“Jump In” to Racing with Nancy Heymann

Bicycle racing is intimidating to the onlooker. We see the look on people’s faces when they come in to our Higher Gear shops or when they chat with us at the Chicago Cyclocross Cup races and the conversation turns to, “Why not give it a try?” To many, racing is something that other (younger) people do.

Nancy Heymann Campton Cross Chicago Cyclocross Cup CCC Women Racing Higher Gear Gearheads“Jump in as fast as you can with both feet!” is the advice that Nancy Heymann has for anyone considering giving bike racing a try. And that’s exactly what Nancy did herself.

“I bought a ‘cross bike. I picked it up on a Monday. I watched a DVD. I went to a friend’s house to practice how to dismount and remount. That weekend I took third place in my first ‘cross race.”

About that race, Nancy laughs when she recalls her lack of finesse and a spectator’s observation. “When I approached the barriers, I came to a complete stop… After the race, a woman approached me and said, ‘You figure out that barrier thing, you might be kinda good at ‘cross racing.’”

Figuring out that “barrier thing” and becoming good is exactly what Nancy did. Nancy took seventh in her division at the 2012 USA Cycling Cyclocross Nationals, which were held in Madison last January. Nancy went on to place eleventh in the world at the 2012 UCI Masters Cyclocross World Championship, held in Louisville.

Nancy started racing later in life. She began by doing triathlons with friends. In triathlon, she found that the bicycle portion is what really appealed to her. But, like most people, the thought of bicycle racing was intimidating to her. “Like a lot of people, I didn’t know the first thing about racing. I didn’t know how to go about it or get started with it.”

Higher Gear Women Racing Tour de Villas“It helps to have an affiliation with a bike shop or to have someone to guide you through the process.” Nancy was lucky to find that guide when she was introduced to Francine Haas. As Nancy put it, Francine “didn’t laugh” when Nancy confessed her interest in trying racing at 47 years old. Instead, Francine mentored Nancy and guided her through the process. Francine scoped out a criterium that wouldn’t be too technical for a first race. She helped Nancy prepare for the event and was there with her on race day.

Since that first criterium, Nancy has continued using road racing and criteriums for early season training, “mostly to see where I’m at compared with my competition.” Nancy also races track at the Northbrook Velodrome on Thursday evenings in the summer. This year, Nancy captured first place in the Keirin Championship Scratch Race. Nancy was also the third place overall in Women 1/2/3 at the track this year.

Nancy does road and track racing as a concession to living in the Midwest where she’s forced to drive anywhere to enjoy trails. Where her heart lies, however, is in off-road riding and racing. This year in cross-country, Nancy captured first place in her division in every race she finished –  Alterra Coffee Bean Classic, the Battle of Camrock, Treadfest and the Chequamegon Fat Tire “Short and Fat 16.”

Nancy Heymann Psiclocross Psi-clocross Cross Chicago Cyclocross Cup CCC Women Racing Higher Gear GearheadsThose successes were only leading up to Nancy’s favorite part of the year: the messy, muddy world of cyclocross, which is in full swing right now. This is what she’s been training for all year.

After the disappointment of having her first two seasons cut short due to injury, Nancy is careful to take a balanced approach to her training. In addition to cycling four to five days a week, she does weight training – twice a week most of the year and once a week during ‘cross season. Nancy attributes staying injury-free the past couple years to incorporating massage and regular chiropractic care into her routine.

Her well-balanced approach seems to be paying off. Nancy is currently 6th in Women Cat 3 at the Chicago Cyclocross Cup (CCC), her favorite racing series. When asked what she enjoys most about racing, one catches the glint in Nancy’s eye when she admits that she “really, really enjoys the competition.” But that tenacity is juxtaposed with great heart.

What I really like about cycling and, particularly about women’s cycling/racing in Chicago, is the real sense of camaraderie. Everyone’s joking at the starting line and then the bell goes off. Once the race starts, we’re fierce competitors. Then we cross the finish line and everyone’s laughing and hugging and joking.

There was a picture a couple of years ago that really captured that spirit. It was the top five women at Indian Lakes. It was a minute after the race was done and we’re all standing around laughing. It’s what I love about women’s racing in Chicago. It’s about laughing and having a great time together. I really enjoy the friendships I’ve made through cycling.


That mix of camaraderie and challenge is what first sparked Nancy’s interest in racing. That spirit of generosity is what brought her to discover the joys of racing. It’s what makes her eager to share her lessons with you. It’s why we ask you, “Why not give it a try?” Have you entertained the thought of racing and just don’t know where to start? Here are Nancy’s thoughts to give you a boost:

Jump in as fast as you can with both feet! You’ll have a great time. I recommend finding a great shop – of course, I recommend Higher Gear! – that can support you in your racing needs. Don’t be afraid to try.

With four races left in the Chicago Cyclocross Cup series, Badger Cross, Afterglow, Nationals and Worlds, there’s lots more ‘cross racing left this season if anyone wants to get started. There’s no reason not to jump in & try a race. You can be really slow & last one to cross the line but you’re still going to have a great time.

And I still have that training DVD if anyone wants to borrow it.


Women Racing Higher Gear Gearheads Track Northbrook Velodrome Nancy Heymann Francine Haas Catherine Watkins Angie Rochester

Learn more about Nancy Heymann.

We’d love to help you get started on your racing journey. Please stop by either Higher Gear location or contact us. For further information about cyclocross or racing, please click on the following links:


Need Help? Have Questions?

Highland Park | 847-433-2453
Wilmette | 847-256-2330

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