Winnipeg-born pro cyclist Leah Kirchmann, 24, has logged upwards of 3,500 kilometres in competition this season. But it’s 90 kilometres around the Champs-Elysée that she’ll never forget. That’s because she and her team, Optum ProCycling, took home third place on July 27 in La Course, the Tour de France’s first event for professional female cyclists. The race, which preceded the men’s Tour de France finale, provided an overdue moment on the world’s stage for women cyclists. Here, Kirchmann talks to FLARE about riding on the historic cobblestones of Paris, gender inequality in cycling and her perfect recovery foods.
What was it like to compete in La Course? It was an incredible experience to be part of such a historic event. Everyone was so excited about the race; they were going wild. It was the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen at an event.
How did it feel to cycle in a city like Paris—and on part of the Tour de France route? To be able to race on such a historic circuit, with the Arc de Triomphe, the cobblestone streets and all of these old buildings surrounding me was really special.
What about those cobbled streets? Were they a challenge? I didn’t realize this before, but the road drags a bit on the way up to the Arc de Triomphe, so you get some climbing there and the cobbled streets wear on your legs after 13 laps. Some of them are in pretty rough shape so you really have to hang on to your bars and watch out for the bumps in the road.
Were you expecting to place as well as you did? That was our team goal going in: to get a podium. We knew that if we played it smart that it was possible, but I also knew that we were up against a really tough field.
What would you like to see improve for women’s cycling? There’s still a lot of gender inequality in the sport. I really hope in the future that we’ll have better salaries, better prize money and better race opportunities for women that are closer to what the men receive.
What’s the salary gap between male and female cyclists? It’s enormous.
Like 50 percent? Probably more like 80 or 90 percent. It’s hard to say an exact number, but it’s quite big.
What could change to improve that? Media attention would be huge. If more people know about female racing and start watching it and become fans of the riders, then sponsors will be interested and willing to invest more in women’s teams. It’s all connected.
How do you pamper yourself after a big race? I find a nice restaurant in the town or country I’m racing in and try out one of their famous dishes.
Are you a foodie? Totally. I love cooking and trying new things. I’m best known for my baking. I especially like to experiment and see how many fruits and vegetables I can slip into my baking.
Like what? Beet cupcakes or black bean brownies.
What’s a typical day for you? I train six days a week. Typically, I’ll ride anywhere from two to five hours. I’ll usually focus a lot on recovery after, so I’ll do some stretching, maybe some core strength. I’m also always focused on good nutrition, so eating enough and getting proper recovery foods.
What are good recovery foods? Chocolate milk after a ride or eggs, sweet potato and kale stir-fried with some salsa.
How do you spend your one day off? I might still ride but it’ll be an easy ride. Cyclists like to go on coffee rides so we’ll just spin easily to a café and hang out. Coffee and cycling go really well together.