Leigh Ann Ganzar (Wolfpack-Hyperthreads) might have been more surprised than anyone at the US Pro Criterium Championship Friday night when she infiltrated a late-race move and then beat three-time track world champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist Kelly Catlin across the line to take the stars-and-stripes jersey.
Ganzar admitted in a post-race interview that she “couldn’t believe” it when she rounded the final corner and there was no one between herself, Catlin and the finish line. But it was very real, and Ganzar made the most of her opportunity to take the biggest win of her career “by far.”
Ganzar is not unfamiliar with winning big races, however, as she came to cycling after a college running career at Baylor University that included three All-Big 12 Indoor honours, and being on the 2008 distance medley relay team that took first at the Big 12 Indoor Championships, according to BaylorBears.com.
Ganzar ran track and cross country for Baylor from 2007 through 2011, when she graduated with a degree in biology. Before starting her racing career, she was awarded a Fullbright Scholarship to teach English to University student in Brazil in 2013 and 2014.
Ganzar’s racing career got off to a bit of a rocky start, according to her results posted on the USA Cycling website, which lists her as being disqualified from the Chappell Hill Bank Classic in 2013. She came back with a vengeance when she started racing again in 2015, however, winning her first three consecutive road races in Texas. She eventually found the Athlete Architecture team and continued to progress through the sport, quickly moving up through the ranks until she was racing with the very best.
The team grew along with Ganzar, adding presenting sponsor Hyperthreads in 2016 and sending riders to bigger and better races. Ganzar continued winning local and regional races, adding more race days to her calendar every year.
In 2017, Ganzar won three races of the Intelligentsia Cup and was second in another. Earlier this month, Ganzar took what was at the time the biggest win of her career at the Oklahoma City Pro-Am Classic, but nothing could have prepared her for Friday’s upset victory ahead of the best criterium riders the US has to offer.
“I’m in grad school, so this has always been kind of just a hobby and something that I do because I love it,” she said. “This year I’ve been really blessed to have a strong team and great sponsors behind us that have really allowed us to race on this level.”
Ganzar played her cards perfectly on Friday, making the move on the penultimate lap with Catlin and Jennifer Luebke (Hagens Berman-Supermint). The trio managed to hold off the chase and then sprint for the jersey, with Ganzar taking the win ahead of Catlin by less than a wheel length. Luebke held on for third.
“I knew we were with a really strong group, and at that point, I knew that we could do all we could, but it kind of depended on what the group did behind us or how quickly they organised the chase,” she said. “I really only stood a chance because I was with some strong riders, and had that motivation of one lap to go.”
Ganzar’s ‘hobby’ brought her one of the top honours in US professional racing. Racing might not be just a hobby much longer.