Leah Kirchmann

Canadian Olympian I Professional Cyclist

2020: A Season Like No Other

Against all odds, the men’s and women’s pelotons concluded the 2020 season in the streets of Madrid, racing La Vuelta Espana and the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta respectively. It feels like a lifetime ago when the Women’s World Tour season kicked off in Australia where Team Sunweb took our first team victory. These were pre-COVID days. The days before masks, PCR tests, and team bubbles. The days when travel and hosting a race were relatively simple compared to now. I had my doubts in May when the UCI released an ambitious condensed calendar as the virus was causing world economies into lockdown. However, I am impressed to see that the race season did manage to happen, with only some minor changes and cancellations. My experience racing this condensed season also left me with a new perspective on the role of sport in the world.

I first struggled with the return to racing, trying to understand where sport fits in the context of a global pandemic. It felt irresponsible to travel and race while most of the world was told to stay home. However, seeing the inspiration and entertainment cycling brought to fans during this difficult time helped to adjust my perspective as the season unfolded.

I appreciated the distraction and entertainment of watching competitions when not racing myself. Seeing athletes push themselves to their limits, deal with challenges and overcome the odds is inspiring. Many were not able to physically travel this year, but could still follow the peloton through the mountains of France, Italy and Spain, and experience those Belgian cobbles and the mud, wind and rain of the classics from the comfort of home. I’m sure many destinations in beautiful regions were added to bucket lists for places to travel to in the future, which will benefit those local economies.

Experiencing this value of sport to inspire and entertain also emphasized the need for live coverage. The races broadcasted live were received with much enthusiasm, and the viewing numbers also confirmed the popularity of women’s cycling. With no physical spectators, value for teams and sponsors was realized through different means of visibility. I found it difficult to justify the value of racing with no spectators or live coverage during a pandemic.

I was inspired by my own teammates from both the men’s and women’s programs, as we raced fully committed at every opportunity, and displayed resilience when faced with setbacks and challenges during the season. Teamwork took on new forms this season beyond the traditional sense of working together to achieve a race result. Teamwork also meant supporting each other mentally while dealing with the constraints of lockdown, or sitting out or leaving a race to protect the group in the case of a positive COVID test.

I am now in Canada to rest and recover before refocusing on the 2021 season. If this year has taught me anything, it is that nothing in life is ever certain, so it is important to continue to learn, grow and adapt. I don’t expect 2021 will be normal, but I hope the peloton will be back once again to inspire and entertain cycling fans around the world.

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