Amateur and professional cyclists spend a great deal of time, energy, and money on physical fitness, and rightly so. And yet, it is often mental fitness that makes the difference in riding, training, and competition. When you assess the mental skills you need on the bike, and begin improving the skills that aren’t yet strong enough, you’re on your way to getting much more from the sport.
You’re on the start line of your event – a race, a century, maybe that group ride that keeps kicking your butt. You’ve been working hard on your physical fitness, and you know your body’s capable of what you’re going to ask of it today. But what about your mind? Is it at its best, or in the way? By the time an event begins, the mentally fit cyclist has consciously created the state of mind that maximizes the likelihood of peak performance.
After you’ve been injured, it’s natural to focus on the physical side of recovery. But what about the mental consequences of injury, and the steps you can take to overcome them? We talk with Ted King of Liquigas-Cannondale and Dr. Renee Newcomer Appaneal of UNC Greensboro about their experiences. The mentally fit cyclist integrates a variety of mental skills into a complete recovery strategy.
The fear of crashing is a basic, normal – but often hidden – fear for cyclists, a fear that has surfaced more prominently in the aftermath of Wouter Weylandt’s tragic death at the Giro d’Italia. The mentally fit cyclist has a variety of healthy ways to cope with the danger inherent in the sport, creating the freedom to experience and enjoy cycling fully.
It’s easy, it’s free, and it works – for many. With visualization, you can build self-confidence, rehearse riding skills, simulate handling challenging situations, and approach the actual experience of achieving any of your goals…all in the cozy corners of your own mind. The mentally fit cyclist harnesses the power of the imagination to improve performance on the bike.
Tell the truth: How much do you want it? Desire is rocket fuel for your cycling experiences. It can get you over fear. It can give you access to your deepest sources of energy, strength, and power. It can make the difference between missing out and getting the most from your cycling – and yourself. The mentally fit cyclist knows how to tap into every possible ounce of desire in reaching for goals, growth, and fun on the bike.
The thrill of beating a competitor to the finish line. The satisfaction of leaving it all out there. The fulfillment of helping a teammate. All are welcome rewards of competing. But what can the heat of competition transform within you? The mentally fit cyclist uses competition to grow not only as an athlete but as a human being – to develop the self-awareness, emotional skills, and authenticity that translates directly into better experiences on and off the bike.
Your teammates aren’t cooperating enough in races. A fellow rider is at risk – or is putting others at risk – but is unaware. The peloton needs organization to catch the breakaway. Both on and off the bike, you have many opportunities to influence other cyclists for their benefit, for yours, and for the good of the team/group. The mentally fit cyclist uses leadership skills to seize those opportunities and improve the cycling experience.
Support for your riding comes not only from other people in your life. It also comes from you. Or does it? Giving yourself what you need – and not giving yourself what you don’t need – affects your performance, fun, and results on the bike. The mentally fit cyclist knows what kinds of self-support are most important, along with when – and how – to provide it.
Relationships – with friends, family, coaches, health care practitioners, teammates, training partners, yourself, even competitors – affect sport performance. An important component in your web of relationships is the support for your riding: If you have the support you need, you’re more likely to have fun and achieve your goals. The mentally fit cyclist knows which types of support to look for, ask for and put in place.
As an athlete, your relationship with a coach – and your ability to evaluate the relationship – can make a big difference in your performance. With input from some successful coaches, we look further into some of the building blocks of effective coaching. The mentally fit cyclist has a clear picture of what good coaching is, and has the self-awareness and interpersonal skills to help the coach-athlete relationship thrive.
Perhaps you already have a coach. Or, you may have one someday. How you manage your side of the relationship can have a huge impact on the progress, fun and results you have on the bike. The mentally fit cyclist knows which strategies to use to make the most of the coach-athlete relationship.
North American pro cyclists have to build mental fitness quickly when they make the leap to living, training, and racing in Europe. Pez talks candidly about mental skills with Andy Hampsten, Meredith Miller, and Amber Rais, who share wisdom that we mere mortals can use on and off the bike.
Is cycling your religion, or at least one of them? If so, you’re not alone. Many people define themselves as “spiritual,” even if they don’t practice an organized religion, and many find spiritual experiences in physical activities. Connecting cycling and spiritual life may offer a powerful source of inner strength and fulfillment for the mentally fit cyclist.
Every race has crucial moments. An attack. A surge on a long climb. The right instant to sprint for the city limits sign. And yet, if you’re like most of us, there are times when you hesitate or hold back. Later, you wonder: Why didn’t I go for it? The mentally fit cyclist is aware of what’s in the way of peak performance, and works within to be ready to give everything.
You’ve been wondering what it would be like to race. Or, you’re thinking of getting back to racing after crashing, burnout, or too much disappointment. But you feel reluctant. How – and when – do you choose to compete? The mentally fit cyclist has the skills to sort through all the factors, change what is changeable, and make the decision.
You’re thinking about racing. Upgrading to that next category. Stepping into a bigger role on your team. Joining that testosterone-fueled group ride that you’ve never done. Or doing a century for the first time. But something’s holding you back. If you’re like many athletes, it could be this voice, whether you hear it or not: I’m not good enough. The mentally fit cyclist knows how to silence that voice: to know that you have – and are – enough to discover your true potential.
Mental skills: We’re usually using them so we can go faster, suffer longer, and achieve more. How about using our mental fitness to let go of goals that no longer serve us? Former pro cyclists Laura Charameda, Frankie Andreu, and Dylan Casey help us understand what we can learn about letting go from their experiences leaving the pro peloton.
So often we increase our performance and enjoyment on the bike by taking action: training a limiter, improving a skill, taming the mind. But sometimes, it’s better to give in than to dig in. The mentally fit cyclist knows when letting go – rather than pushing harder, doing more, or hanging on – is the best way forward.
Failure: Are you defining and managing it effectively, or is it defining you? Wrestling successfully with the interpretation, role, and consequences of failure are common challenges for the mentally fit athlete. Consciously working with your experience of failure – rather than defaulting to one that is too habitual and narrow – can dramatically enrich your riding and your results.