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by Michael Better
August 18, 2018
Kelly Barrientes has a tattoo of a wolf on her left shoulder. The tattoo came well before the team, but now they are one and the same. Everyone on the Wolfpack team looks out for one another, and rides for the benefit of the group.
Heading into the U.S. pro criterium championships in June in Chattanooga, Tennessee, LeighAnne Ganzar’s name was hardly mentioned. The favorites included the likes of proven WorldTour sprinters Coryn Rivera (Sunweb) and Skylar Schneider (Boels-Dolmans).
But everyone loves an underdog story — even if it’s a wolf.
In rainy conditions and flying under the radar, Ganzar and the rest of the Wolfpack p/b Hyperthreads team upset the field to take the stars-and-stripes jersey back to their hometown of Austin, Texas. It was Ganzar’s first time racing in a national championship, so she can safely be classified now as undefeated.
To understand the significance of Ganzar’s victory, one first needs to understand the Wolfpack p/b Hyperthreads team.
When the Austin-based squad began in 2014, the majority of the riders were Category 3 or 4 — beginner or intermediate riders at best, nowhere near the level of the U.S. professional criterium scene. Since then, the squad’s “pups” became an aggressive and competitive pack of established racers, competing against the best the U.S. domestic scene has to offer.
Wolfpack is not a corporate sponsor, but rather a nickname the riders have adopted as their team name. Barrientes, the team founder and manager, had always joked that her riders were her wolf pack, and this year it became official.
Nearly all of the riders live in Austin. They don’t just ride and race together, they socialize off the bike as well. The riders know each other’s quirks on and off the bike. Each rider is handpicked by Barrientes, and she looks not only at an individual’s racing ability, but also how they might gel within the team. She’s passed on talented riders who she felt wouldn’t mix well with the rest of the squad.
“It’s a big part of my social group,” rider Caitlin Friesen said. “I spend most of my time working, and when I’m not training or racing, these are the people I train with and race with. I also really love them as human beings. It’s just really a supportive group, and I appreciate we have race debriefings and people can say, ‘Hey when you made this one move, that wasn’t very good,’ and it’s just accepted and then we just move on.”
Friesen had dabbled in cycling prior to moving to Austin, but didn’t make her first big push into road racing until she moved to the city to pursue her Ph.D. in biology. She was attracted to the Wolfpack by the team’s camaraderie. Over the years, the riders have grown and matured as bike racers together, culminating in this year’s jump to the national stage and Ganzar’s national championship.
At the Littleton Twilight Criterium in Colorado, Ganzar looked a bit like a rock star in her red, white, and blue national champion jersey. She grew up in Littleton, and had a throng of fans, friends, and family at the race.
“Well, this year has been a dream,” Ganzar said with a huge smile on her face. “We started off the year with big goals of trying to prove ourselves on the national stage as a team. We’ve consistently showed up and I feel like nationals is just kind of a culmination of a lot of work that we all put in. Since then it’s been crazy, the support that our team has gotten from Austin especially, because that’s kind of our hometown, but even just kind of the cycling community in general.”
The women’s criterium championship podium of LeighAnn Ganzar (center) Kelly Catlin (left), and Jennifer Luebke (right). Photo: Wil Matthews
Ganzar didn’t find cycling until later in life, as she competed in track running and cross-country while at attending Baylor University where she graduated in 2011 with a degree in biology. It was until a few years later that she did finally find cycling. According to Ganzar, she had the “classic runner got injured turned to cycling story.”
The 2015 season was when Ganzar got serious about road racing, and what a couple of years it’s been for the Colorado native. She’s slowly progressed through the ranks with her teammates and then became the national champion against a field that included well-established U.S. crit racers who have been racing since their childhood years.
It’s evident that this isn’t just a national championship for Ganzar, but for the Wolfpack as well. The riders have each made multiple sacrifices along the way for their teammates. It is clear after speaking with the squad, everyone has multiple roles within the team. Where everyone slots in on race day depends on the situation on the day. No one is shy about speaking up and saying what’s on their mind — it’s all for one and one for all.
Interestingly, despite 2018 being the first season the riders have tested their skills on the national stage, they’ve actually proven to be a strong competitors. The team often appears to be on the hunt for victory, and it is just a matter of time before they are a dominant force on the U.S. criterium scene.
The crowd erupted when hometown favourite LeighAnne Ganzar attacked off the front at the Littleton Twilight Criterium. Photo: Snowy Mountain Photography
Kelly Barrientes, Grace Chappell, Carolyn Defoore, Amanda Eid, Caitlin Friesen, LeighAnn Ganzar, Katie Kantzes, and Sheri Rothe