Leah Kirchmann: Canadian abroad heads into Het Nieuwsblad

A transition, gaining perspective, and a new season ahead

Growing up in Winnipeg, Canada, it was always my dream to race in Europe. Two years ago, my dream came true. In this, and future posts, I will be giving you insight into my experiences racing in the European peloton with Team Sunweb.

Transition time

It is hard to believe the 2017 season is already here, as it feels like we were just racing Worlds in Qatar. My off-season felt a bit condensed, but I still enjoyed being home in Canada for a few months.

Before I got to go home to Canada and officially start my off-season, I had the opportunity to attend several galas to celebrate a successful 2016. First, I travelled straight to Abu Dhabi after Worlds to attend the UCI Cycling Gala, which I got invited to due to finishing second on the inaugural Women’s World Tour circuit. In Abu Dhabi, I got to experience a little bit of luxury in a five-star hotel on the beach which was a nice start to the off-season! After the gala, I flew back to Canada, where I got to attend a celebration in Ottawa that was thrown for all of the Rio Olympians. A highlight was walking the floor in the House of Commons where I got to meet the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Sometimes it is so easy to keep planning towards the future, that we forget to reflect and give ourselves credit for the goals and progress we have achieved. Events like these offer a nice reminder to reflect upon one’s journey and development.

When you have been away from home for eight months of the year, you begin to miss the simple things like friends, family, and your own oven. Once back at my home base in Canada, I spent my time reconnecting with friends and family, mountain biking, hiking, and trying new recipes. There was a strong Middle-Eastern influence in my recipes after preparing for Worlds in Israel, and then racing in Qatar. Hummus, eggplant, za’atar, saffron, tahini, and dates dominated my plate in the fall. I love drawing cooking inspiration from the places I travel to around the world. Getting to experience so many different cultures, I accumulate many different recipes. Some of them I try just once but others, such as Shakshuka, become a staple dish in my diet.

Perspective

It was December and the snow was falling before I knew it. To escape the snow, I jumped at the opportunity to join the Team Canada track team for a road camp in Woodland hills, California. Some of my favourite riding in the world is in this area. What goes up, must come down, and all the vertical gain is worth it for the thrilling descents. I think I descend a little bit faster knowing that there is good coffee at Pedaler’s Fork just down the road! It was so much fun reconnecting with friends on the team, and meeting the new riders with the Canadian program.

After getting to know the new Canadian riders, one who really stood out to me was Ellen Watters. She had just joined the track program, and had also signed her first pro contract with Colavita for the 2017 season. She was so excited about the opportunity to race over in Europe with Colavita, and asked me endless questions. I knew with her enthusiasm, positive attitude, and drive that she could go really far in the sport. I wanted her on my team just knowing how much fun she would be to have around!

Sadly, nobody will have the pleasure of meeting or racing against Ellen this season. She was killed by a car just days after the camp while training at home in New Brunswick, a heartbreaking blow for the Canadian cycling community and everyone who knew her.

In light of Ellen’s death, New Brunswick recently approved “Ellen’s Law”, requiring drivers to give cyclists at least 1 metre of space while passing. It is horrible that someone as wonderful as Ellen had to die for a law like this to become a reality.

I’m determined to do my part and channel Ellen’s energy into promoting safer cycling and improved infrastructure in my own community and want to encourage everyone to do the same.

Ellen radiated light at all times and we could all stand to be a little bit more like her. Make the goal of your day to make someone smile, laugh, or just feel good about themselves. Don’t be scared to follow your dreams, shine brightly, and live passionately!

New season ahead

I recently returned to the Netherlands after a training camp in Calpe, Spain, with Team Sunweb. Last year, there were a lot of new changes to adapt to as I switched from racing for American-based teams to a European one. To be resilient in the face of change takes practice, and last year I had a lot of it due to a new team, new coach, and new country. Oh, and it was an Olympic year. I went into the season with an open mind and positive attitude, and I think I handled these changes quite well. However, I am enjoying a slightly more calm transition into the 2017 season returning to the same program. There are new riders joining the team, but the core values and team protocols are the same.

We have a nice mix of returning and new riders on the team this year. Returning riders include Floortje Mackaij, Julia Soek, Rozanne Slik, Molly Weaver, Sabrina Stultiens and myself, with five new riders joining the team.

We have German rider and Junior European Champion, Liane Lippert, and French rider and Junior World Championship TT silver medalist Juliette Labous coming onboard as the youngest riders on the team. Past World time trial champ and all-around diesel engine, Ellen van Dijk, along with savvy racer and two-time Dutch national champion, Lucinda Brand, bring power and experience to the team. The team also welcomes another North American rider, Coryn Rivera. We have gone from sprinting rivals on the North American race scene to roommates. It is nice to have another North American to laugh about the cultural differences.

Unfortunately, we have already lost Molly for the first part of the season, as she was involved in a bad training crash near Girona just a few weeks ago. Cycling is a beautiful sport, but I have come to dread the severity and frequency of news reports of yet another rider having been injured while riding.

I’m looking forward to the upcoming classics season. My season kicks off with Het Nieuwsblad and Omloop Het Hageland, and then the focus will be on the Women’s World Tour races. There are some new events on the calendar this spring that I am looking forward to such as Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne- Liege. When we harness our individual strengths and work together, Team Sunweb will be a force to be reckoned with this season.

Until next time, stay tuned for more updates from this Canadian abroad. Please stay safe out there my friends.

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