Elbow room is tight. It’s wheel to wheel and they are all fast, literally electric. It’s the interaction and reaction of this electricity which governs the podium step...One billion brain cells in 9 square inches all fighting for the right to decide - is this go-time? Will another chance come? Adrenalin fights rationale - how to stay calm in the eye of the sprint storm.
Behind the red mist, in the brainstem, automatic signals are sending heart rates and breathing higher than that which is required to serve the muscles... causing MORE panic. Those in the peloton who can keep control of the chimp inside will decide everything.
Legs only pedal the bike
Because the units that measure training are hours and intensity we start our clock and record each time we ride. We measure our hurt and record our effort, rarely do we make note of our thought processes. Why would we? This is a barbaric and belligerent sport for people who know only the art of suffering.
Could we do more?
More?! Like what? Ride harder?
Release notes on the Operating system
Something that separates exceptional riders from very good riders across the board is an ability to dial in effort and judge pace. It’s an instinct we assume is innate when gazing upon these, Gods of the Velo. They are just sent like this. Straight out of the wrapper - full Pro from day one.
The truth is less deflating for the rest of us in fact, the skill they possess is a mixture of software and hardware. And whilst we cannot change much of our hardware we are capable of operating system updates to our processing units. We can increase the capacity to hold data by channelling memory better. Creating a file system to fall back on. Training our cardiovascular systems and the muskuloskeltal system is a huge part of our training, but having no feedback loop to control the limits of our ability is like having a canon with no inventory of canon balls.
Our brain captures everything and it’s up to us to decide how we use it, and where we store successful thought processes for later use. Channelling information into the hippocampus of the temporal lobe where long-term memories are stored requires conscious thought. In short, that means taking the time to acknowledge information you can use at a later time. That may be the outcome of a race situation; the feel and flow of your energy usage in an effort; or how long you can sustain an intensity before you need to cover up and guard your chin.
All memories which can restore calm in this peloton.
Your memories of each and every situation will give you confidence in your ability to be in control of what comes after if you use them correctly. When deep into training sessions try to co-ordinate how you fell physically with what you think you still have left in the tank. And then afterwards go back over what you achieved when you thought there was no more. Believe in the body you train to its limits, and use that to race to its limits.
Experience is driven by the memories you store
One sport you'd think is very far removed from cycling but I believe holds much of the critical thought patterns and timings is golf.
Yes, golf. That sport of high-level athletic prowess.
GET IN THE HOLE!!
Now I do realise that physically the only thing these two activities have in common is the stern look of disgust from your family after four hours away from them. There are. however, mental aspects which are consistent with both.
Golf is a game of decision making and executing those decisions based on both the skill you feel you have and the risks involved. Bike racing is no different.
Can I clear that bunker? If I do I have an uphill putt for a birdie! If I don't I might make bogey.
Can I bridge that gap to the break? If I can I'm in the winning move. If I run out of gas did I use my only effort and lose the chance to attack again if the race comes back together.
Bob Rotella, the American sports psychologist once wrote that nobody ever proved positive thinking helps performance but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that negative thinking impacts performance negatively.
When carrying out your racing post-mortem, try to take each critical event in the race apart. The forming of the break, the chase and the final are the basics. Others you may wish to consider are pinch-points for their technical nature and positioning coming into changes of wind direction. Remember what you did well and how you felt before and after each event. Make note of important physiological markers - could you have gone harder and didn't realise until after the event. Or did you not even need to go that hard.
You'd hope clarity of thought will enable you to make good decisions based on the race conditions and the scenario at the time. That isn't always the case though. Emotion will always play a part and whether that emotion is doubt or confidence will drive the way you think.
Use all the feedback you get from your training sessions, mimicking race scenarios in your efforts to build confidence in your ability to replicate on race day.
Lean on positive memories from previous races to help you make good decisions without any doubts - hesitate and you'll miss moves.
Race SMART, bike racing is a game of chess on wheels, think straight and make the King move.