Canyon-SRAM started the Zwift Academy two years ago, allowing amateur riders chance to train with the team and try to prove themselves worthy of racing at the top level. Tanja Erath, the 2018 winner, raced with the team this year and recently signed an extension contract for 2019.
After a challenging week of finals at the team's first training camp in Málaga, Spain, Harris emerged with the victory.
“What another fantastic year it’s been for the Canyon-SRAM Zwift Academy,” said Kate Veronneau, the academy leader at Zwift. “While the champions of the Zwift Academy receive the headline, and rightly so, it’s important to highlight the thousands of women who took part in the Academy - many with very different objectives to the winner. It’s fantastic to be a part of such a community and championing women’s cycling.”
The third year of the innovative talent identification program saw participation numbers double, with 5,000 women taking part.
"Each year the Canyon-SRAM Zwift Academy provides women the opportunity to challenge their fitness, join an inspiring community of women who ride, and the chance for some to achieve their dream of a professional contract with Canyon/SRAM Racing," the team said in a statement released with today's announcement.
After structured workouts, testing and training, three finalists - Harris, Ione Johnson and Mary Wilkinson - were selected to attend the team's training camp and get put to the test with various challenges on and off the bike.
"The Zwift finals were very rewarding, challenging, and incredibly insightful," said Harris, 20. "It was a very tough and demanding competition throughout the week, that tested me both mentally and physically. Despite being the most significant challenge I've ever completed, being immersed in the team for a week has taught me so much already.
Harris, who is from Dunedin, New Zealand, and is currently studying food marketing, already has some experience with racing and was obviously excited about the pro contract.
"I’m absolutely ecstatic to be joining such an incredible team of world class riders at Canyon-SRAM Racing that I’ve looked up to for so long," she said. "To join this team was my ultimate goal in terms of my cycling development and career. I never envisaged that I would achieve this aspiration so quickly. To have both a career and sporting path laid out in front of me for the next 12 months is going to give me the best possible opportunity to become the greatest rider I can be, and I just can’t wait to get stuck into it."
Canyon-SRAM Team Manager Ronny Lauke said he was once again impressed by the innovative program's success.
“This is our third year with the Zwift Academy, so for us it's a proven form of talent identification," Lauke said. "Leah Thorvilson proved herself to earn a contract renewal for 2018, and we’ve seen some great talent with Tanja (Erath) this year. We’re delighted Tanja has chosen to remain with us through 2019.
"Ella is another great prospect who showed her all-round abilities during the week here in Málaga," Lauke continued. "No doubt she will learn a lot from next year on how to adapt to life as a professional rider away from home. I really look forward to welcoming Ella to the team and what she can do out on the road next season."
Harris will return home to race the New Zealand Road National Championships in early January.
"In 2019 I'm aiming to make a positive contribution and really add value to the team, both on and off the bike," Harris said. "I hope to learn and improve as much as I can by experiencing different races and also through being surrounded by a wonderful team and learning from everyone involved, both staff and riders..
Zwift Co-Founder and CEO Eric Min extended a "huge congratulations" to Harris.
“I’m extremely excited to see how she gets on in her first season at Canyon-SRAM at the WorldTour level," Min said. "Tanja did us proud last year and delivered on her potential out on the road. I’m sure she will serve as a great mentor to Ella throughout 2019.”