Former Canadian national champion Leah Kirchmann won her first race since moving full-time to Europe at the Drentse Acht van Westerveld Sunday. Her sprint victory from a reduced bunch was also the first win of the year for her new team Liv – Plantur.
The Winnipeg native joined the Dutch outfit this season after three years with American-based Optum – Kelly Benefit Strategies and, though she is not stranger to the narrow roads of Europe, the move across the Atlantic full time was a logical one. “I saw coming over to Europe as the next step I had to take in my career,” Kirchmann told VeloNews. “I am always looking for ways to improve as a cyclist and I saw moving as the next logical step for me.”
“I was interested in Liv-Plantur because of how professionally it is run, the sponsors and just the overall structure, it’s very organised. The motto of the team is keep challenging, which is exactly why I wanted to come over to a big European team, to get the next level, to keep challenging myself.”
While Kirchmann’s two stage victories at last year’s Amgen Tour of California may have been more significant, her third place behind Marianne Vos at the first edition of La Course by Le Tour de France in 2014 was the one that brought her to wider notice. Since then, a string of top tens put her firmly in the sights of her new Dutch team.
Though her results at the Ladies Tour of Qatar were not so impressive, the 25 year old has scored some excellent results since the European season began. Her 10th place in Saturday’s Women’s WorldTour race, the Ronde van Drenthe, followed an identical placing at WorldTour-opener Strade Bianche last week. Add her two other top five results and there is no wonder she is pleased with the choice to move overseas. “I really couldn’t have hoped for a better start to the season, this is the most successful start I have had over here in Europe.”
Sister outfit to German-registered Giant-Alpecin WorldTour team, Liv-Plantur sees itself as a development team. However, in a competitive business like sport, development is nothing without results and the team has been short on top-level victories since Kirsten Wild left at the end of 2014. Of the team’s five victories last season, three were from 20-year-old Floortje Mackaij, who recently signed an unprecedented four year contract extension. The other two winners, Lucy Garner and Amy Pieters, have since left for Wiggle – High5, so Kirchmann’s firepower will give the team much needed bite.
Team sports director Hans Timmermans is impressed with her progression, “She is better than I expected,” he told us. “Last week she was really impressive at Strade Bianche, then in the Flemish classics I was impressed with her positioning on the Molenberg. When she needed to be she was there next to Armitstead. She is really strong.”
“She brings a lot of intelligence,” continued Timmermans. “She is a really disciplined and intelligent girl and knows what to do, but also asks the right questions at the right time. She is an example.”
The team atmosphere has been beneficial to the Canadian, “I fit into the team structure really well,” she explained. “I’m surrounded by great team mates that are supportive and the staff are really making an effort to make me comfortable and giving me all the tools to make me successful. I think all those things combined just make for an environment to encourage performance.”
For the spring and in one-day races, Kirchmann expects to share leadership duties with Mackaij, who finished ahead of her in seventh place in yesterday at Drenthe, though that is likely to switch to a supporting role in the multi-day events later in the year.
With her development on an upwards trajectory we could see Kirchamann’s name among those of the top women in European cycling over the next few years. After all, she said, “I set my goals high.”