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Heidi Franz: Recalibration

Hello VoxWomen readers!

I’m thrilled to be giving you my first blog of the 2022 season. I reached out to Vox about contributing this year because as the number of Women’s WorldTour teams grows and the sport continues to progress, I find it important to continue hearing the perspectives and voices of the women who make up the Pro Continental Ranks, who might race outside the mainstream, but work hard to do what they do. My name is Heidi Franz, and I’m an American rider for Instafund Racing Team in 2022. I love to write, take photographs, and I live in the (currently very cold and dark) Pacific Northwest of the United States, in Seattle. 

When I signed my first pro contract to race for Rally Cycling in 2018, I had just graduated from university, had no idea what I was going to do with my photography degree, and I thought “okay, let’s see if I can make it four years.” After all, I had a good idea of what four years felt like. The four stages of growth you have year to year, being a bright-eyed freshman in high school or in college, to your slightly less uncomfortable but still awkward sophomore year, the junior year where you find a bit of rhythm, maybe join a band and dye your hair. Then senior year, where you think you know who you are and where you’re going, and you must put together everything you’ve learned and studied the last three years and prove yourself to the entire world! In reality, maybe just your dog or your mom. Of course, approaching a professional sport isn’t even close to the same thing, but approaching this totally new challenge, I had to draw from my past experience. After a year of bike racing with two successful trips to Europe, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. So, I dyed my hair and joined a band… 

Actually, I set goals. I wanted to be in the WorldTour. I wanted to race the World Championships some day. I wanted to be a reliable, tactical teammate. I knew that as an American who didn’t come up through the junior ranks, who started bike racing halfway through university, it would  be difficult to do but not impossible. Each following year with Rally, 2019, 2020, and 2021, I kept improving and still had these goals in front of mind.

Image courtesy of the Belgian Waffle Ride Photo Pool

This past 2021 season was my fourth professional year. The World Championships were in Flanders, a type of race I felt I could be of use, and I believed that I had a chance to step up to the WorldTour. I wanted to put together everything I’d learned over the last three years, and I ended up having a pretty good season! There were ups and downs of course, as always, but I’d honed in my skills as a breakaway artist, I worked hard for my teammates, I worked on my sprinting which earned me my first UCI classification jersey, in Spain. I took chances in breakaways all year long, wore some colorful jerseys, and landed on my first UCI GC podium. More importantly, I had gained confidence in my ability and my role on the team. Yet, October had come around, and I was scrambling for a place on a team – any team. Rally had not offered me a place on their upcoming WorldTour team and I was stressed, frustrated, confused, and incredibly disappointed. I threw out that four year timeline because I knew I wasn’t done yet. I was motivated to keep learning, keep improving, and prove that I had the work ethic to stay in this sport and get to a place where I could support myself.

Credit: Photo Gomez Sport

But, I began to realize that maybe I’d set myself up for disappointment. It could’ve happened in many other ways, through injury, a team folding, or I don’t know, maybe a global pandemic? I had set unrealistic pressure and expectations that my career would progress at a linear, consistent rate, despite the fact that literally nothing in this sport, nor life in general, is perfectly linear. Recalibrating is a regular practice. I hadn’t come flying out of the gate when I started, but I’d made consistent progress over the last four years without injury or major setback, and I began to expect that of myself without compromise. I understand now that when this sport deals you any hand, you get creative and make the absolute most out of it. I know that the “everything happens for a reason” cliche is, well, super cliche, but we use it so often because it’s true.

Slowing myself down, recalibrating my goals, and letting go of my expectations has taught me a valuable lesson. Sometimes what we perceive to be a setback might actually launch us forward. As the year came to a close and the loose ends tied, I knew I was in the right place. So, what am I doing this season? I will be racing all over North America with my Instafund Racing Team, doing stages races and crits on the road, gravel races, and whatever trails come in between. Our travels will take us back to Europe later this summer, where I’m excited to get amongst the action and continue to take chances, race aggressively, and put our team out in front. Our mission is to do this with as little carbon-footprint as possible, which I will get into more detail on in later blogs. I hope you’ll follow along!

Heidi.

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