On 21 November, Team Dimension Data and Zwift announced that former New Zealand in-line skating sensation Ollie Jones won a one-year contract with the team’s development squad, Dimension Data for Qhubeka. Jones joins last year’s women’s academy winner Leah Thorvilson as the second Zwifter-turned-pro. Unlike Thorvilson, Jones will not be thrown into the World Tour quite yet, but he did get the opportunity to ride with some of the squad’s biggest names during the Zwift Academy tryouts.
Jones says he was stunned:
“To say this is a dream come true is the understatement of the year. It’s a life-changing experience and I still can’t believe it’s happening.”
Despite being an under-23 cyclist, Jones has already had quite a bit of success as an elite athlete, having won multiple national titles in in-line skating and competed for New Zealand on age group national teams as a cyclist. Recently, he moved up to the elite level, racing for the domestic team Powernet, and has had some good successes. All the while, Jones has maintained his rigorous academic schedule, sitting for three exams during the week-long stage race.
Besides his strength in the peloton and his in-line skating dominance, Ollie is well-known for being a hard worker and tougher than the average competitor. During the height of his skating career, Jones is said to have trained or raced every day for two-and-a-half years. As a junior cyclist, he also completed the last 15 kilometers of a race with no saddle. According to New Zealand website Stuff, Jones was in the middle of the Rotorua to Taupo 100km race when his seat came loose on the rails. He simply took it off, stuffed it in his saddle, and rode on to complete the 100km course in under 2 hours and 30 minutes!
Finding young raw talent isn’t easy, but Zwift’s global reach and data collection makes it easier. Dimension Data’s team principal Doug Ryder said, “Of course, there’s no substitute for the tactics, bike handling, and skills a rider need 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. We’re super proud to have him on the team.”
Jones will now take his legendary work ethic to Lucca, Italy, to begin working with his new team. He has already commented publicly how much he enjoyed riding and training with his other Zwift Academy finalists, Sam Mobberley and Nick White, and the crop of Team Dimension Data riders who helped in making the final selection.
As it went with Leah, Ollie’s debut in the European pro peloton in the Spring will likely be met with some controversy, but the fact that he is riding with a development squad should reduce some of the pressure on the young rider.
Jones signed up for the Men’s Zwift Academy with 9231 other cyclists. 1247 completed the Academy’s requirements. See detailed results from the inaugural Men’s Zwift Academy >
The Zwift community will be actively cheering for Ollie and keeping an eye open for the newest Zwift Academy winner on the roads of Watopia this winter. Ride On, Ollie!