FROM OUR USA CYCLING PARTNER:
By: Jim Rutberg September 22, 2022
Skylar Schneider and Heidi Franz made their way on to the World Championships team with a little help from Cynisca Cycling.
After announcing a partnership with new American-licensed Continental professional women’s team, Cynisca Cycling, in July 2022, USA Cycling supported a team of elite women for a block of European races that would eventually qualify riders for the 2022 UCI World Championships in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia.
In 2023, 10-12 female cyclists will compete in a full road racing program with Cynisca Cycling as a UCI Continental Women’s Team, the program started out with a collaborative effort this summer. The Cynisca infrastructure provided riders with the opportunity to compete in a block of European pro races under the USA Cycling banner. As Marion Clignet, Cynisca’s Sports Director and six-time world champion, former world-record holder and Olympic medalist, told USA Cycling in July, “In order to be the best in the world, you need to race with the best in the world. Cynisca will give young riders the opportunity to train and race on the world stage.”
For three American women, Cynisca’s summer program did just that. Skylar Schneider, Heidi Franz, and Emma Langley are familiar with racing at the top international level, but a European refresher course helped prepare them for the World Championships.
As the 2022 Road Race National Champion, Langley was already automatically selected to the World Championships team, but for Schneider and Franz, this block of racing proved their ability when it came down to the final selection to Team USA.
“I feel very strongly that my participation in the Cynisca program with USA Cycling in August helped me to prepare for the World Championships,” said Schneider, “It gave me an opportunity to return to Europe and feel what it was like to be racing in that peloton again after being away from it for two years. It also gave me a lot of confidence that I could jump back into that level of racing and do well, and that I still really enjoy it.”
Following a stellar Junior cycling career, Schneider joined the Boels-Dolmans team in Europe (precursor to the current SD Worx team) from 2018-2020. After the pandemic-paused 2020 season, she returned to the roots of American racing in 2021 with the criterium-focused Legion of Los Angeles team. There, she recorded more than 20 wins, including sweeps of the Intelligentsia Cup and Tour of America’s Dairyland.
Her success continued into 2022. She earned a selection to Team USA for the 2022 UCI World Championships. With prior experience at the World Tour level, Skylar knew her criterium skills would be useful on the World’s course, but that she needed to shift her training and competition schedule to be ready for the road race at Worlds.
“In 2021 and 2022 my focus has been predominately on criterium racing with Legion. The course in Wollongong has a very technical city circuit that we do six times. Although the race is much longer than a criterium in both time and distance, the skills needed for criterium racing in terms of positioning and cornering will be an asset on that circuit,” she explained. “After the European block, I had about three weeks at home before traveling to Australia. My training during that time was 100% focused on Worlds. I feel good about the training and don’t think I could have physically/mentally done any more. I hope the combination of experience and positioning with my fitness will make me a great teammate to the other incredibly strong women on Team USA and I look forward to playing a part in the team plan.”
Team Instafund racer Heidi Franz is no stranger to elite international competition, but like so many professional cyclists, she endured a forced hiatus from European racing due to the pandemic. Prior to racing for Instafund, Franz spent four years in the Rally Cycling program, which featured a mixed program of domestic and international competitions. For her, the block of European racing with Team USA and Cynisca helped bring aspects of her cycling career full circle.
“My first experience racing with Team USA was a trip to the Boels Ladies Tour in 2018, and I look back on that experience really fondly. I was the new kid, and I got to be teammates with Leah Thomas and Tayler Wiles, women I really looked up to,” Heidi said. “With Instafund this year, I was mainly focused on North American racing, but eager to come back to Europe and show I was competitive and capable in that field. I knew that I had experience under my belt and could be helpful to the riders who had never been to Europe before, just as Leah and Tayler had offered their experience and guidance to me on that trip in 2018.”
Franz was a natural choice to replace fellow USA Cycling rider, Coryn Labecki, after she broke her collarbone leading up to the Worlds. Although Franz didn’t have much time to specifically prepare for World Championships, her participation in the Cynisca/USA Cycling block of European racing in August provided fitness and experience necessary for Worlds.
“Being part of that trip was important to my selection and preparation for the World Championships. I did not automatically qualify and was put on the roster as first reserve, which was an honor by itself,” she commented. “I had a successful season of racing in North America, but my time racing in Europe with the program really solidified my confidence and showed I can be an effective and reliable teammate. Getting to finish the trip with a race as demanding as the seven stage Tour de l’Ardeche was also the perfect way to prepare for the World Championships, coming off a great block of racing with a great team.”
Looking Forward with Cynisca Cycling
Both Schneider and Franz are in the middle of their professional cycling careers. Having experienced the ups and downs of rider development and performance at the top level of the sport, they are hopeful about the opportunities Cynisca Cycling can offer to young women.
Schneider commented, “The early opportunities to race in Europe with the U.S. National Team ultimately opened the door for me to go to the World Tour, and I hope that this new program with Cynisca can do that for other riders. That’s ultimately what drew me to the program. I felt like I could share my experience with the other girls selected for the trip, as many of them were racing in Europe for the first time. That was the most fulfilling part for me. Next year, I will be racing with Legion in the U.S., but I hope to have the chance to take a few trips over to Europe with Cynisca and Team USA.”
Franz took an even wider view, pointing out the barriers the Cynisca program will be instrumental in breaking down. “I see the affiliation and connection to the USA Women’s Elite, U23 and Junior riders as a huge benefit. It gives riders a real pathway to pursue. There are development teams like this in the men’s development pathway, but it’s barely a reality on the women’s side. North American-based teams often struggle to put together longer trips in Europe because of the costs and the demands on staff, logistics, and riders. Because the racing is so difficult, it’s hard to stay over long enough to really find your footing and get comfortable. Or they never go to Europe at all. That’s why more opportunities to spend time racing there are so important.”
The team of Skylar Schneider, Heidi Franz, Emma Langley, Leah Thomas, Lauren Stephens, Kristen Faulkner, and Veronica Ewers will compete in the Elite Women’s Road Race at the 2022 UCI World Championships in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia on Saturday, September 24. Watch the race live starting Sunday night in the U.S.
- September 22, 2022