Honour, more than anything else, is what riders at the National Championships in St. Georges, Que. are fighting for this weekend. When the last pair of wheels crosses the line at the event’s conclusion, winners will have the privilege of wearing the Canadian maple leaf on their backs for a solid year of racing, proudly identifying themselves as the best in Canada.
It’s that outcome that has Optum Pro Cycling’s Canadian division fixated on the finish line, with five Elite men and four Elite women vying for the honour of the nation’s top riders.
In pursuit of that distinction, all eyes are on 2014’s triple national champion Leah Kirchmann for the women, who pulled off the feat last year of a gold medal in three disciplines: the time trial, road race and criterium. This year, she returns to the bucolic countryside of Beauce, in and around St. Georges, to try doing it again — and she’s in some powerful company alongside her fellow Optum riders.
Lex Albrecht comes to the race as the recently-crowned queen of the mountain at the this year’s Dimas Stage Race and the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Annie Ewart also contributes her strength in the saddle to Optum’s efforts, having most recently won Stage 3 of the Tour of the Gila. Jasmin Glaesser, finally, rounds out Optum’s contingent of powerful Canadian women at the National Championships, having been named queen of the mountain at this year’s Philadelphia International Championships, as well as being a multiple world and Olympic track medalist.
Kirchmann, Ewart, Glaesser and Albrecht add their names to Optum’s who’s-who of Canadian contenders on the Elite women’s side, with Ryan Anderson, Guillaume Boivin, Pierrick Naud, William Routley, and Mike Woods racing for a men’s title. As other competitors have noted, Optum’s presence in St.-Georges promises to be a well-rounded, challenging one, and officials are confident that it’s going to translate into results.
“Both of our teams are in a good position to take home some national titles,” said Optum’s performance director Jonas Carney. “We believe it’s possible for them to win any of the three events, and hopefully bring some multiple championships for the team. The key in the road race and criterium will be to ride cohesively and not miss the early move.”
“It seems to dictate the outcome at Canadian Nationals,” Carney added, reflecting on past years, “so we will look for that again this week.”