March 20, 2016 (The Netherlands) – Canada’s Leah Kirchmann (Liv-Plantur) tasted her first European victory on Sunday, March 13, winning the one-day, 140.5km road race at Drentse Acht van Westerveld in the Netherlands. Kirchmann was part of a 13-woman break early in the race, and then won the final sprint to the line. A multi-time national champ with strong palmares, she is having a strong start to her first Euro-season with her new team, Liv-Plantur. Pedal caught up with the rider from Winnipeg in the Netherlands where her team is based.
Congratulations on your first Euro win, your 2nd at Omloop van het Hageland plus various top 10s. What was different at Drentse Acht van Westerveld that led to victory ?
Leah Kirchmann: It was a typical Dutch race, very big peloton on very small roads, including some cobbles. After missing some key moments the previous day in Drenthe, the team was on point and focussed from the start of this race. The race included two laps of the short and steep VAMberg climb (an old garbage dump). With a narrow lead in, we knew this could be a critical point in the race. My teammates did a good job positioning me at the front for the start of the climb. The bunch stayed together the first lap, but the next time up proved to be the decisive moment of the race when 13 of us gained a gap over the top. With all the big teams represented, there was good cooperation in the group and almost everyone started turning to increase the gap, and we managed to stay away for the next 70 km. With some teams there with two or three riders, I tried to conserve some energy in the final local laps. In the end, I started my sprint from a very long way out and was so happy to hang on for the win!
How has your transition to the Euro scene been going – is it more competitive and what are the biggest challenges ?
LK: I couldn’t have asked for a smoother transition to the Euro scene. I’ve finished in the top 10 in every race so far, and I have to give a lot of credit to my team for those results. They have done an amazing job in preparing me for success and giving me the proper support at the races.
It helps that I’ve spent a lot of time racing over here in the past between Optum and the Canadian national team, so everything is not completely new to me. It is a steep learning curve when you first come over from racing in North America. Reflecting back to my first European national team project in 2010 makes me realize how much progress I’ve made over the years. Back then I was just trying to survive the races, while now I’m in contention for the win.
You turn 26 this summer?
LK: Yes, my birthday is June 30th.
You rode for Colavita in 2011 and Optum Pro Cycling 2012-2015. How do you describe your evolution as cyclist? Your triple crown (winning the road race, ITT, and the crit) at the Canadian nationals in 2014 and your 3rd at La Course by Le Tour de France, are these your biggest accomplishments ?
LK: Yes, my first pro team was Colavita, then I was with Optum for four years before moving to Liv-Plantur for 2016.
I used to be more of a pure sprinter, but I’ve become much more well-rounded as a cyclist these past few years, making huge gains in my time trial and climbing abilities. Winning the triple crown at nationals in 2014 was perfect evidence of that evolution into an all-rounder.
Yes, I would agree that the Nationals triple crown and La Course by Le Tour de France podium are some of my biggest accomplishments to date.
How do you fit with Liv-Plantur’s Team dynamic ?
LK: I think I fit in quite well with the team dynamic so far. We are very committed to the team plans and to each other in the races, and this is already paying off with some great results!
How much Dutch do you have to speak?
LK: Liv Plantur/Giant-Alpecin is an international team with riders from many different countries, so they have decided to use English as the main language of communication. I am consistently impressed with the incredible English skills that most Dutch citizens possess. That being said, I’m still trying to learn some Dutch while living over here!
What’s your specialty ?
LK: All-rounder with a very good sprint
Things you miss the most back in North America ?
LK: I do love the North-American racing scene, so I will miss that this year. I also miss my friends and family, but I know I will get to go home eventually!
How does the season look from here?
LK: My upcoming races are Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders, and La Flèche Wallonne Féminine.
What are your chances for Rio?
LK: It is my dream to represent Canada at the Olympics, so I hope my chances are good!
Do you still cross-country ski? [ed’s note: Kirchmann was a skier before she became a cyclist]
LK: Not a lot these days, but I like to ski whenever the opportunity arises. I had the chance to go on some beautiful skis with friends and family while home at Christmas in Winnipeg.
Any shout-outs for fans in Canada and Winnipeg?
LK: Hello to my friends and family back home in Winnipeg and the rest of Canada! Thanks for all your messages, it helps to know I have so much support back home when living in a foreign country!
Best of luck with the rest of the season!