Heidi Franz – on the sharp end of Sunday’s road race – photo by John Hollingsworth

Tête de la Course athlete Heidi Franz had one hell of a race at U.S. Pro last weekend. For those of you who didn’t see the live stream of the road race, Heidi was off the front in a break from lap 4 to lap 9 and most of lap 9 she was solo after dropping her breakaway companions. She was caught with less than 5 km to go.

However, her first time at U.S. Pro Championships did not start out “as planned” due to a hell day of travel involving delayed flights, cancelled flights and lost baggage. She managed to make some lemonade though. Here is her report:

When I got to Knoxville and was preparing for the road race on Sunday, I was thinking “Oh man, I should definitely write up some kind of report for Nationals. It’ll be easy, no problem.” And then Sunday happened and my task became so much harder. Not that it was going to be easy to begin with. After all, it’s a National Championship, and nothing about it is, or should be, easy.


This was my first trip to Pro Road Nationals, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that this race is just different. Obviously I don’t have multiple years to back up that statement but even as a newbie it became very clear, very fast, that this event was unlike any kind of challenge I had lined up for. Being so coveted, the build-up is enormous and it absolutely requires that your best fall right in line with that race, that day. There’s no prize money, but there’s a jersey, and the pride of being the owner of that jersey for a whole year in the eye of the cycling world. It’s a big freakin’ deal.


For some people, this is a race that always escapes them. The game doesn’t play out in their favor in the first few laps and suddenly the race is up the road. For others, they might get one step closer, year after year, and the one thing that turns their race around can be such a seemingly small detail. Having one extra bottle of water, one less moment of hesitation, one more teammate, or one simple check back at who’s behind you. Depending on who’s there, that look can either mentally extinguish your fight, or keep you going. More on that later. All in all, the whole experience is fascinating to be around and to be a part of, racing against some of the world’s absolute best for the first time.


For me, Nationals resembled something like a coming of age. That sounds ridiculously cliché and part of me cringes writing that out, but that’s the best way I can describe it. All week, there were many emotional hoops and challenges to jump through, whether I felt ready for them or not. For example, when I drove from Nashville to Knoxville the day before the time trial without any of my bags it forced me to say “f$%* it”, drink the beer[s] that my director gave me, and make the most out of the [Joker] cards I was dealt. I didn’t have a whole lot to lose in those 32 minutes, and I quickly figured out how it feels to race a ProNats Time Trial after not riding a bike for two days. Turns out it really sucks, and it wasn’t a surprise that I didn’t do well. But it drove me to take each following day as its own isolated challenge. It made no sense to stay awake all night wondering, what if my bags hadn’t gotten lost? Eh, who knows. What if I had taken one more caffeine gel 20 minutes earlier? Eh, who knows. What if it had been 80% humidity instead of 99%? Those seemingly small details I was talking about- you can’t really control 95% of them. What you do with that other 5% is what can make something worthwhile. (Sure, go ahead and put that on a motivational fitness ad.)


So it’s Crit Day. Need to make lemonade out of that 5%. Warmed up on the trainer before the start, went to the bathroom approximately seven times, lowered my tire pressure to 68psi because it was raining (for real!), put that weird smelling stuff on Oakleys that sheds water, and went over the race plan in my head. Again. And…again. Probably too many times, because if you stick to the plan literally and don’t start reacting to what’s happening right in front of you, pretty soon you’ll finish the race with your teammate in 2nd.


Then, you’ll be asking yourself (1) why do I still have energy and where should I have spent it and (2) Did I just forget how to race my bike for a second there?


Cool, another lesson learned. Communicate with your teammates, read the race in front of you and not the one in your ears, and use the energy that you have!! What better place to relearn that than the US Pro National Championships? [Insert sarcastic *eyebrow raise* here.] I had fun reflecting on that, sitting in my soaking wet chamois while I ate my dinner in the team van. Back at the motel, Summer, Emma and I went swimming in our cheeky motel pool to wash off the day. Debrief done, we’d better make tomorrow count. Everyone else will be doing the same thing.


You may have seen a picture at the end of the road race, where Emma is putting her hand on my shoulder after a hug while I’m bursting into tears. I’m a pretty emotional person but there are only two times when I’ve finished a race and cried. The first time was when I felt that I’d truly let down my teammates and disappointed myself in the process. Here it was because for the first time I honestly believed that my teammates and I had done everything that we possibly could have done to get ourselves the National Championship. It felt different than any race I had ever finished before. Everyone rode out of their skin and with full confidence that we could pull it off. I wasn’t crying because I was sad that my breakaway adventure ended with 2.5 miles left in the race or even that Emma had finished 3rd. We took advantage of every minute, every move that we could control and left nothing else in the tank, and it was something to be incredibly proud of. Personally, I got to have the best ride I have ever had, knowing 100% that I was lucky to be racing for such a worthy teammate in Emma. Feeling truly drained and exhausted in the best possible way, I could only just hug her and be proud of the effort.


“Just over this last one Heidi, as hard as you can. Over the top. Keep going. This is it.”


I didn’t have to think about what regrets or stresses I’d had from the days before, and I didn’t have to look back at who was behind me until the last second, because I already knew.


After the time trial on Thursday, my teammate and friend Brad Huff told me that over the next two days, I’d surprise myself.


He couldn’t have been more right.


This is what it looks like to give 100% – photo by Snowy Mountain Photography

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