I was racing over a hilly course and you could say I wasn’t having a good day. My fiancee had come out with me to see me race. There she was, standing on the side of the road on the first major climb and watching me get dropped… Well, this is really embarrassing I thought to myself.
I didn’t want to disappoint her so I decided not to give up.
I pulled my head out of the gloom unfolding in front of me as the bunch started to ride away and I started to chase. I chased and chased and chased. It was like being in a bad dream. The bunch was hovering just in front of me but I just couldn’t bridge the gap.
The good thing was that I was holding my own with them so one of two things were going to happen. I’d blow up spectacularly any moment and see them ride into the distance or they would ease up and I’d get back on.
My head was going off at me to stop. I was all over my bike pedalling in triangles. Triangles are what you pedal in when you are beyond pedalling in squares. But there is something worse than pedalling in triangles, I was starting to see stars too. I knew it was the sure sign that it was all going to end soon. I so wanted to give up but I just kept pedalling as best I could.
Finally just a few moments later there was a lull in the bunch’s speed. I saw it happen and I managed one final surge to get back on. I was suffering bad by this stage. It was one of the toughest moments I had on the bike. I did my best to compose myself. I was a wreck. I was so tired I almost fell on another rider as I rejoined the bunch. Could this day get any worst?
I had to nurse myself all the way to the finish line. It was touch and go for a while. But I hung in there.
Then something big happened.
As we got to around the last two or three km before the end of the race I had renewed speed. It seemed that everyone around me was slowing up. All the countless attacks during the race were starting to have an impact on the other riders.
In the final sprint at about 200 meters to go, I pulled out from the right-hand side of the bunch and just buried myself. To my absolute surprise, I passed everyone and managed to stay away to win the race.
One of the best and worst races I’ve had in a long time.
That day was all about mental toughness. I could have easily given up. But I didn’t and was rewarded for it. It’s a knife’s edge and I really surprised myself at how deep I could dig while I was suffering.
Cycle training for mental toughness is one of the critical parts of our training program. The first important thing is that when you train really hard it toughens you up mentally. When you are in a race or just riding with your buddies socially, you are more prepared in dealing with the intense racing situations like attacks, breakaways, hill climbs and sprints. Mental toughness is all about not giving up too soon.
While it won’t convert you from a D grade to an A grade overnight or have you become the alpha rider in your local rides, it will help you in those brief moments when you don’t think you are capable to continue when in actual fact you are physically able to.
Here are some pointers:
- When it’s really tough to focus on relaxing, get in control of your breathing and relax your face. You’ll be amazed at how this reduces your perceived suffering.
- In many cases, once the bunch gets over a short punchy climb they will usually back it off a bit. Focus on getting to the top of the climb and nothing else. Just like a sprint finish to the top, give it 100%. By having this short term goal you will surprise yourself at how many climbs you can get over with the bunch using this tactic. Even if you lose a few meters you can put it in the big chainring and push a little to get back on the bunch as they are coasting downhill.
- Riding at high speeds are the same. Focus on the wheel in front of you. Make sure it’s a good wheel though. Don’t pick a wheel of a rider that’s going to drop you off the bunch when they blow. Also, find a rider that doesn’t surge. You want someone that is smooth and efficient with their riding to absorb the pace changes that are happening at the front of a fast-moving bunch. These riders are usually found a few riders back from the riders rolling turns or attacking off the front of the bunch. I call it the sweet spot in the bunch, sometimes it’s a few riders back from the gatekeeper if they have set one up. As you move back in the bunch the bunch surges more, so it’s a rougher ride as you have to manage punching up into higher power zones to keep in touch with the pace. Once you find a good wheel stick with it. Focus on their wheel. Their legs are your legs, your legs are their legs. Hold that wheel.
- How many times have you been dropped off the bunch in an attack only to find a few seconds later that you have recovered enough to think that you could have stayed with them? Yep, you see the bunch just in front of you but it is too late as they slowly ride into the distance. In an attack, remember that at some point the attackers have to slow down. Hold onto the pace and wait for the lull. Tell yourself to just suffer just a little bit longer. It works in most cases. Usually, it’s not much longer as they will be suffering just as much as you. It’s a mental thing. They are trying to break you. If you stick with them you’ll psyche them out rather than you being psyched out.
- Finally. You are in the breakaway group and suffering, hang in there and commit 100% to it. You may surprise yourself.
Remember that by training your mind to endure suffering for longer in your training will make you a better rider. But, don’t make all your training about suffering. These extreme high-intensity efforts should be done only occasionally to build a little speed and your mental toughness.
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