The line below perfectly sums up the average athletes view of themselves:
Mark Cavendish is being extremely self-critical here – it shows he’s intelligent (able to analyse his faults) but also obsessive. There is a general argument that the best athletes are dim – you could argue Wayne Rooneys genius football ability – with intelligence comes critique, and too much critique becomes a block on performance. You can’t think about the pain, the people around you, what it means to win, or if you can win – you just need to push hard on the pedals to win bicycle races, or at the very least to improve as a rider.
All cyclists struggle with how they think their ‘form’ is. Form is just a way of describing how easy it feels to ride a bicycle, the better your form, the better you ride. Most riders hide this feeling, some leave the sport because of bad form, and not wanting to have bad form leads riders to dope. I’m not going to go down any of these roads – I’m going to be open because it isn’t a weakness to admit faults – and as Team GB have shown, creating a better mental environment leads to improvements in performance.
David Millar described Mark Cavendish’s mood prior to the Olympic road race – some times he was practicing his winning celebration, other times he was deeply nervous. On a different level I do the same thing – on the turbo trainer I imagine romping away and crushing everyone at the local race but I also suffer from a feeling of inadequacy on the bicycle. I don’t think I’m very good, not even good, or average – but I know, when I’m hot (feeling good), I can be really decent, and actually that this feeling, this extremely vain and egotistical feeling makes me better.
The worst way I become self-critical and analyse my form is when I compare myself to my training mates. As I’ve got better, I’ve trained with better riders, and this feeling of analysis has become worse. It’s driven me at times to hating cycling – not a reflection on my training mates, just my fragile mind. The picture below shows the standard way of analysis – comparing heart rates:
Above is mine, below is Nick. Same ride, same level of effort but Nick looks a lot fitter than me. Is that a rational thought though? Almost certainly not, at the end of the day, I survived and felt good at the end of the ride – I’m sure Nick won’t mind me saying that he was bonking towards the end. Heart rate is actually irrelevant to performance but can hold me back, as I gaze at the value (it always seems too high) – maybe I’d be a better rider without it? Here are some of the factors that effect heart rate:
In the case of myself and Nick – age will play a big role – I’m 10 years younger. So why do I read into it? Why do I look at other riders average speeds, why am I never happy with my own speed…I could come across as pretty obsessive here but I feel everyone does this. Without this, I’d probably never train, it drives me onwards. I need to control these emotions in a more positive way, no doubt about that.
Does fitness actually play a role in a bicycle race (I train for these and are most important to me) – I don’t think so – as Mark Cavendish illustrates again with many wins. And a classic example below:
Simon Gerrans beats Fabian Cancellera to win Milan-San Remo 2012. Cancellera rode like a motorbike but Gerrans used Aussie grit to stay on his wheel and burst past in the sprint. No doubt about it, Cancellera is fitter but Gerrans won…
I’ll win a few more too. I think.