This is the fifth part of an article entitled ‘Rouleur’s Super Six’, originally published in Rouleur issue 20.4, on sale now
How do you put yourself in the WorldTour shop window when you live in Australia, half a world away from the heart of the action? Jess Pratt was training as a registered nurse back home in Adelaide. She’d been racing since she was a kid, represented her country at the 2015 World Championships in Richmond and did a bunch of European races in 2017 with the Australian development team. And then, nothing. It was the final year of funding for sending the women’s team abroad.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is so cool, I really want to do this,’ but I came home and had my university degree to chip away at. There wasn’t truly a pathway from Australia,” she says.
The answer came in the seemingly unlikely form of Zwift, whose annual Academy competition guarantees a contract with Canyon-SRAM. The perception that winners are good at computer games but not so hot at actually racing bikes is wide of the mark. The 2017 winner, Tanja Erath, was a former triathlete and Red Hook crit racer – and, coincidently, also trained as a nurse – who remains a key part of the team. Kiwi Ella Harris has flourished since gaining a contract for 2019.
“I loved racing my bike but didn’t know what to do,” Jess says. “I met Tanja at the Tour Down Under in 2018 and she told me about her story, then I followed Ella’s journey. When it came up in 2019, I really wanted to give it a shot. And I had finished university.”
From thousands of entrants, Pratt won through to the final, then landed the big one, having mastered the power-ups, kit-unlocking and drafting methods that are key to successful Zwift racing. “It’s a bit of a different sport. You need to understand the game element, but you also need to have the legs,” she says.
And she clearly has the legs, ending the Tour Down Under in January – so far, her one and only chance to show what she can do on the road – with a top ten finish on GC, with predominantly established stars of the WorldTour scene finishing ahead of her.
Once she moves to Spain as planned and road racing returns, keep your eyes peeled for Jess Pratt. As with any rider from Down Under, they don’t come all that way without both the talent and the determination to succeed. She wants to show herself to the world, so you’d better pay attention.