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Heidi Franz: Getting back into the swing of racing

Editor’s note:  In her blog, Heidi mentions the Redlands Classic, a race which she then went on to win! So big congratulations, Heidi! 

I am writing this, admittedly, at the very last minute on the Eve of the Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift. Scrolling through the social media feeds, it’s all race previews, rosters, equipment choices, “The Run-Up Series” (which you should watch!), and predictions from teams and friends and riders alike. I love nerding out on the equipment choices, tire pressures, tubular vs. tubeless, aero bike vs. all-around bike, tape on the hands or gloveless? The discussions with mechanics and the planning, wheels on the road-side, improvised feed zones, all in anticipation. I cannot wait to watch it unfold, and I know it will only make me more anxious to be there on the start line someday. By the time you read this, we will have already had goosebumps as the head of the race enters the velodrome, and another woman adds her name to the short and empowering list of winners. I just love bike racing. 

Roubaix recon in October 2020, before the first edition was canceled

Since February’s blog, I have been busy! A month spent in Arizona included an excellent team camp and the team’s first race together. Once home, I got into prep mode and turned the focus towards Instafund’s first big races of the North American calendar- the Redlands Bicycle Classic, followed immediately by the legendary UCI Tour of the Gila, two five-day stage races, one at sea-level, one in the high desert of New Mexico. After two years of hiatus, they are back and literally, back-to-back. Our stage races in North America are different from those in Europe because they often include a criterium either in the middle or toward the end of the tour. It’s always a leg-burning and fast punch in the mouth after a few days of tough racing. In just a short 1-2km circuit, they are packed with corners and can pack a punchy climb as well. Occasionally they turn a general classification on its head. I’m really looking forward to being back with my teammates for these races. 

During our team camp in Arizona, I was blown away by the chemistry and the ease with which we connected. That good energy was always there, and you could feel it right away from the first day together. The laughing was constant, the inside jokes formed immediately, the cohesion on the training rides came naturally. I knew that we had a special group.

The team eating breakfast together at camp. Photo by Drew Coleman.

On the first day of camp, our director told me quite simply- “hey, so you’re road captain.” I felt both pressure and relief at the same time, as if that was possible? There wasn’t a “but, insert limiter here” or a “well, we needed someone to be,” or anyone looking around like, “I don’t want to, can you?” When I have been put in this position in the past, or put myself in this position, it was not in confidence- not from myself, nor the people around me. Often it felt like it was because I was the last-resort, or decisions weren’t being made on the road and I felt like I had to do it, or else no one would. I wasn’t confident in those decisions and was terrified of making the wrong ones. But, I knew I could read a race, and I could race smart. I knew racing as a team, riding together, and making decisions was better than no cohesion and no decisions- regardless if they were the right or the wrong ones. I think that at the end of the day, you learn something from every race you line up to, and if you learn and win as a team or lose and learn as a team, then it’s about how you carry and act on those lessons into each race after it. With this team, I still feel the anxiety and fear of making mistakes as a captain on the road, but this time I feel the confidence and belief from the women that have my back, and that makes all the difference. They know I have their backs, too. It only made perfect sense that when we lined up to race a local Arizona stage race together to close out our camp, it felt like we’d been racing together a season already. 

Here’s teammate Rylee and myself, after a great team ride in the Arizona road race. Photo by Fabian Merino.

A long time between our camp in Arizona and the start of our two big stage races meant that I got almost a month at home before I headed to the Sea Otter Classic, an expo and bike race festival, you could say, in California. It would help me kickstart the busy Spring and lead-up to our stage races later into the month, plus give me the chance to connect with sponsors of Instafund and myself, and reunite with friends from all over. In the meantime, being home gave me the chance to do some side work nannying for a couple families, and also allowed me to mix it up in the local racing scene in the Pacific Northwest. I enjoy jumping into the men’s races at home, for the good speed and positioning work. It challenges me to play a smart game and be very particular about which moves I follow, when I make my own attacks, and especially how I use my energy in the finish without any teammates. Sometimes it gets too dodgy to be worth throwing elbows and that’s okay.

A typical day in my time babysitting while at home: springtime beach combing with the girls.

After a couple years of being away this time of year, it was fun to be around for the revival of many of these local races and see how the scene at home is developing. I was feeling great and ready to get the season going. Then, after two years of dodging it, I finally got that dreaded test result for Covid-19 and everything had to pause. I’m thankful for our vaccines and the booster shot I received, because my case was mild and I didn’t experience all the full-blown symptoms that so many went through earlier on in the pandemic. Rest was my priority. Travel to Sea Otter was canceled, and I turned on full recovery mode to be “ready” in time for Redlands. Of course, my emotions and thoughts were a bit all over the place. The mind of an athlete circles the whole spectrum of “hey, it’s just a week off, you’ll bounce back fine,” to “nope, I’m f—-ed. It’s all gone.” There’s also that fear of not knowing how much to push it once you return to training, not like a normal cold. Hearing about riders with heart conditions or constant fatigue after Covid is scary and it felt like I was walking a tightrope. At the same time, I don’t want to over-think myself into a fearful corner, and I didn’t want to push my body too hard – as if I could make up for lost time. 

As I write this, I’m just a few days from departure to Redlands. So many riders have gone through this same process, the questioning and the uncertainty of how your body will react or perform for that first race or first hard effort back. I’m doing my best to keep that from taking me down. But you know what makes me excited? Seeing my teammates again. I can already hear Maddy Ward laughing from a thousand kilometers away. My confidence has not shaken in that no matter what sort of post-Covid Heidi shows up to race next week, I have a team that has my back. And I have theirs. 

Until next time

Heidi

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