September 17, 2012

The Kermesse, a classic Belgium experience

There is a classic experience that all cyclists must have if they race in Belgium, the Kermesse. A Kermesse is a local race usually hosted by the town bar and held over a short circuit. I've been told that the length of a lap is closely correlated to the amount of time it takes to drink a beer... These races are a pretty good deal to enter, 10 euros gets you an entry, and you get 5 euros back for a returned number!

Today Lex, Karol Ann and I drove about 30 km to get a final day of racing in our legs before the World Champs next weekend. A Kermesse is the perfect opportunity to get in some hard training and time to test out tactics in a low pressure environment.

The race followed a 5 km narrow winding loop, with a big wide road leading to the finish line. Lex was away in a small break early on, but it came back. There were sprints for primes every 2 laps of the 16 total laps. I rode near the front and took an opportunity to jump across to a solo rider who attacked on the 4th lap. We quickly gained a decent gap on the field, and gained a max 1 minute advantage. Based on the distance still left in the race (65 km), I thought our chances of staying away were slim, but I did want a good workout so drove the break. To my surprise, we still had an advantage coming into the last lap. Lex and Karol Ann had done a great job covering moves in the peloton behind. I felt like I was definitely the stronger rider and felt confident in my sprint coming to the finish. Turns out my breakaway partner was a bit of a sprinter herself, guess it helps to know the competition a little bit.

It is always easy to think of a race in hindsight and consider the things you could have done differently. Maybe I should have attacked earlier on in the lap. Maybe I should have played a few more games coming to the line when she sat on my wheel. It was a very close sprint, but I lost out.

In any case, it was cool to get my first kermesse podium and a great day of training, even if it wasn't the win. I'm feeling strong leading into the World Champs in five days!

Also a Belgian man gave me a link to video footage from the race..

Leah :)

September 13, 2012

2012 World Cycling Championships Team

I am happy to announce that I will be part of the Canadian Team for the 2012 Cycling World Championships held this year in Limburg, The Netherlands! The 122 km Elite Women's road race will be held on September 22rd.

My Canadian teammates include:
Lex Albrecht (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)
Joelle Numainville (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)
Veronique Labonte (CSM Epinay sur Seine)
Karol-Anne Canuel (Vienne-Futuroscope)

Rhae Shaw (Exergy) and Joelle will contest the 24.3 km time trial on September 18th.

And also congrats to fellow Winnipegger Chris Prendergast who will contest the junior men's road race on September 23rd!

We are all currently training at the Canadian base in Tielt-Winge Belgium and will be training in both Belgium and at the Worlds course for the next week.

For more event info, check out the Worlds website:
And here is a full list of all categories:

Leah :)

September 11, 2012

La Belle Vie en Ardeche

This past week I got to explore the beautiful south-central region of France called Ardeche for the Tour cycliste Feminin de l'Ardeche. No better way to see the countryside than by racing through it! The race included a prologue and six stages, making it my longest stage race this year.
Our small but mighty team!

The trip got off to an eventful start when we managed to leave my road bike in Belgium (always double check your equipment!). Thankfully team USA came to the rescue and I borrowed my teammate Janel's Orbea for the week. Besides this slight setback, it was a very successful race for Team Canada. I took home the white jersey for best young rider and 9th in GC, and Joelle got a stage win, two 2nd places and the green combined jersey!

Highlights for the week include:

Staying at a 4-star campsite near les fameuse Gorges de l'Ardeche. There are towering limestone canyon walls that follow the river, a popular destination for tourists. Apparently 4-star campsites include trailers and a full water park, pretty cool, I would go back for a vacation! 

Making the break of 15 on stage 1 and gaining 12 minutes on GC.  Definitely the most important move in the week of racing for anyone hoping to contest the final gc.

Finishing with the lead group to help Joelle win the stage 3 Queen stage. I fought hard to survive the 6300 ft of climbing … mean to make the road point up right off the start line!

A major stage 6 comeback after missing an important split on stage 5 and losing time. I made the select climbing group of 11 and successfully defended the young rider jersey with a 10 minute lead.

Emma Pooley was seriously impressive all week, escaping to two solo stage wins and taking the overall. You know you’re in trouble when she goes on the attack.. does she feel pain?

Overall my first race in France was an excellent experience. It was by far the most climbing I have ever done in one race. Not going to lie, there were many times I looked at the race profiles and doubted my abilities, but then remembered everyone else was also tired. Best to tackle long races one day at a time.

Only thing the race could work on for next year is better rider safety. There was a lot of oncoming traffic to avoid on supposedly closed roads, just a small suggestion. 

If you're interested in more details of how the race played out, check out this great write up:

Here are a few photos from the week: 

what 4 star camping looks like!

water park!
Team Canada: Vero L., Joelle, myself and Lex credit: Denise Kelly

Les Gorges de l'Ardeche

Start line for Stage 6 photo credit: Denise Kelly

Merci Ardeche, c’etais difficile mais formidable, à bientôt!

photo credit: Lex Albrecht

September 1, 2012

Breathing thin air in Aspen

Just landed in Brussels a few days ago and finally got back to blogging on the plane. Planes are probably one of the most efficient places to get stuff done, forced to sit in a confined place with no other distractions.

Last week was my final race of the season with Optum p/b KBS, the Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge.

The team arrived in Denver a few days early to get used to the altitude and attend some sponsor events. Denver is exactly 1 mile above sea level and Aspen is at 8000 ft! Altitude does funny things to your body since oxygen is in short supply. It is slightly depressing to do a 30 second interval and be breathless for 10 minutes. Apparently it takes two weeks to start to truly acclimatize to altitude.

We had a good ride with folks from the Acura dealership and had a great visit with families staying at the Ronald McDonald house where families can stay for free near the hospital while their children receive medical attention. The foundation is doing really wonderful things. I hope we could provide a little entertainment and distraction in their day.
Ronald McD visit
Next stop was Aspen, the town I had heard so much about but never seen. Aspen lived up to all expectations. Our host house was none other than the Estee Lauder house! Absolutely incredible. Got to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous for a few days.

Not a bad set up (note rock climbing chimney, greatest idea ever!)

Annie and I enjoying the most delicious fish tacos ever.

My gorgeous bed, where to sleep with so many pillows?

We did eventually get around to racing on Wednesday. The women’s crit was held at the finish line of the men’s US Pro Challenge finish line. This helped draw out huge crowds for the event!

The roster for Aspen was Annie, Jade, Courtney, Carmen and myself. The race was ON from the very start. We averaged 42 km/h for an hour, racing on the 4-corner course with a slight downhill finish. There was a sprint competition within the race with 3 intermediate sprints and points at the finish. There was also a best young rider prize for the highest placed U25 rider. Our team goal was to go for the points competition and the win, and most importantly to showcase women’s cycling! We wanted an exciting race to catch people’s attention.

There were non-stop breaks and splits in the race, but nothing stayed away. The team did a great job helping Jade with the intermediate sprints and responding and initiating moves. The plan was to have Jade and Carmen lead me out for the final sprint. Our plans were slightly foiled by a late attack by Alison Power (NOW). Jade quickly jumped on her wheel. You can’t let Powers get too much room, her downhill skier background has transferred to some wicked fast cornering on the bike. The two held a small gap and Jade outsprinted Powers to the line! I took the sprint for third with Carmen in 4th. Jade won the overall and points competition, I won the Young Riders competition and we had three in the top 4, not too bad for a day of racing!
Powers, Jade and myself
Best young rider jersey
Huge thanks to all the sponsors that made the event possible: Blue Ribbon Restaurants, Primal, T Edwards wine, Bumsies, Ajax Tavern, the Little Nell, Limelight hotel, Aspen Snowmass, The Cosmopolitan, and Jason Dewey photography- you all rock! And most of all Jessica Philips for doing a great job as organizer. Hopefully the event will continue to grow in the future, there is so much potential to run women's events parallel to men's events. 

Next on my schedule is the Tour Cycliste Féminin de l’Ardèche in France from September 3-8th, and if that goes well then the World Championships road race on September 22nd. Stay tuned for updates!
(Also make sure to check out my teammate Lex Albrecht's blog for very current updates from Europe: