Some cyclists describe it as the difference between winning and losing. Others say that it is the one factor that cannot be controlled. The threshold for pain in the sport of cycling has become a right of passage for many of the sport’s top champions in their pursuit of world, and even Olympic, glory.
Hall of Famer Eddy Mercx was widely considered to be the greatest cyclist of all-time after winning over 476 races during his 13-year career. A large part of his legacy centered on the fact that he was also seen as one of the toughest competitors to ever grace the track. During the 1975 Tour de France race, Mercx suffered a crash that fractured his cheekbone and he was later punched by a spectator in the same race. The race was one of the few that he lost, finishing second, but afterwards he would state that it was not in his character to “consider giving up.”
A similar example came during the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, when Dutch cyclist Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel won the gold medal in the women’s time trial just days after suffering a concussion in a previous race. She would begin to experience a headache just 10 kilometers from the finish line, but the Dutch woman fought through the pain, telling the press she had worked too hard to fail in her bid for gold.
Other athletes such Ben Smith remember going into tunnel vision and seeing images begin to get blurry en route to winning the biggest race of his career at the 2010 USA Cycling Professional Road Race National Championships. British Olympic hopeful Laura Trott has stated that she “loves the pain,” of the sport even if it leads to sensations such as the taste of blood in her mouth when it is at its worst.
Off the course, apparel mogul Louis Garneau learned work ethic through enduring pain throughout his own cycling career. Garneau believes that the best cyclists deal with pain, because “they look at cycling as not just a sport, but a lesson in survival.” Today, Garneau takes that same work ethic with him in his own business and that survival instinct has kept him ahead of the pack.
In short, the best cyclists are aware of the pain of the sport long before they begin a race and as many examples show, it simply becomes a case of mind over matter. In the end, the chance for victory is enough to overcome the pain of potential defeat.