlon just two years ago, has just competed in two of the biggest races in women’s cycling — just eight months after signing her contract with Canyon//SRAM.
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Two weeks ago there was La Course by Le Tour — the ASO-run race between Annecy and Le Grand Bornard which featured three Alpine climbs. Then, on Saturday, there was the Prudential RideLondon Classique, a circuit race in central London taking in Westminster and Buckingham Palace. It’s also the richest race in women’s cycling, featuring a £100,000 prize purse.
“Both La Course and the Classique are super-important for women’s cycling,” Erath says. “They are both the centre of attention and show people how amazing, thrilling and exciting women’s cycling is. I didn’t really prepare for La Course as my teammate Hannah [Barnes] broke her collarbone at the Giro and I was the backup, but racing there was a dream come true. That’s why I raced despite not being 100 percent healthy.
“For sure the prize money plays a huge part in letting the sport grow,” she adds. “It helps athletes concentrate on cycling as a profession and also increases talent density in the sport. That again brings more attention, spectators, and hopefully more young girls into this amazing sport.”
It’s certainly one way into the sport — taking inspiration from watching your heroes race. But for Erath it was a different story. Previously a professional triathlete, injuries and plans to go into medicine provoked a chance in focus.
After hearing about Zwift Academy from a friend, she decided to give it a shot — cycling was her strongest discipline, she says.
Erath completed her medical studies while competing, and from 2,159 women the field was whittled down to just one — her.
A pro contract awaited, and already this year the 28-year-old has competed in races as varied as the Amgen Tour of California, the Asda Tour de Yorkshire and the German National Championships.
Zwift is still a constant, of course. Sessions on the trainer are worked into her training schedule and provide structured preparation for some of the biggest races in the world.
“[My coach and I] had already started to plan my training with — and around — my turbo sessions during the Zwift Academy. My coach knows about, and really loves the efficacy of, a good session on the trainer so he really likes to use it as part of my plan.
“On cold days I prefer Zwift to riding outside,” she adds. “Furthermore, some sessions with really hard or long efforts at a steady pace are just easier and done more safely on Zwift. I can focus on my numbers and the pain rather than worry about traffic.”
Demands of the race
And for the unique demands of the Prudential RideLondon Classique — a city-centre criterium featuring 12 laps of a twisting 5.4km circuit — a particular type of training was needed.
“It has helped to do some speed work and acceleration training on the track for speeding up the legs,” Erath says. “After a season so far with a lot of longer races at a steady pace, it’s what I needed for a short inner-city circuit with hairpins and sharp corners.”
The style of racing is something Erath is used to, having raced fixed-gear criteriums in the past. Last season she won eight races from around 15 or 16 total participations, also finishing fifth in the Red Hook Criterium general classification. It’s little wonder, then, that she had the speed to go pro. But racing criteriums on a road bike is an altogether different prospect, she says.
“I’m more experienced in criteriums than I am in ‘normal’ road racing. But at the Tour of California I had to learn criterium racing at the WorldTour level, and it’s something completely different that you have to get used to. It’s super fast all the time with strong and consistent attacking.
“I also have to think about the shifting,” she adds. “I did most of my races on a fixed-gear bike so that’s also quite different. There’s less to think about.”
Despite the slight change from what she’s used to, Erath was upbeat about the race and confident in her teammates’ chances of success in London. Things didn’t end up going quite to plan though, with crashes disrupting the Canyon//SRAM team throughout the race, notably in the finale.
“As a team we had four crashes,” Erath says. “Lisa Klein crashed twice and the second time Christa Riffel and Alice Barnes went down. I got stuck behind them too, but would’ve waited anyway to bring Alice back to the bunch. After that pull I couldn’t make it back to the bunch myself and just finished my race.”
A crash in the final kilometre caused splits in the peloton before the sprint for the line. Co-leader Lisa Brennauer was caught on the wrong side, though Barnes sprinted to ninth place in the lead group. From a personal point of view, Erath wasn’t pleased with her own race.
“I didn’t have a great race,” she adds. “I suffered a lack of good legs and a massive lack of confidence – it was super windy, fast, and very dusty. So it wasn’t an awesome race referring to my own performance.
“But the crowd, atmosphere and scenery were just amazing. Even when I lost contact, people cheered for me like crazy — I heard my name on every corner. It was something I didn’t expect in the middle of London, so I really enjoyed that.”
It’s been quite a journey for Erath so far, from juggling studies, racing and progressing though the Zwift Academy, to competing at the world’s biggest bike races, all in the space of under a year.
Next up for her comes time off to recover from a pre-La Course illness, travelling and a lot of racing. She’ll be back before long, and no doubt there will be more to come from Tanja Erath.