Heidi Franz: A first time at Flanders
Procycling's 12 days of Christmas: 12
Procycling magazine’s 12 days of Christmas revisits some of the highlights from our contributors in the magazine over the last year. In October, Heidi Franz finally got to race the Tour of Flanders for the first time, after months of waiting. Here, she shares what she learned from a month racing in Belgium.
Heidi Franz races for Rally Cycling and was one of Procycling’s 2020 diarists. This article was taken from Procycling magazine issue 275 December 2020.
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The eve of Ronde van Vlaanderen might as well be Christmas Eve. I rolled out for my final pre-race openers of the year into Oudenaarde, and you could sense the anticipation all around. The morning fog hadn’t cleared and there was a cold bite to the humid air. It was already noon, but it felt like 8am.
Even with the restrictions on spectators this year, the bustle around the city and the cyclists everywhere made it very apparent - a holiday was descending upon Flanders. The anticipation was contagious, and I was giddy. I would get to end my season at the race I’ve always dreamed of doing.
My first Classic was Omloop het Nieuwsblad, back in February, if you remember. (Yes, it was the year 2020.) I couldn’t digest all the finer details of that race because of the distracting and growing covid situation, but also because there was nothing to follow it.
Now that I’ve got Brabantse Pijl, Gent-Wevelgem, and Flanders under my belt, I can connect the dots and understand why they’re unlike any races I’ve ever done before. Of our strong team of six, only one of us had done these races before: our leader, Chloe Hosking. It was her ninth Het Nieuwsblad and eighth Flanders. She’s an expert and a damn good leader to have around when you’re learning the ropes.
“Positioning” was the million dollar word, repeated over, and over, and over in our team meetings. Instead of a race like Ardèche, where you can worry about positioning for a climb or being ready for a break, the classics require good position for almost every turn in the road. It doesn’t matter if you have great legs! There aren’t 180 kilometers to spend hanging out in the peloton before the racing starts. (Sorry, that was a bit harsh.)
If you’re out of position at kilometer five, you can be out of the race. Turn right, there’s a wind change. Turn left, another wind change and a massive Belgian death-crack in the road. Right turn onto a tiny bike path, right turn onto a cobbled climb. At the top, there’s a left turn onto an exposed wide road and a 35 kph cross-tailwind. It’s raining sideways. You can see a train of six Sunweb moving up fast on the right. *Cue the alarm bells!!* It’s full-gas, unrelenting, and requires 100 per cent focus for every minute you’re on the bike.
For Brabantse Pijl on October 7, I had some more confidence than I did back in February. Yet still, I had horrible legs, and the best I could do for positioning was getting back to mid-peloton after being dropped six or seven times. I fought hard to do my job.
For Gent-Wevelgem, we knew it would be a crucial first 13km. I’d been in a crash just after the flag dropped, but chased back and went off the front immediately - into a headwind. I thought, “Oh, Heidi. What the hell are you doing?” Well, I wanted a headstart to the first crosswind section at 22km. Being in the short-lived breakaway got me there in good position, just as the peloton closed in. I could tell I was adjusting to the pace and constant fighting, making small improvements.
And Flanders was the last chance to put everything together. I knew the roads, had the confidence, and a motivated team. Taking the pressure off of Lily and Chloe in the peloton, I went and spent over 100km in the breakaway. It was the hardest and most surreal break I’ve ever worked. I get goosebumps thinking about it, and I could fill pages about that day as a whole. I’ll definitely be back.
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