Zwift Academy: Maddie Le Roux and Louis Kitzki bag contracts with Canyon-SRAM and Alpecin-Deceuninck development teams

South African climber and 20-year-old German rouleur emerge from a talent pool of more than 100,000 riders

Clock19:00, Friday 23rd February 2024
Maddie Le Roux and Louis Kitzki are the winners of the 2023 Zwift Academy

© Harry Powell for Zwift

Maddie Le Roux and Louis Kitzki are the winners of the 2023 Zwift Academy

The winners of the 2023 Zwift Academy have been announced, with South African Maddie Le Roux and German Louis Kitzki bagging racing contracts with the Canyon-SRAM and Alpecin-Deceuninck development teams, respectively.

The pair become the eighth set of winners from the talent identification process, following in the footsteps of a number of riders who’ve gone on to shine at WorldTour level, including Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) and Neve Bradbury (Canyon-SRAM).

Le Roux and Kitzki were among a field of 108,000 riders who entered the process on the indoor training platform Zwift, along with GCN's own Cillian Kelly and Andrew Feather. As the challenges racked up, the field whittled down, to the point where just six riders – three women and three men – remained to battle it out, doing so upon invitation to training camps of Canyon-SRAM Generation and Alpecin-Deceuninck Development in south east Spain in December.

The final consisted of a number of challenges, both on Zwift and out on the open road, as they trained and mingled with the team’s established riders.

Le Roux: A World Cycling Centre graduate

Le Roux, 27, is a former triathlete, winning the 2014 African Youth Games title before focusing on cycling in recent years. Her breakthrough came with the chance to move to join the UCI’s World Cycling Centre programme, for riders who don't come from cycling's European heartlands.

This has seen her gain experience and compete in major races in the past two years, including the WorldTour-level Tour de Suisse, which came after a top-10 in the Alpes Grésivaudan Classic.

“Maddie excelled in many of the challenges but where she stood out from all the finalists was supporting her designated leaders during the Zwift race,” said Canyon-SRAM Generation’s team director, Adam Szabó. “This moment was a turning point in the week, and we were sure this was what we were looking for in our team.”

Le Roux had been set to join the Lyon Sprint Evolution amateur team in France for 2024 but has now switched plans and will race for the development arm of the Canyon-SRAM WorldTour squad. A natural climber, her dream is to wear the polka-dot jersey in the Tour de France Femmes.

“I’m excited to finally be able to share the news, it still feels unbelievable, to be honest, but I’m sure it’ll sink in soon,” she said. “It’s been a whirlwind since coming back from finals, but I am looking forward to joining the team in Europe and getting the season started.”

Kitzki: A 20-year-old with long-term potential

The men’s competition was won by Louis Kitzki, a young 20-year-old talent from Germany.

Described as a strong time triallist, he has balanced his Zwift racing with appearances for the Embrace The World amateur team in Germany, competing in Europe and Africa.

Kitzki was said to have seen off strong competition by virtue of his potential, with the judges seeing huge room for improvement.

“This edition, the finalists were the closest ever to compare on a physical level. Louis has the combination of a young age with the belief and awareness that his ‘weak points’ are only working points, which gave him the advantage over the other finalists,” said Alpecin-Deceuninck performance manager, Kristof de Kegel.

“All three had massive physical capacities but Louis in our opinion the most workable profile in the long term.”

Kitzki will now join the development team and gain experience at a higher level of racing, with the opportunity there for Development team riders to step up and represent the Alpecin-Deceuninck WorldTour squad at certain points in the season.

“The Zwift Academy Finals was such a unique experience riding with the team and getting to spend that time with the coaches, it is such a great way to really test if you can handle the professional cycling lifestyle,” said Kitzki.

“I am so excited to join the Alpecin-Deceuninck development team for the coming season, to learn from some of the world’s best cyclists, and hopefully follow in Luca’s footsteps."

The Luca he’s referring to is Luca Vergallito, who won the Zwift Academy in 2023, rode for Alpecin-Deceuninck Development last year, and has now graduated to the WorldTour squad for 2024 – another marker of the success of the programme and the idea of using indoor cycling to spot diamonds in the rough.

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