Kirchmann riding into the sunset Decorated cyclist, former Winnipegger calling end to career after world championships in Australia
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Leah Kirchmann spent 14 years as a member of Canada’s national team, raced in two Olympics and cycled for 12 years as a professional in Europe.
Now, the 32-year-old former Winnipegger is preparing to go out on her own terms.
She’ll be retiring from the sport after this month’s UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong, Australia.
“There’s a lot of unique demands of living the life of a professional athlete and it really takes everything you have to commit to being the best in the world,” said Kirchmann, speaking from her home in Sittard, Netherlands. “And it’s also quite a lot for cyclists coming from North America and really needing to be based over in Europe full time.
“I would say this was one of the biggest factors (in deciding to retire) — I’m ready to spend more time in Canada. I’d love to see my friends and family more often and I’m just increasingly becoming interested in exploring other things outside of just my sport.”
Kirchmann, who plans to return to her off-season home base in Dundas, Ont., when the worlds are finished, competed in her final stage race with her pro outfit, Team DSM, earlier this month at the Simac Ladies Tour.
“It was a really nice way to end because we had a successful week as a team with three stage wins and then my teammate Lorena Wiebes won the overall,” said Kirchmann.
“It really felt like it was nice to end on a high note with the team but at the same time it was such a hard stage race that I finished the race feeling like it was OK that I didn’t need to come back to this race. I was really satisfied with what I accomplished.”
“I finished the race feeling like it was OK that I didn’t need to come back to this race. I was really satisfied with what I accomplished.”–Leah Kirchmann
In 2021, Kirchmann was busy on the pro circuit while also riding for Canada at the Toyko Summer Olympics, finishing 12th in the women’s time trial and 36th in the road race while performing in a support role.
“I think I pride myself on being a really good teammate and always doing the best job possible,” said Kirchmann. “And I also got my own personal chances throughout the years. On a good team, roles change and everybody gets a shot.”
Kirchmann’s biggest successes as a pro rider may have come in 2014 and 2019 when she finished third and second, respectively, at La Course by Le Tour de France. In 2014, she also won the road race, time trial and the criterium at the Global Relay Canadian Road Championships, becoming the first woman to win all three titles in the same year.
Kris Westwood, high performance director for Cycling Canada, said Kirchmann’s departure leaves a major void for the national team.
Leah Kirchmann, Marianne Vos and Kirsten Wild celebrate on the podium of La Course female cycling race in Paris, France, in 2014.
“Ever since she first signed her contract with a pro team, which I guess was 2011, she’s been one of our top athletes and between Rio and Tokyo (Olympics), definitely our top road rider on the international scene,” said Westwood, from Ottawa. “She’s a super easy person to work with. Very quiet, gracious, just an all-round great human being.”
Although she has been able to remain relatively injury free, the stress of living and training through the pandemic took a toll and contributed to Kirchmann’s decision to retire.
She’s had time lately to reflect on her accomplishments in the sport.
“When I first started racing back in Winnipeg when I was a young girl, I had no idea that this world even existed,” said Kirchmann. “My approach was always becoming better than I was before and just focusing on continual improvement and getting to the next step in the sport.
“I guess I had some dream goals that kind of seemed far off in the distance and that was to go to the Olympics and to race professionally. I don’t think I realized at the time that I would really go on to do that.”–Leah Kirchmann
“I guess I had some dream goals that kind of seemed far off in the distance and that was to go to the Olympics and to race professionally. I don’t think I realized at the time that I would really go on to do that, and then find myself now having done it for so many years.”
In Australia, Kirchmann’s swan song will be capped by the women’s time trial Sept. 18 and road race Sept. 24.
With her academic training in nutrition and public health, Kirchmann remains undecided about her future. She could go back to school, get into coaching or both.
“I am interested in possibly staying in this sport,” said Kirchmann. “And I think I do have a lot of knowledge and experience now that I could offer through something like coaching. So, that’s a real possibility.”
Westwood hopes Kirchmann will remain connected to her sport.
“We haven’t spoken directly about that but her field of studies around exercise science would definitely make coaching a very strong possibility,” said Westwood. “It’s kind of up to her but we’re definitely going to have those conversations when the time is right.”
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Monday, September 12, 2022 9:32 PM CDT: typo fixed