Ganzar ends 'surprise second sporting career' due to lingering concussion symptoms

Leigh-Ann Ganzar (Rally Cycling) went on the attack 2020 Women's Tour Down Under
Leigh-Ann Ganzar (Rally Cycling) went on the attack 2020 Women's Tour Down Under (Image credit: Getty Images)

Former US Pro criterium champion Leigh Ann Ganzar (Rally Cycling) made it official Wednesday and announced her retirement from professional cycling, which she called a “surprise second sporting career that I never expected to go this far.”

The 32-year-old Colorado native stormed into the national spotlight in 2018 when riding for a small Texas-based squad, Wolfpack-Hyperthreads, and outsprinted the late-Kelly Catlin, who was a three-time track world champion, to win the US Pro Criterium title in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

She would continue to rake in multiple podiums and wins in stage races and one-day events over the next three seasons, the last two with Rally Cycling, including victories in 2019 at the Winston Salem Cycling Classic and in 2020 on stage 5 of Tour de l’Ardeche. However, lingering symptoms from a concussion suffered in May at a stage race in Spain kept Ganzar off the bike for the summer, and led to her decision to put the race bike aside.

"It is bittersweet to be leaving pro cycling due to a head injury, as I still had a lot to learn from and give to the sport as a rider. I had a short but sweet career, and was able to experience some major cycling bucket list items," Ganzar told Cyclingnews on Wednesday of her decision.

In May at the opening stage race of the 2021 season for her Rally team, Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, Ganzar and several teammates were caught in a large crash on stage 3. Olivia Ray abandoned due to a fractured fibula in the pileup, while Breck and Ganzar did not start the fourth and final stage. Six days later, Ganzar lined up for Navarra Women's Elite Classics in Spain, but was not able to finish and returned to the US. 

Lingering issues due to post-concussion syndrome also eliminated any chance to recapture a national crown at the US Pro Nationals in June, and she did not race gain this season.

"I've been lucky to get to race and travel around the world with an amazing array of teammates and staff. But I am still dealing with concussion-related issues from a crash 6 months ago at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, and had another concussion last year, so I am retiring in favor of my brain health," Ganzar said.

"Rally Cycling has been so supportive of me during this time, and I never felt pressure to return to racing or training. All the staff, doctors, and my teammates encouraged me to focus on recovery and respected my decision."

Ganzar came to cycling after a college running career at Baylor University, where she ran track and cross country from 2007 through 2011 and graduated with a degree in biology. She started her cycling career in earnest in 2015 after teaching English to university students in Brazil for two years. By 2017 with Wolfpack-Hyperthreads, Ganzar was getting accustomed to the top step of the podium, winning three races at the Intelligentsia Cup near Chicago and the Oklahoma City Pro-Am Classic. 

In 2018, she took the title of the second day at the Oklahoma City Pro-Am classic, but was still riding under the radar for the US Pro Criterium nationals later that month. She made her winning move on the penultimate lap of the 1.8km course in downtown Knoxville with Catlin and Jennifer Luebke (Hagens Berman-Supermint), surging across the line by less than a bike wheel to claim the stars-and-stripes jersey. 

“Looking back at my pro cycling career with a clarity that can only be achieved when the journey is over. Even though I will always feel that I had more in the tank to give to pro road racing, I’m proud of my career,” Ganzar posted to her Instagram account on Wednesday.

“Thanks to all my former teams and teammates for memories I’ll cherish forever, and to my family and Ty [Stewart] for supporting this surprise second sporting career that I never expected to go this far.”

Ganzar earned a degree in biology before her cycling career took off, and she continued her education in Austin, Texas, where she is now a postdoctoral fellow at a research center that focuses on child health. Her transition is already underway for the next winning moves which will be off the bike.

"I never stopped working during my time as a cyclist. My research looks at child physical activity, active commuting to school, and safe cycling infrastructure changes, so I will continue that work. I won't be too far removed from cycling, but instead of racing, I'll be trying to make it easier and safer for the next generation to ride on the roads," she told Cyclingnews.

Last month 24-year-old Emma White made a surprise announcement to retire from her cycling career, ending six years with Rally Cycling. White had also competed on the track for Team USA, and was part of the women's Team Pursuit squad that won a gold medal at the 2020 UCI Track Cycling World Championships and a bronze at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

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