One of Canada’s top female sprinters is gunning to stand on top in Paris, hoping to be the first Canadian to win on the Champs-Élysées. After finishing on the podium for the third time at the Brenco Crit of the Tour de Delta, Leah Kirchmann appears to be in good form coming into La Course by Le Tour de France, which will run on July 25 in Paris. Last year, Kirchmann took third place behind winner Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv) and Kirsten Wild (Giant-Shimano) in the race’s inaugural edition.
Kirchmann’s (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) recent successes also include a fourth place at the MK Delta Criterium and a second in the UCI road race that Sunday in Canada.
“It was a very fast race with a lot of sprints for primes on the line,” the 25-year-old said of Brenco. “Teams were active, and there were a lot of attacks throughout the race, but nothing could stick. There was a bit of rain near the end of the race that made the corners a little slick for cornering. I found myself losing my rear wheel a few times, and I think the rain contributed to a big crash in the closing laps.
“Lex [Albrecht] and Annie [Ewart] were absolutely key in my success at the race. They made sure Optum was represented in every move during the race and set me up in perfect position at the end of the race. Lex was up there covering moves with a couple laps to go and even claimed the crowd prime. Annie jumped the group with me sitting on her wheel on the last lap. She led through the final two corners and gave me a clean line to the finish.”
With the Tour de Delta in the books, Kirchmann now has turned her attention to a podium spot — possibly a victory — at La Course.
“Tour de Delta was a perfect opportunity to work on some team tactics and sprinting before stepping onto the biggest stage of the year at La Course,” Kirchmann said. “Shelly Olds is a world-class sprinter, so it was a nice confidence boost to be sprinting well against her.”
But Olds (Ale Cipollini) is one of many big names coming to La Course, hoping for a victory on the Champs- Élysées, and Kirchmann realizes that coming into this year’s race.
“There will be a lot of competition at La Course, as all the top teams and fastest sprinters in the world will be in attendance,” Kirchmann said. “I would say that Jolien d’Hoore [Wiggle-Honda], Barbara Guarischi [Velocio], and Kirsten Wild [Hitec] are just a few of the main contenders and teams that we will need to watch during the race. Last year’s champion, Marianne Vos, will not be in attendance due to injury, however this will not make the race any easier.”
To prepare for La Course, Kirchmann and her Optum team competed in familiar races, such as BC Superweek and the BeNe Ladies Tour in Belgium. But Kirchmann was disappointed to miss BC Superweek, the Gastown crit especially, due to schedule conflicts.
“Last year I used BC Superweek as preparation for La Course,” she said. “The week of fast criterium racing is great for sprint training. The dates were a bit different this year, so unfortunately I had to miss the second half of Superweek. I was sad to miss Gastown, the race has an incredible atmosphere and is my favorite Canadian race of the year.”
After a seventh-place finish in stage 1 and a third-place finish after the stage 2a time trial of the BeNe Tour, Kirchmann finished 27th on stage 2b and did not start on stage 3. She chose to sit out the stage due to knee trouble, wanting to ensure it recovered before La Course.
Once La Course is over, Optum will turn its focus to preparations for the world championships in Richmond, Virginia. Kirchmann will have a few more races on her schedule to gear up for the September championships.
“Our team will stay in Europe for the Bochum Sparkassen World Cup and the Route de France in August. Afterwards we will have a team time trial camp leading into the world championships in Richmond.”
With a high result at Brenco and an impressive run at the BeNe Tour, Kirchmann is looking ready for Paris and Richmond.