Tanja Erath (28) earned a pro contract with Canyon/Sram WorldTour team, winning this year’s Zwift Academy. What is even more impressive: she has won the competition while finishing her medical studies. During the semifinals, she had one of her final exams. So on top of being a doctor, Tanja can call herself a professional cyclist as well. Erath’s road to becoming a cycling pro isn’t a common one. Where most riders climb the ranks through the youth categories, Tanja started focusing on cycling just one and a half year ago. After competing in triathlon for about 16 years, the German native was forced to quit that challenging sport because of an unclarified but chronical leg injury that made running too painful.
Text: Date Burgerjon
Header Image: Dan Zwift
Meanwhile, Tanja was introduced to fixed gear racing by her boyfriend, Jan Hoffmannn. In September 2016 she tried riding a fixed gear bike for the first time. Only two weeks later she raced her first fixed gear crit, finishing in second place. This year, she represented team Fixedpott and participated in most of the NL Crit Series races and all the Red Hook Crits. Of the 12 fixed gear crits she competed in, she won 7. She took 3rd place during the Red Hook Crit in Barcelona and finished 5th (the final podium spot) in the overall Red Hook classification.
At the end of June, Erath started in both time-trail and the road race of the German nationals in Chemnitz (Mecklenburg), finishing 21st in both events. All good results but not anything that gets you a contract at a Women’s World-Tour team.
When we talked to Tanja earlier this year, she told us about her wish to turn pro and that she might give it a go this winter. She didn’t mention having Zwift Academy already on her mind. “I heard about it last year. But I was too late to enter.” This year Tanja made sure she was on time. “It was my season goal, to give it a try and see if I could go pro.”
While most fixed gear riders took a break after Milan, Tanja had to keep her fitness to compete against more than two-thousand women on Zwift. The competition comprised three rounds. There were fifteen tasks to be done in the six weeks of the first round. Based on power and racing data Zwift selected the best ten for a second round (seven tests in two weeks). At last Tanja had to ride a final in Koblenz against Norwegian Siri Hildonen and Bri Torkelson (USA).
Even though Tanja just finished her studies it wasn’t a hard choice to join Canyon/Sram. “I got the email that I made it to the finals. It said to think about it, sleep a night on it. Because taking part means a lot of travelling and racing. And you have to move to Spain. Within two minutes I replied. Yes, I’ll do it.”
Making the final, Tanja and the two other finalists joined the team at a training camp in Germany. “It felt a bit uncomfortable in the beginning. Mechanics that clean your bike, people who washed your clothes. I’m used to doing that myself. But once I got to know everyone and they got to know me, and what I can do on a bike, it felt natural. The girls where all so supportive and gave me the feeling they wanted me to do well.”
“I look forward to being part of a team during races. This year I was always the lone wolf. But I prefer being part of a team where I can help my teammates, and they can help me. But what I look forward to the most are all these gorgeous races. I saw some of the races I might be doing like the Tour of California and the Tour of Yorkshire. I will be travelling around the world riding my bike, what’s not to look forward to.”
With all the racing in the Netherlands and all the Red Hook Crits, Tanja was already living a cyclist life. “Well sort of, I did what I loved. But it was all next to full time working. Taking flights on Friday evening and racing the next day and then flying back on Sunday morning. It was stressful sometimes.”
The life of a pro cyclist isn’t stressful? “Yes, of course, it will be. But you can focus on the cycling part, and you don’t have to have a different life next to it. So I think it will be great.”
Isn’t Tanja a bit scared for her big adventure? “I just hope I don’t disappoint. They told me that I have huge potential and they think I can be a strong rider (sprinter). I would like to live up to those expectations.”
The big question: Will Tanja be racing fixed gear coming season? “Everybody asks me that. I don’t know yet. We haven’t talked about it, and I don’t know if it will fit my race schedule.” If it were up to her? “Of course, because I love those races. And the Red Hook Crits are so well organised. I had so much fun this year. And the competition is great as well. You have such strong girls like Raphaele Lemieux, Carla Nafria and Ash Duban. I would love to continue racing with them.’’
“Maybe the team is interested in a Canyon/Sram girl racing Red Hooks. If not, I’m fine with that, but I will surely miss the fixed gear scene then. The fixed scene has given me a lot; I made friends, the other riders were so helpful, and they still support me so much. I received so many texts and messages the past week.’’
First of all, Tanja is going to enjoy a real short ‘off-season’. “It’s December, and I had no time off. It has been a tough year altogether. I worked in four different hospitals, moved three times, raced and travelled a lot, did my final exams and did Zwift academy. So I’ll take some days to go home for Christmas and have some time off with my family. I won’t ride my bike there and will not think about numbers and watts.”