The 2022 Redlands champ reflects on her first European win.

photo: @cyclimage

It feels like Heidi Franz has been in headlines since the day she joined DNA Pro Cycling. Her latest result – and first European win – came at the inaugural women’s edition of the Egmont Cycling Race, a UCI 1.2 event in Belgium, where she stage-managed the final breakaway before bullying her way to a commanding gap in the final few hundred meters.

As you’d expect from a Belgian race, Egmont has bite – it’s a sawtooth profile defined by short, punchy climbs. With the lack of a WorldTour team, Heidi and her DNA Cycling teammates expected the race to be an unruly affair. They were right.

“The team plan was to ultimately work for Sarah Van Dam for a sprint finish, but we knew that it was also likely that a break could go to the line because of a lack of WorldTour control in the peloton.” To account for variability, they kept the plan fluid. “If it would come down to a sprint, we'd set up Sara, but if someone saw an opportunity to jump into a late break we would see how it played out.”

Accounting for the plan’s fluidity, the race went exactly to plan. “It's funny, usually when there's no WT teams in the peloton, there is less control but also it means that everyone thinks that it's their chance to be in the break,” she said of the race dynamics, which featured multiple attacks all day. Given the general sense of opportunism throughout the peloton, none of the attacks actually stuck – until one did.

“It came down to the last lap and the last 6km, when a couple of riders attacked on a short climb going into a cobble section and I followed it,” Heidi explained. The move grew to four and ultimately stuck together into the final corner, where Heidi found herself in the hot seat: “I was already leading the sprint!”

She knew she had the legs to finish it, too, because she was able to throttle an attack inside 3k to go despite not shirking her turns at the front. “A couple of riders bridged up,” she said, “including someone with a teammate in the break. They attacked, and it was up to me to bring it back. Once I did, I knew the teammate in my wheel would attack immediately, which she did.”

It was a risk, but Heidi played her cards to win rather than racing just not to lose. “I had to gamble and trust that the other rider in the break would help to bring that last move back.” Her legs proven and the gamble paying off, Heidi decided to go for it. “I knew that as long as I got to the last corner first I could win.”

And she did – and she wasn’t surprised.

“I was on a really good day,” she said. “I could tell I had really good legs because I had to do a lot of work to make sure the team was always represented in any threatening moves.” She had a good feel for her level in the finale, because she’d been taking on 80-90g of carbs per hour and testing herself by covering attacks all day. The final one-two move was just confirmation – but no race is won with watts alone.

“My legs had a good spring to them, but in the end, it took really good legs and a lot of analysis and careful decision making – when to follow, when to close the gaps, anticipating the next move, being patient when it looked like it might go away from me, and making my final acceleration into the final corner.”

Though she credits a certain pride of place to her 2022 Redlands win, Egmont has its own reason for being special. “As my first European win, it's the most gratifying and longest awaited, because it's been five years of coming really close to a win on European soil,” she said. “Winning Redlands will always be super special to me but this is really hard to compare!”

The reward? A win and a Belgian beer in the parking lot, like a true professional, followed by a flight home to Girona and a couple of weeks off before preparing for her closing races of the year in September at Tour de l'Ardèche, underway now, and Grand Prix Gatineau – also like a true pro. The grind continues for one more month, but taking those final start lines will be all the more sweeter with the memory of that celebratory Belgian beer.

September 07, 2023 — First Endurance

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