Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City cyclist to race in historic Tour de France

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Remember the first FIFA Women's World Cup in 1991? Or how about when women's hockey was introduced at the 1998 Winter Olympics?

And even more recently at the 2012 London Olympics, where for the first time ever women could compete in every event.

Well in 2014, later this month, you can add another major step for female athletes to that list when women race for the first time in one of the most famous events in the world -- the Tour de France -- and Winnipeg's Leah Kirchmann will be there competing.

'There's definitley pressure going into the event, but I'm super excited to be apart of such a historic stage, it's gonna be fun'

-- Leah Kirchmann

"There's definitley pressure going into the event, but I'm super excited to be apart of such a historic stage, it's gonna be fun," said Kirchmann, who as of last week is Canada's top female time trial rider and road racer after capturing all three major events at the 2014 Canadian National Road Cycling Championships, becoming the first Canadian woman to win all three events in the same year.

Last year female racers from around the world, which included Kirchmann, signed a petition pushing for a women's race to be introduced at the Tour de France. And they got what they wished for, sort of.

Women will race a one-day, 137.5 kilometre race, entitled La Course by Le Tour. It will take place on the final stage of the tour, stage 21, where the riders will battle through Paris, down the historic Champs Elysees and finish just before the men.

Kirchmann, 24, noted that this won't exactly be the first time women will be competing in this event, a similar race last took place in 1989. She said that's still far too long of a wait to give female racers another shot.

"I'm friends with the cyclist that actually got together and started this movement," Kirchmann said. "Yeah, the petition had a large impact in getting the tour organization to consider having a women's race, so we're super happy with the stage."

Kirchmann will be competing for the Optum Pro Cycling team and will race alongside some of her teammates. She is currently training in British Columbia and will make the trip to the Netherlands for some practice time before heading into the big race. She said she's confident in how her team will perform on July 27.

"We're gonna have a really strong team heading in and so I'm optimistic that we'll do well," said the Vincent Massey alumna. "It would be incredible to get either myself or one of my teammates on the podium in Paris."

Kirchmann started cycling and cross country skiing when she was 12 years old, but had to choose between the two when she moved to Squamish, B.C., to attend Quest University Canada. She credits the support from her parents and the Manitoba cycling community for her progress over the years.

She said she hopes the tour gives out the same highly coveted and iconic yellow jerseys awarded to the winner of each stage of the tour, she laughed. Still Kirchmann said there is a little bit of disappointment in the fact that they only get to race the final stage, but it's a start.

"Hosestly, I dream of the day when we'll be able to compete in a full tour, that would be absolutely incredible," she said. "But I'm happy with one stage to start with if it's a stepping stone towards a bigger event."

kyle.edwards@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2014 C4

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