The plan, the ride, the nutrition, and the winning move.


photo credit: (c)Klassmark / (c)Hutchinson Ranxo Gravel / (c) Photographer

By Heidi Franz

Late last year, DNA Cycling’s Heidi Franz had a sure bet lined up on the roads of Europe with – well, it doesn’t matter what that team was called, because it fell apart in December. Ultimately, she ended up at DNA, who have some of the best kits in the pro-conti scene and an eclectic approach to racing that embraces any surface you can ride with drop bars.

On June 4, she bagged the team’s first gravel win of the year, taking the top step at Catalonia’s Hutchinson Ranxo Gravel. After the race, she sent us a report that’s equal parts “how to race” and “how I won this one,” so here it is – straight from the victor herself.

Have a Plan!

Normally, I’d advise racers to start slowly and not go so deep trying to hang onto a group – that’s a good way to blow up the rest of your race. But there was a steep 6km climb right at the start with some technical sections and descending just after it, so I wanted to ride it hard and get out in front to see who would follow. My plan was to test the level a bit at the beginning of the race and see how my legs were feeling. It worked really well!

I had a nice gap over the top of the climb and was able to hit the technical sections on my own, choosing my own lines. I knew that the men started just 15 minutes after the women, so I hoped that we would get out to a section of the course that would allow me to jump into a group and split the race up a bit.

Assess the Group!

When racing in a group like that, I always make a point of assessing who is there. I look for someone whose wheel I trust and who’s at a similar fitness level, and then I do my absolute best to stay with them, because if you both end up getting dropped from a faster group, at least you will be together! In this case, Anna Kay and myself were able to join a small group that bridged to a larger group ahead of us, and that was where the race really settled. 

After several hours, I was still feeling strong and I had been on top of nutrition and hydrating. My competitor in the group with me was starting to fade a bit after hour four, and when the group started getting animated over some steep, punchy climbs, I realized that I was on my own, and that I could win the race.

Take Your Shot!

My biggest challenge during the race was a gamble, choosing whether or not to hang onto a group that was moving quickly and pushing a little bit more than I thought I could handle. At the start of a race, I would recommend that cyclists ride within the level they know they can hold, and try to stay in that group as long as they can. This far in, though, I knew I had a real opportunity and that I could hold the gap if I just maintained the speed and my nutrition so that I didn’t suddenly implode!

I did find myself really pinned a couple of times while trying to hang on and stay focused enough to make sure we didn’t turn the wrong way, but the gamble paid off. Over the last climb I felt pretty confident! We had lots of downhill to cover before the finish line with about 20km to go, I’d stuck to my fueling strategy, and I knew that it would be hard to make up the time gaps there.

Be Lucky!

I was running a 49cm ENVE MOG with ENVE G23 wheels, a 48/32 Rotor inPower crankset, and an 11-34t cassette. My tires were 38mm Schwalbe G-1s at 25psi.

I had a really lucky day with no mechanicals, and a completely mechanical-free race is a super unusual thing! This was the first gravel race where I could really focus on the race itself and the challenges of energy management rather than equipment management.

Feed Your Efforts!

My goal was to hit 100g of carbs per hour! I started with two 750ml bottles and a hydration pack, hoping to finish all of that by the feed zone at 100km. There, I would pick up two more bottles, shed the hydration pack, and grab a couple more gels.

During the race, I used a mixture of regular gels and caffeinated gels. With those, I was able to hit my 100g/hour target by supplementing the mix in my bottles. It really allowed me to stay sharp and fueled the entire race, and it was the first time I’d really hit a nutrition target like that.

Sticking to my plan really paid off late in the race when I had the chance to win it, but only if I could maintain a hard pace through the final climb with enough left over for the final 20km to the finish.

Know the Course!

Two final pieces of advice: know the course before the race and pay close attention during it. Since I had done the former, I was able to set myself up on the first climb to take advantage of positioning and select my group. I also knew I could push myself when I had the chance to win, because I knew the final 20km would benefit me if I had a gap.

And pay attention to the course while racing it! I mentioned this above, because it was crazy the number of times a group that I was in went off course or missed a turn. The signage was pretty poor out on-course, and sometimes there were so many small trails or turns that came up so fast that no one could look down at the GPS track in time. I think we had to stop and reroute almost six times throughout the race.

June 22, 2023 — First Endurance
Tags: inspiration

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