Kirchmann thinking big in third season with Optum

Two-time Canadian national criterium champion Leah Kirchmann is ready to tackle her third professional season after a year in which she had to overcome the one-two punch of suffering a broken collarbone shortly after finding out she hadn't been selected for the Canadian team that would compete in the London Olympic Games.

Although the broken bone put her out of racing for more than a month and kept her from defending her 2010 and 2011 criterium titles, the news that she hadn't been selected for the London squad may have hurt even more.

“It was disappointing, honestly,” the Optum Pro Cycling-Kelly Benefit Strategies rider told Cyclingnews during a break from team training camp last week. “But at the same time, I know I'm still young and have lots of racing years ahead of me. So I'm looking forward and I'm definitely targeting the 2016 Olympics. I have four years to build up, and I think I'm in a good position to try and qualify.”

That kind of determination do doubt helped Kirchmann finish the Nature Valley Grand Prix's stage four Uptown Minneapolis Criterium after cracking her collarbone in a pileup near the start/finish very early in the race. Kirchmann not only finished that stage in 34th place, she raced the entire Menomonie Road Race the next day – finishing 19th – before finally giving in to the pain and not starting the Stillwater Criterium on the final day.

But not all the news was bad for Kirchamnn last season. She opened her 2012 account with third overall at the Merco Cycling Classic omnium. She backed that up with a win at the Optum-sponsored Old Pueblo Criterium, part of the USA CRITS series, in Tucson, and then brought home a silver medal for Canada from the Pan American games road race in Argentina. She dueled Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (Specialized-lululemon) at the Exergy Tour in Idaho, coming in second and third to the storied German sprinter. She won the two-day Airforce Cycling Classic omnium and finished fourth at the Liberty Classic before the injury at Nature Valley.

Kirchmann returned to racing at the end of July and closed out the season with a podium finish at the Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge in Aspen after leading out teammate Jade Wilcoxson for the win. She also won the sprint jersey at the Energiewacht Tour in Holland and the Best Young Rider jersey at the Tour feminin de l'Ardeche in France while riding with her national team.

It's been a long trip for the rider who got into mountain biking as a 13-year-old looking for a way train for her cross country skiing competitions.

“I started skiing when I was about five years old,” said Kirchmann, who hails from Winnipeg. “My whole family was into skiing, and I raced until I was about 18. So all growing up I was racing across the country and doing nationals. I was kind of competing year round doing skiing and cycling in the summers. As soon as I started racing I really loved it and had a lot of fun kind of racing the boys and starting to beat them. With every year I got more and more involved, eventually into road racing as well.”

Kirchmann found success on the road in the amateur ranks and signed with Rachel Heal's Colavita squad in 2011. She had a breakout season that year, winning the Airforce Cycling Classic, the Menomonie Road Race stage at Nature Valley, the overall at the Joe Martin and her second consecutive Canadian criterium championship. The season-long results earned Kirchmann the runner-up spot on the NRC rankings behind teammate Janel Holcomb.

This season will be Kirchmann's third under Heal, who she credits with the team's ongoing success on the domestic scene.

“She's an awesome director,” Kirchmann said. “She is extremely organized and always has really great race plans and very specific jobs for all of us to do. She's really good at building team spirit and camaraderie.”

The team is hoping that success will carry the women's squad overseas with a spot in the UCI team time trial world championships, which the Optum women's team is now eligible to compete in with its move to UCI status this year. It's incentive enough to inspire the sprinter to try and hone her skills in the race against the clock.

“My strength up to this point has really been sprinting,” Kirchmann said. “So I decided this year would be a great year to kind of start focusing on the time trial, and as you get better at time trialing that will also improve other areas as well, and then, especially with the team trial possibility, it just makes sense.”

She's also motivated by the return into the fold of former Colavita teammate and fellow sprint speedster Lauren Hall, who raced with TIBCO-To the Top last season.

“I'm really excited to be back racing with her,” Kirchmann said. “She has a great upbeat attitude, and she's really fun to race with, so we'll have a lot of cards to play in races.” 

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