Stage 5 of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift was expected to end in a sprint. Ricarda Bauernfiend was doing her best to defy expectations.
The Canyon//SRAM rider charged ahead of the peloton, willing herself on toward the finish line. Just a few years ago, Ricarda was training with Zwift Academy, but she decided to focus on school instead of pursuing a pro cycling contract. Now she was about to win a stage of a grand tour.
The race was hard from the beginning and didn’t let up. Canyon//SRAM was one of the teams trying to attack, but at one point, they missed the front group and had to chase back. By the time they reached the hilly part of the stage, there were only three team members left in the group.
“At one point, I said to Kasia (Niewiadoma, team leader) that I can’t follow attacks anymore, because I’m just dead,” Bauernfeind says. “Five minutes later, I heard my DS, Magnus Bäckstedt, on the radio. He told me to attack on the next climb.”
So she did, convinced that it would never work.
“At first I thought, ‘Okay, maybe I can go over the next climb, and just ride my own pace and then I don’t have to follow any attacks. Then the bunch will catch me again,’” she says. “Then the gap to the bunch was growing, and my legs felt quite good at this point.”
With around 4 kilometers to go, time trial specialist Marlen Reusser (Team SD Worx) and German national champion Liane Lippert (Movistar Team) took off to bridge the gap. Bauernfeind was still expecting the yellow jersey holder to fly out of the pack and take another stage win.
“Honestly, I was just waiting for that moment when Lotte Kopecky will come around me,” she says. “100 meters before the finish line, I thought, ‘Okay, in one second she will catch me and sprint around me. That moment didn’t happen. . . . I don’t know why or how, but I made it to the finish line.”
Bauernfeind, who raced as a junior on the road and track, joined Zwift Academy in 2019 “just for fun.” A friend of hers was also doing the program, and they helped motivate each other and push each other to become better.
Zwift Academy is a training program and talent identification program in one. Participants complete the same series of workouts, along with a couple of races, as part of a community where they can find support and competition.
“I had a lot of fun during the workouts, because they were quite hard, but only one hour, so it was perfect to do it between studies or something else,” she said. “Some of them I did twice, because I liked them and I wanted to reach a higher number than the first time.”
She also enjoyed the races and seeing how she measured up to other riders. But when Bauernfeind got a message that she was in the top 20 and was invited to do additional workouts, she decided not to go any further.
Currently, at the end of Zwift Academy, one woman and one man are selected to win a contract with the CANYON//SRAM Generation and Alpecin-Deceuninck Development teams. When Bauernfeind was participating, she would have been competing to go directly to the CANYON//SRAM Women’s WorldTour team – the highest level of competition.
Bauernfeind’s goal had been to become a professional cyclist for a long time, but something told her she wasn’t ready. She had put a lot of pressure on herself recently and lost the fun of racing. Without that motivation, she didn’t think she was good enough to go pro, and she wanted to focus on her studies.
“My goal wasn’t anymore to become a pro cyclist,” she says. “I just wanted to study and become a teacher.”
Bauernfeind didn’t give up cycling while focusing on school. Before going to class, she would hop onto her bike indoors and train on Zwift.
“Zwift helped me because I could start training early in the morning, even if it was dark or cold outside,” she says. “I could do some intense sessions on the bike, and then during the day I had some sport classes at university. It was a good combination between endurance training at university and hard training on Zwift.”
Usually, she would do structured workouts, often importing custom sessions into Zwift. Click here to learn how to create or import custom workouts yourself!
Bauernfeind kept racing every now and then. In 2021, she placed third in the German national championship road race. Germany’s national coach nominated her for the U23 European championships, and there she finished 10th. Teams started showing interest, but she wasn’t sure if she should join one.
“I thought, ‘If I’m in a team again, I’ll feel a lot of pressure again,’” she says. “Then I heard about the Canyon//SRAM Generation team, where the main focus was not on results but more on developing and learning, so I thought maybe this would be a good way for me.”
The team started at some national-level races in spring of 2022, and then they moved on to higher-level and stage races. Bauernfeind noticed she was making good progress throughout the season.
By the end of the year, when she was recruited to the Canyon//SRAM Women’s WorldTour team, she was ready.
“We already had a good environment in the Generation team, so we could already feel how it is to be a professional rider,” she says. “Now, the biggest differences are that the races are longer and harder, and in the team, everyone has a special role. We have one team leader and everyone is working for her.”
At the beginning of the 2023 season, Bauernfeind’s goal was to be on the start line of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. She was thrilled when her coaches told her she had been selected.
“When you’re younger, you always have dreams or goals that you want to reach your whole career,” she says. “Winning a stage at the Tour de France was never in my mind. It still feels super special.”
Bauernfeind is still working on her studies and is now writing her bachelor’s thesis. She also still uses Zwift to train and says she looks forward to winter.
“A lot of people are saying they don’t enjoy the winter months, because then it’s a lot of indoor training, but I really like it,” she says. “I like hard workouts. There is no way where you can ride easy or just stop pedaling. You always have to pedal. After a workout, the feelings are great.”
Her coach will create workouts in TrainingPeaks and then upload them to Zwift. (Click here to learn how to link your Zwift account with third-party platforms like TrainingPeaks and Today’s Plan.) Bauernfeind likes workouts with 3-minute efforts and 5-minute efforts, or sometimes just riding uphill in the virtual worlds.
Winter is also the perfect season for her favorite hobby – baking! She calls it “the best recovery” for her.
Whether you also want to go pro or just improve your health, Zwift is a great way to help you meet your goals when you’ve got a lot on your plate. Bauernfeind’s advice? Find what motivates you and then keep at it.
“I already experienced that you can train as hard as you can, but if you don’t enjoy the things you are doing, then you never give 100%,” she says. “I think the most important thing is not to put too much pressure on yourself, and focus on having fun.”