For even the most experienced cyclists, races can present a formidable mental challenge that meets – or exceeds – the physical demands placed upon riders. Effective mental conditioning is just as important as physical training and bicycle maintenance, and the effects of a poor or ineffective mental state are equally devastating. Many cyclists find that reaching and maintaining a healthful, productive mental state before and during a race is far more difficult than the visible, external aspects of race preparation. Sports psychology isn’t just for new cyclists; even established racers such as Clara Hughes and Pascale Shinder rely upon their mental training to get them to the finish line.
One of the most important ways to discover and reach the best mental state for racing is race simulation. As the name implies, the goal is to aggregate all of the racing skills and apply them as if one were actually participating in a race. Pilots and astronauts train in flight simulators; cyclists must do the same thing. Every cyclist must find what works most effectively for them; there are many possibly effective paths. Race simulation typically includes work on an electronic training bike combined with cycling on the racing bike itself. Riders who race in teams typically conduct team simulations, since the physical and mental conditioning of each individual athlete contributes to the success – or failure – of the team as a whole.
There are several mental skills that cyclists must refine to be successful in races. The first is concentration. Race day is full of distractions: cheering fans, pressure from family and teammates, possibly inclement weather, and possibly even automobiles on the course. All of these elements can reduce the level of a cyclist’s performance simply by existing. Pain can also be very distracting, even from a small saddle sore aggravated by riding in humid weather. On race day, cyclists must have the ability to focus on the finish line and not allow themselves to think about anything else.
Another crucial element of the race day mind set is respect for the race and the challenge it presents. Of course, cycling should be enjoyable, but beginning a race without healthy respect for it virtually guarantees that the rider won’t make a good showing. This doesn’t run contrary to healthy self-confidence, either. This is a disastrous misconception that many new racers must deal with. True self-confidence isn’t arrogance; it’s borne of consistent training, steadfast concentration and the knowledge that the cyclist has prepared as well and as thoroughly as he or she possibly could.
Another essential component of the race day mindset is positive thinking. The way that a cyclist talks to him- or herself during a race can have a dramatic impact on the outcome. It can be as simple as repeating the phrase “I can” over and over again during a difficult climb. Positive thinking even helps cyclists deal with inclement weather; if it begins to rain, for example, many cyclists instinctively think to themselves, “Oh, no! This is really going to slow me down,” when a more productive race-day thought would be, “Oh, this is really going to slow everyone ELSE down!”
Another important component of the racing mentality is confidence in one’s equipment. Bicycles don’t win races, but they may hinder an otherwise excellent racer from victory. Experienced cyclists rely upon equipment from respected manufacturers such as Shimano and Campagnolo; cyclists must also inspect their gear daily and make any repairs or modifications as soon as they notice a problem.
Reaching and refining an effective race-day mindset can make or break the race. Serious cyclists must not neglect this crucial aspect of their training. Check out Road Magazine, Cycling News, Velo News and other resources for help, advice and fresh perspectives on attaining the proper mindset for the big day. It can truly make or break the race.