Heidi Franz, Maggie Coles-Lyster join exodus from Zaaf team as conditions at team ‘worsen’

Five more riders have left in the last week after Audrey Cordon-Ragot became the first to sign for a new team ahead of Paris-Roubaix.

Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

North American racers Maggie Coles-Lyster and Heidi Franz are the latest riders to leave Zaaf as life at the Spanish squad continues to deteriorate.

After jumping up to Continental level for 2023, Zaaf management has been accused of failing to pay its riders’ salaries or expenses since the beginning of the season. The team is yet to comment publicly on the issue.

In less than 24 hours, both riders confirmed that they left the team and were looking for new contracts. Coles-Lyster is currently competing for the Canadian track team for the Milton round of the UCI Nations Cup, while Franz is set to ride for the U.S. national squad at the Festival Elsy Jacobs later this month.

VeloNews contacted the UCI for an update on Zaaf after it said it was looking into the team earlier this month.

“After the issues and conditions within the Zaaf Cycling Team continued and became worse, it was no longer possible for me to stay in the team. I’m immensely grateful for the teammates that I went through this ordeal with. We lifted up one another and became our biggest cheerleaders. You girls know who you are,” Franz wrote on her Instagram.

“When you move your whole life across the globe to a new country, for what was supposed to be a second chance to make the dream a reality, it’s difficult to describe the kind of stress that festers when it all starts to crumble. Stress about whether you’ve made the wrong decision, trusted too much, and the drain from losing trust in yourself. I don’t mean to be over dramatic but the last seven months have been really heartbreaking. But at the same time, I’ve experienced the most incredible kindness, support, and compassion from so, so many people- new friends and old friends.”

Scenes from the start of Paris-Roubaix on April 8 shed some light on the tricky situation at the Zaaf team. Audrey Cordon-Ragot — who had made a late move to Human Powered Health before the race — hugged her teammates before the race rolled out. Many of the riders could be seen crying, including Canadian national champion Coles-Lyster.

“Wow these past six months have been stressful. From B&B Hotels to ZAAF Cycling Team it’s felt like a whirlwind of highs and lows, stress, excitement of being back racing in Europe and lots of question marks,” Coles-Lyster wrote on her Instagram page. “Due to worsening issues and conditions on ZAAF Cycling Team, I could no longer keep racing for them.

“Now I get to take a breath, put this energy into the Milton Nations Cup this week and sort out what the rest of my year will look like. So much love to the riders who have become sisters to me on this journey. Funny how these things can bring people closer than ever an honorary shout out to those who have dealt with my stress and tears so far this year, here’s to lots of positivity and good vibes for the rest of 2023.”

After the UCI announced earlier this month that it would allow riders to swap teams prior to June 1 — which is mandated in its rules for mid-season transfers — in exceptional circumstances, there has been an exodus of riders from Zaaf.

Cordon-Ragot helped to push for the exception and was the first rider to make use of it to sign for Human Powered Health before Paris-Roubaix earlier this month. Lizzie Stannard was the second rider to jump ship and she was announced as a new signing for Israel-Premier Tech Roland at the weekend.

Since then, Michaela Drummond, Franz, and Coles-Lyster have confirmed their departure from the squad. Marielle Meijering announced last week that she had left the team and was seen training with the Movistar squad ahead of Flèche Wallonne. Meanwhile, French rider Lucie Jounier is believed to have quit the squad.

That leaves just eight riders on the team with the potential for more to quit in the coming weeks. The squad could sign additional riders to fill out the gaps that have been left by departing riders, but its biggest stars have already left and wildcards will now become difficult to achieve.

The team is racing at Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne and also has wildcard entries to La Vuelta Femenina and the Tour de Suisse, but the rest of its calendar remains undefined.

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