Cycling: Kiwi cyclist is making the most of unusual opportunity

Take five-thousand people from around the world, throw them in a sports video game, and pit them against each other.

For Ella Harris, competing in cycling's version of Survivor came with a life-changing result. 

The Dunedin rider decided to give it a go after a reminder from one of friends, and after a gruelling campaign, she won her first professional contract. 

"It was probably the most stressful three months of my life really," she told Newshub. 

Her unconventional rise to the top involved a series of workouts, races and group-rides, on the programme Zwift. 

It's an online video game and training centre - allowing people to interact and compete in a virtual world. 

World Tour team Canyon-SRAM used it to try and crack Harris, and see if she was good enough for their roster.

"As hard as you can go for 25 seconds, 4 minutes, 10 minutes, 12 minutes, on the road, on the erg, so lots of testing, lots of pain, probably the hardest sessions I've ever done."

Out of the five-thousand applicants, Harris made it to the final, competing against compatriot Ione Johnson, and one other.

"It was definitely sort of like those reality TV shows you see like Survivor, you want to get on with them and you want to have a good time but at the same time, you're there for one reason, you want a pro contract".

The final three spent a week in Spain at a training camp, before Harris was deemed the winner and handed a one-year deal.

"This dream I've had for a while and to fulfill it so quickly when I thought I'd have to go through years of racing in Europe, trying to get results, just to have it happen so fast is pretty incredible."

The 20-year old made her debut in Spain earlier this year, and she's loving life with the German outfit.

"There are some extremely classy riders in the team, top ten world ranked riders, riding with them is pretty crazy".

The 20-year old has already competed in one of the biggest women's races: the Rone van Drenthe in the Netherlands.

Her season has unfortunately been cut short by a broken collarbone suffered on the opening stage of the Healthy Ageing Tour. She's had surgery, and will fittingly resume her comeback on Zwift, riding from her Girona apartment.

Her cycling aspirations mean she's put the food marketing degree she was studying in Dunedin on the back-burner. 

"I might sort of continue that part time, it was sort of more half-hearted really, I wasn't fully committed to it,'' she laughed. 

After conquering the virtual cycling world, Ella Harris' next challenge is very much the real deal.