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Nature Valley Grand Prix Stage 1, 2 Interviews – Samplonius, Willock, Kirchmann

by Amy Smolens

June 16, 2011 (Saint Paul, MN) – Every year it seems that Canada’s Anne Samplonius (NOW and Novartis) racks up some impressive results at the Nature Valley Grand Prix and this year is no exception. She placed 6th in the 9.7km Riverfront Time Trial on Stage 1 in St. Paul and Pedal caught up with her, Erinne Willock (Tibco/To the Top) and Leah Kirchmann (Colavita/Forno d’Asolo p/b Cooking Light) for interviews at the double-stage Day 1 at the NVGP.

I just can never stop being impressed – I’m not going to say amazed – but impressed by what you do. 42 years-old, 6th place in the Stage 1 time trial. What a great ride, how do you continue to do this?
Anne Samplonius: I don’t know! I mean, it is harder as you get older, definitely, because there are a lot of sacrifices you have to make in cycling. As you get older it’s a little bit more difficult to make those sacrifices. It took me a little bit longer this year, but my team also didn’t start until June so I did have a bit of leeway with that. But you know, I still like doing what I do and that’s it. It’s a new team, I have a new sponsor, so that’s motivation this year. I just had a baby with my wife and that’s also motivation. So there’s a lot of things in my life right now that I take a lot of joy from and that keeps me going.

Let’s first talk about the professional side of things, your new team. You’ve been with a lot of different teams over the years. With this group of women that you have here how do you help groom and teach some of the younger riders?
AS: Well, that’s one of the focuses of the team this year. There are a few experienced riders, with me and Robin Farina, and we’ve taken on some younger riders. We have a 16-year-old with Addy (Albershardt) and that was it, that was one of the philosophies of the team, to take on some younger riders and help develop them. And I can’t say enough about the sponsors of this team. We came together really late and that’s usually unheard of in the cycling world. But what amazing sponsors we have with the Keoghans and NOW and Novartis for MS. I mean not only do I have a great group of teammates but I have what I feel is one of the best sponsors I’ve ever had in my career.

And personally – tell us about what it feels like to be a mom.
AS: Oh you know, they always say that it’s the best thing to happen in the world and I’m like “yeah, whatever,” but when you go through it, it really is. My baby is three weeks old, her name’s Olympia, and I think for the first two weeks I was just on adrenaline. I don’t know how I managed getting 3-4 hours of sleep a night and still going out and training the next day but adrenaline takes over and you’re just on this high, it’s just an amazing thing!

And how old does Olympia have to be before you can fit a helmet on her and you can take her for rides?
AS: Quite old, I think. She was actually born small for gestational age, so she’s only now just five pounds so we’re trying to fatten her up as fast as we can. But yeah, as soon as we can we’re putting a helmet on her and putting a trailer on the bike!

The whole experience just has to give you tremendous excitement about your life, doesn’t it?
AS: It does! It changes things, motivations are a little bit different. You know, there’s cycling but there are other things in life and that’s always been key for me anyway. I really enjoy cycling but I also really balance out my life with a lot of other things and that is also a key to longevity.

AS: Thanks.


I found Erinne Willock, who was hiding out from the rain under her Team TIBCO tent, before the Stage 2 St. Paul Criterium. Willock placed 10th in Stage 1 time trial

So they brought the BC weather here for you, I see.
Erinne Willock: No, no, it’s sunny back home – really, it is though (laughs!)

It was sunny in between stages here, too though!
EW: Yeah, yeah, it was. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is at this race lots of times.

You must be happy with your Top 10 at this morning’s Time Trial.
EW: Yeah, I am. You know, it’s one of my first races back after my crash so I’m happy with that. I’m pretty close in there with the times, not too far back. Yeah, it should be good.

And your goal for tonight is…?
EW: Win the race!

Is it a good race for Joelle [Numainville] perhaps?
EW: Yeah, for sure. She’s sprinting really well and just came off some wins on the weekend.

Ok, good luck.
EW: Thanks!


After Stage 2, Pedal caught up with Leah Kirchmann, who had not only helped her teammate Giorgia Bronzini to the stage victory, but picked up the Wheaties Fuel Sprint jersey for herself in the process:

Talk about this evening’s race, how you worked hard, made the race hard, maybe creating opportunities for yourself and also creating opportunities for your teammate, Giorgia Bronzini, to win.
Leah Kirchmann: Yeah, it was a really hard race. It was raining right off the start and so we knew it was going to be slippery out there. Our team strategy was to make it hard from the start to kind of string it out and make it safer for our team and increase our chances for the win.

So as the reigning Canadian National Crit Champ is this the type of course that suits you?
LK: Yeah, I really, really like technical courses and last year I was racing in BC a lot where it rains so I kind of got used to riding in the rain a lot there (laughs!)

It’s your first time racing the Nature Valley Grand Prix – what’s your impression of the race so far?
LK: I really like it so far. I love the atmosphere, it seems really well organized and we’re treated really well. It seems like a great event.

What’s it like racing alongside Giorgia Bronzini, the reigning Road World Champion?
LK: It’s pretty awesome! This is my first race racing with her, so yeah, it’s really cool!

How does it inspire you?
LK: It really does inspire me because I think I can learn so much from her. She just knows so much about sprinting and I can get tips and I also want to help her as much as possible.

What does it feel like to stand on the podium and wear the sprinter’s jersey in a prestigious race like this?
LK: It feels great! I’ve never had the sprinter’s jersey before so it’s going to be exciting to try and defend it throughout the week and go for the sprint points.

Good job and good luck.
LK: Thanks.

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