Leah Kirchmann took an emphatic win today in stage two of the inaugural Tour of California Women’s Race Empowered With SRAM. The second stage, held once again in South Lake Tahoe, consisted of two laps of a 25 mile circuit and an uphill pitch to the finish line outside Heavenly Mountain Resort, with a grade reaching 18%.
Kirchmann, best known for her sprinting prowess, successfully outlasted the climbing threats from the other teams. The current Canadian triple national champion, was accompanied by countrywoman Lex Albrecht as a “backup plan”, in case Kirchmann ran into difficulty on the steep slope. After barely managing to stay with the leaders over the steepest pitch, Kirchmann managed to recover in the final 500m and launch her blistering sprint. Albrecht came home in eighth.
The ten second bonus for the win and subsequent time gap on the line moved Kirchmann into 4th overall, twelve seconds behind race leader Lauren Komanski. The stage win also gathered her the points necessary to don the Visit California Sprint Leader’s Jersey, with one stage of racing remaining. With their visit to beautiful Lake Tahoe complete, the women now descend into Sacramento, passing the tour’s torch to the men’s peloton after a circuit race around the state capitol.
Performance Director Pat McCarty and stage winner Leah Kirchmann recap the day’s events.
Describe the strategy going into today, and some of the key moments of the race.
Today was another tough race, and, in my opinion, a harder race than stage one, but the finish suited us well. Our strategy was to cover every dangerous move, be aggressive and set up our two potential winners, Leah and Lex. The other four riders did an excellent job of managing the rest of the race while Lex and Leah waited for the finish. I discussed with those two the best strategy to approach what was a very steep, tough and technical lead-in to the finish to maximize the result. It was not an easy one to gauge, as a pure climber won the day before. The group split to pieces on the climb, and I could see Leah (thanks to her red Borah Teamwear Canadian Champion kit) just keeping contact with the front seven as they made the left turn at the top of the 18% grade, with 500m to go. I knew that if no one from that front group attacked after that corner, she would win. She stayed on the back of that small group, recovered through the next few corners and won handily on the last uphill pitch with 200m to go.
Was Leah the go-to finisher today or was it more dependent on who had the best legs?
Leah and Lex were the go-to finishers, for sure. I knew they would both have to be on good days, and have some luck with positioning at the bottom of the climb to win, but I knew one of them could win. For a strong sprinter like Leah, the effort had to be timed perfectly. For Lex, she was there in case the climb was harder than expected. So they were both on duty to win this race.
Biggest win so far this year – how were the legs today? Did you feel like you had a chance at winning?
My legs felt surprisingly good today, I found myself sitting pretty comfortably at the front of the pack on all the major climbs. I think my body is well adapted to the altitude after coming to this race straight from the Tour of the Gila. I was able to conserve a lot of energy throughout the stage thanks to my teammates, they did a great job covering attacks and helping me position myself for the key moments in the race.
This was an uphill finish, and you are known as a sprinter… was it a suitable grade for you at the end?
I think the team had a lot more confidence in my chances on such a tough finish than I had in myself. I knew that if I could just stay in contact with the front group over that first steep pitch, that I would have a few seconds to recover and could put in a good sprint to the line. I honestly spent most of the race working up my confidence to tackle that final climb. I definitely surprised myself with the win here today!
How does it feel to be racing, and winning, at the first-ever women’s stage race at the Tour of California?
It felt incredible to be on the top step of the podium today! The Tour of California is the most prestigious American race, so it means a lot for them to step up their support for women’s cycling with four internationally sanctioned days of racing this year. South Lake Tahoe is a stunning race venue, and the crowds here are enthusiastic and welcoming. I’m looking forward to battling for the overall GC in the streets of Sacramento tomorrow!