Team Higher Gear was honored last year when two already successful women’s racers joined our Gear Head team. Nancy Heymann is a local Highland Park mother who juggles her children’s sports activities with a full-time job and her cycling. Read on to learn about how cycling has helped Nancy to be a positive example not only to other moms but also to her own children. Francine Haas is a successful racer who has been generous sharing her knowledge and passion for the sport with local area women. Read below to see how Francine got her start in cycling and what she herself wants to learn.
HG: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not on your bike?
NH: I like to read and cook and eat! I like to spend time with my kids and my dog. I also enjoy traveling, skiing, and hiking.
HG: What kind of cycling do you do?
NH: I ride on- and off-road. I race road, track, mountain bike and cyclocross.
HG: Do you ride solo or in a group?
NH: I do both and enjoy both. I love to ride and train with a group. Being out with your friends and teammates makes any ride or training session more fun. I also really enjoy going out by myself. I find that I look around at the scenery more when I’m on my own and it’s great to just ride at your own pace.
HG: What is your favorite ride/route?
NH: I love the Sylvan Lake Loop. You ride through a neighborhood along a lake, and it always makes me feel like I’m on vacation. It’s so pretty and peaceful. It’s hard to believe you’re so close to home.
HG: What is your favorite cycling event?
NH: I love doing Chequamegon. It’s a mountain bike race in Hayward, WI. You get to have a mini-vacation with friends and do a really fun mountain bike race. This will be my 15th year racing it. It was also the first bike race that I ever did.
When I first did Cheguamegon in 1994 it took me over 2 hours to finish. Now I finish in under 1:10 so I’ve taken almost a full hour off my time and I’m almost 20 years older!
HG: Congratulations on a successful 2011 cycling season! What were some of your accomplishments?
NH: I raced three mountain bike races. I won the women’s overall in the sport division at the Palos Meltdown, and won my age group at Crystal Ridge and Chequamegon. I was also on the podium for five out of the six state championship races that I entered at the track.
HG notes: Nancy also placed 7th in her division, 2nd in Cat 3’s at the National Cyclocross Championship in Madison. And 11th in her division, 4th in Cat 3’s in the World Cyclocross Championship in Louisville.
HG: What were some of your highlights from last season?
NH: Definitely the Madison State Championship at the track. There you race with a partner. One person is always racing and the other is riding slowly and resting. Every 1-2 laps you grab each other by the arm and the one who has been racing flings the rider that has been resting to get them back up to race speed. I was so nervous about doing it and then ended up having so much fun!
I also loved racing at the cyclocross masters’ World Championships in Louisville. There was snow, ice, mud and sand for my race. Every lap was a challenge. I was battling back and forth with a couple of women for a lot of the race and ended up beating them both in a sprint finish. I also had three friends and Higher Gear teammates, Francine and Brian Haas and Lynn Rivier, who came to Louisville to cheer me on. It was so great to have their support and it really helped through the whole race to have them cheering me on.
HG: What does cycling mean to you?
NH: I love the exhilarating feeling of racing in a group or riding over difficult terrain on my mountain or cross bike, but I think what means most to me about cycling is the friendships that develop through riding and racing. I have incredible friends among my teammates. I have also met so many great people through racing that I never would have met otherwise.
HG: Do you remember your first bicycle?
NH: My first bike was a hand-me-down from my brothers that my parents spray painted pink for me. My brothers took me to the school playground to teach me to ride. They ran with me to get me up to speed and then let go so I would run into the brick wall of the school. No wonder I love things like cyclocross. I got early training in extreme biking!
HG: When did you first get into cycling?
NH: I started riding recreationally 17 years ago because some of my close friends were riding, and it was a great way to spend time together. I started racing competitively two years ago.
HG: What were you riding when you fell in love with the sport?
NH: I’d have to say it is my second mountain bike…my blue Cannondale. It is such a pretty bike. I loved washing it after it would get all muddy. I still have that bike after 15 years. I justify keeping it by loaning it out to my friends who are new to mountain biking, but the truth is I just can’t bear to get rid of that bike.
HG: You’ve made a few references to dirt and mud. You’re focusing on mountain & cyclocross for this year. You must enjoy playing in the dirt.
NH: Yes, I love going out and riding in the dirt and mud. It’s like being a kid again and just going out to ride your bike because it’s so much fun!
HG: Higher Gear is known for its post-race feasts. What is your favorite post-cycling/post-race meal?
NH: All post-race meals are my favorite meals!! I love to eat and it all tastes so much better after you ride!
One of my most memorable was last year after Chequamegon. When we got to the restaurant, they said we had missed lunch, but they might be able to get us some of the barbequed chicken. They brought the chicken and then started bringing potatoes, jicama salad and all kinds of really amazing food. It went from having missed lunch to this incredible feast.
HG: You got into bicycle racing later in life. Any advice to others, particularly women, who are thinking about making such a drastic change in their lifestyle?
NH: I didn’t feel like I made a drastic change in my lifestyle. I kind-of worked my way into it. As my kids got older and more independent, I had more time to ride. That made training and racing seem more possible. I slowly made lifestyle changes to get to where I am today.
HG: You juggle cycling with being a mom and working. Any advice for moms?
NH: It’s really hard to juggle it all. My kids come first when I’m juggling, but I also think it’s important for them, especially as they get older, to learn to do things on their own. I think the key is to not be too hard on yourself and don’t worry about doing everything perfectly at home or work or with your kids. Sometimes laundry doesn’t get done or there isn’t a home cooked meal every night, and sometimes you have to skip a training ride to be at home and be mom. And somehow everyone survives!
My advice to moms is that while it may feel very selfish to take time away from your family to ride and race, you are demonstrating very healthy choices for your kids. You are also showing them that it’s ok for women to be strong and active and independent. Plus, cycling is a great family activity. If you get started, you can get the whole family started.
I feel like the most important advice I can give to any woman who is thinking about cycling or racing is that you are never too old and that you can accomplish almost anything that you set out to do if you are willing to work hard enough to achieve it.
HG: You recently helped Higher Gear put on its first annual Women’s Cycling Clinic. You’re known in the area for sharing your knowledge of & love for cycling with others, especially women.
FH: I’ve been putting on women’s events for the last 10 years. It all started on a whim, really. I thought to myself, I love this sport, but why am I the only women on most of these group rides and why are there so few women racing? I set out to bring women into this sport by having a clinic to introduce them to cycling. The clinics have evolved since then, bringing more focus on skills and bike handling, but the overall theme is to empower women to get out there and to feel comfortable and confident on their bikes.
HG: What do you enjoy most about these teaching opportunities?
FH: For me what’s most rewarding is watching people improve. I’ve had women come out to their first road ride terrified of getting close to other riders and not fit enough to keep up without the help of the draft. I give a lot of pushes and encourage them to keep coming out, week after week. When they finally make it through the ride without any pushes, sitting comfortably in the group, it’s huge. We all go home happy.
HG: What advice do you have for women who are interested in stepping up their cycling game – whether it be getting into racing or group rides or just getting on their bikes more consistently?
FH: If you want to get into riding, work on your skills and learn how to be efficient. Try to stay consistent in your training and don’t give up when you’re having a bad day.
HG: You are an accomplished racer in several disciplines. What are some of your cycling accomplishments you are most proud of?
FH: I’ve had so many wonderful experiences racing my bike, but one that sticks out in my mind is winning the Illinois State Road Race as a Category 3 rider. I had made the race one of my goals for the season, The course was challenging, but doable. I raced aggressively, but in the end it came down to a sprint. I put myself in a good position heading into the finish and sprinted as hard as I could. It all came together for me that day and it really was a great feeling crossing the line in first place.
HG: What is your favorite cycling event?
FH: It’s hard to say what my favorite event is. I do a little of everything because I think they’re all fun for different reasons. If I had to pick one event, I’d say the miss-n-out track race. It’s a race where, lap after lap they eliminate riders until there are just a few left. If you manage to stay in, there is one neutral lap and then a sprint to the finish. There’s a lot of strategy involved to do well, but the race combines both endurance and sprinting abilities.
HG: What is your favorite ride/route?
FH: One of my favorite routes is the Sylvan Lake loop, but I really enjoy the speed and intensity of the Judson and Mafia rides.
HG: Do you commute by bike?
FH: I commute to work a few days a week. It’s only a four-mile ride, so it can hardly be considered a workout. Since I live in the city, it is, by far, the fastest way to get to work.
HG: What are your cycling goals for this year?
FH: My biggest goal for the season is to race well tactically with my teammates. Aside from that, although not an “A” race, I would like to do well at the Joe Martin Stage Race. Other key races are Downer Ave, the State Points Race and the Madison on the track the Team Time Trial and Chequamegon
HG: How did you get into cycling?
FH: I began my cycling career as a triathlete, my first race was the first Chicago Triathlon in 1983. I made the switch to road cycling in 1999, adding track and and cyclo-cross shortly after. I also compete in one mountain bike race every year –Chequamegon.
HG: How did you get into racing?
FH: I did my first fast group ride in the summer of 1997. It was my first real exposure to a rotating paceline and for a large part of the ride I seemed to be doing just fine. Then someone attacked from the back of the pack and the entire group responded. I looked down at my speedometer and saw 37mph, but I was getting left behind. I was terrified but thrilled all at the same time. Luckily I was saved by a red light! The rush of that moment changed me forever. I was happy just participating in the group rides for a while. It was Brian, who made the push to get into racing and I followed along, competing in the Downers Grove Criterium in the fall of 1998.
HG: Who is the better cyclist? 😉
FH: Brian is definitely a better cyclist.
HG: Did you get into cycling together?
FH: When I met Brian he enjoyed riding, but he was doing mostly running. I introduced him to group cycling and he instantly became a fan of the sport. I continued to compete in triathlons and running races, but Brian ventured out in the cycling arena. He started off racing on Friday nights at the Northbrook velodrome. He found that bike racing was a lot like running a track race and since he ran collegiately, it seemed like a great fit. It didn’t take much convincing from Brian, but soon I was converted into a competitive cyclist.
HG: Would it be possible to be as successful as you are as a cyclist without his support?
FH: I’ve been competing in sports all my life. I’m driven by competition and it’s what makes me happy. Luckily for us, we both are very driven to compete. Brian has helped me refine my training, which has had a huge impact on my racing.
HG: Do you remember the bicycle you were riding when you fell in love with the sport?
FH: I think I have always loved cycling, but when I made the commitment to do my first triathlon, I also purchased my first race bike. It was a Schwinn Super Le Tour and I paid $347.00 for it back in 1983. That bike will always be special to me.
HG: What is your most important piece of cycling equipment?
FH: The one gadget I always have on my bike is my power meter. I train with power, so being able to see my output is key. I don’t really look at the numbers when I’m in a race (unless I’m in a time trial) but I study the power files later to see what I might need work on or analyze how well I raced.
HG: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not on your bike?
FH: When I’m not on my bike I enjoy cooking and/or enjoying a great meal with a glass of wine. I also love to watch Flamenco performances. The dancers and the musicians bring so much passion into what they do, you can’t help but get wrapped up in the moment. Having taken 10 years of tap dancing when I was younger, the transition to Flamenco seems natural. One day, when I’m not so busy, I’m going learn to Flamenco. Ole!