Equipe Flamme Rouge  

Think Like A Pro

We've all got the same bikes as the pro's, well the lucky ones have, we all ride the same groupset's as the pro's, the same wheels as the pro's, the same tyres as the pro's and the same roads as the pro's.

But the big difference between us and the pro's is how we think; and act; and ride, and rest, and get waited on, etc, etc, etc.

Anyway, today we'll concentrate on the mindset of a pro rider and what you can do to change your mindset to help yourself realise your full potential; which, at the end of the day, is what this site is all about.

I could dedicate a whole website to this subject but for now we'll stick to just one page and try to do justice to this massive, massive subject.

Having said that, this is part one of a two part article. Next month, you'll be challenged to a self-assessment. The answers, or rather the action you take in relation to your answers, could help you change not only your season but your whole approach to your sport and possibly your life in general. Sometimes it really is that easy!

So, down to business!

Could I live the life of a pro cyclist?
Let's turn that question on its head. Could a cycling pro do your job? Whatever job you do today, with all its intricacies, nuances and traps that only you know about because you've learnt from years of experience that you won't find documented in any procedures manual or handbook; could it possibly be done as well as you do it now, by someone practicing for a couple of hours, two nights a week and a bit of a longer session on a week-end morning? The answer is probably a resounding, emphatic, NO!


So, that nails that then. Re-align your expectations to match the efforts and sacrifices you can make.

Please don't think you can go out and buy the "name your pro of choice" training manuals, follow them to the letter and make yourself a better cyclist.

At best you'll become overtrained; at worst you could make yourself seriously ill. Thinking you can do it and actually doing it are two completely different things.

While you're at work the pro is on their bike or sleeping, that's the difference.

We'll never be as fit, as fast, as strong, as durable, or as focussed as a professional cyclist because our next salary cheque doesn't depend on it. But just as we can buy and ride the same equipment as the pro's we can learn some mind techniques and tools to help address one of sports biggest factors that's importance is often overlooked. The mindset.

Changing your mindset is free, it's capacity to expand is unlimited, it's something you can't buy as it's something you already have. Your mindset is something only you can control. It's the one thing that you can adopt from the pros that will make much, much more difference than duplicating their equipment, training regimens or nutrition strategies.

I have a friend who is very sceptical about all this voodoo, snake-oil, mind thingy, sports psychology, stuff. Psycho-babble, as he calls it, has no place in the world of cycling; inner-hardness, backbone and training is what counts. The more you have the better you are.

A slight diversion ~ In the early part of this century I produced and developed a set of management training courses called Software for the Mind. The idea being that the brain, like a computer, can be programmed with the right stimulus and applications to think and react in a set way to set situations.

I believe that a positive mental attitude can be nurtured and developed to help bring extraordinary results from ordinary people.

Inner-hardness, psychological robustness, motivation, fortitude, application and backbone are just other attitudes and attributes that can be programmed in to the brain. Just like you can learn a foreign language you can learn to think like a pro cyclist.

My friend, is a mild mannered accountant by day. He's as you would expect an accountant to be. Reflective, controlled, quiet, cautious, logical, analytical, deliberate and diligent in his actions, the life and soul of the party (maybe not!).

Put a race number on his back, put him in one of his objective events, then drop the flag and he's a completely, and I mean a completely, different person. He becomes totally focussed on the objective and aims to win and if he can humiliate the opposition while doing so, so much the better. If it's not hurting everyone then it's time to step up a gear.

Even though he's totally dismissive of the smoke and mirror's of my mind games, he's the one person you'd hold up as a shining example of it working in action! It's just for him, it comes totally naturally. I'm sure there are people stronger than him (I know there are from the lab tests) but they don't have that brain switch that allows them to squeeze out that extra few percent that makes the winning difference. Which we'll come to later.

How a pro thinks
A pro never loses a race; they just ran out of time to win it. "We'd have stayed away if the others had worked." "We were catching them but we started the chase too late." "I wasn't going for the win, this is a preparation race."

Someone else may win the race but a pro, never loses it. Although attributed to pros, these factors are highlighted in the main by team leaders. A team leader has that extra mental toughness. A pro thinks they're super human; a team leader believes they are super human. That's why they're the team leader.

There may be riders as physically gifted in the team (the super domestiques for instance) but they don't have that final killer instinct that sees them get stronger as the pressure mounts.

Never mind cycling, what about other sports? Senna and Mansell, Schumacher and Hill in F1? Fergusson and Wenger in football? Australia and England at cricket? Sampras and anyone else at tennis? When all of these aforementioned people were on the top of their game the one thing that stood out was their mental strength and fortitude, despite any physical evidence to the contrary.

Even when the odds were stacked against them, they'd find a positive to cling to that they would use to lever open a tiny nick, from which they'd create a gaping hole in the confidence of the opposition. Once inside the head of their opponents it was as good as over.

Who can forget my beloved Liverpool in the 2005 European Champions League Cup Final?

Three nil down at half time; then the greatest come back since Lazarus. All won by the power of the mind and a self-belief that it wasn't over.

Miracles can happen.

Where can I get some?
Well let me tell you now, you don't need to buy it. You already have it but some have more than others. Even the most disheartened, disillusioned, disinterested, discontent, has a small flickering ember of passion somewhere deep inside their soul.

Find the motivation to fan that passion and we have a potential champion. Find the right event, at the right time, with the right preparation and the right mindset, and we have a true champion. All that's needed is the belief and the sacrifice to change that ember in to a raging furnace.

When two athletes or teams meet on the battlefield of sport, it's the entity that wants it the most that invariably comes out on top. At the top level it's a knife edge between success and failure. And often the killer blow is more psychological than physiological.

Where to start
There is no secret to success. Success starts with belief. Belief in yourself. If you don't believe in yourself why should anyone else?

Have belief that you will succeed, apply a layer of hard work, focus on your goal, never, ever let anyone tell you, "you can't", and never give up. Follow those golden rules and how can success not come?

There are many, many challenges between starting out towards your objective and reaching your ultimate, pre-determined conclusion. As long as your objective is SMART, there is no reason whatsoever that you should be denied it. As long as you truly believe it is within your grasp. If you think you can you can, and if you think you can't your right.

Some people are doomed to fail at the first challenge. They never truly believe they can succeed. Without unwavering belief the next hurdles become insurmountable objects of frustration; frustration breeds negativity; negativity eats away at motivation; and low motivation destroys the belief that is the driving force behind success. A vicious downward spiral to defeat, if ever there was one.

spiral of defeat

answers on a postcard to...

So don't even begin to doubt your conviction. If you find you do, then your goal wasn't SMART enough. Re-align your SMART objectives to match your belief and build from there. Have a succession of mini-objectives and time frames to act as success stepping stones on the path to your ultimate goal.

Is your motivation intrinsic or extrinsic? You may not realise the difference first off, but the answer has a massive influence on the success of your expected outcome.

Intrinsically motivated athletes, compete because they want to and because they enjoy the competitive element of pushing their body to its limits. Extrinsically motivated athletes compete because they have to and because they enjoy the external rewards of trophies and fame.

Intrinsic athletes are capable of self-motivation, extrinsic athletes require external stimulus (the reward) to gain motivation.

For intrinsics, the prize was never the ultimate aim anyway; it was there as the icing on the cake. If it's won, it's won, if not, at least they tried their best. Trying your best isn't in a pro's vocabulary. To reach your full potential it can't be in yours.

roubaix trophy ~ flamme rougeBeing amateur doesn't mean we have to be amateurish in our approach. Motivation is powerful because it directly influences our actions and reactions.

Choose to adopt and more importantly, maintain, a professional, motivational, extrinsic work ethic and half your job is done. Never take your eye off the prize.

Keep the persona and attributes of an intrinsic person, because invariably they are nicer people, but when training and preparing for an event flip your mindset to extrinsic. When you throw your leg over that bike you must become extrinsically motivated.

Learn the difference and learn to switch. You cannot begin to imagine how much difference it will make to your training, preparation and success. Extrinsics don't "go for a ride", extrinsics train!

The prize doesn't have to be winning an event, a category or trophy. For me a top 10% place in a sportive is my main aim. But as I can't influence my race number, or starting grid position, an element of that is out of my control.

If I'm outside my objective but have given it my all, it doesn't ruin my day. See, think like a pro. It's not that I didn't meet my objective, the organiser affected it because I had to start at the back and ran out of time to get to the front!!!

painEffort & Intensity
Motivational drive is what gets you through the pain of sustaining race winning efforts, and intensities, during the non-reward phase of your competition preparations; or training as we call it!

Armstrong always made a big deal out of the six-hour training rides he'd do in the rain, when everyone else was sitting indoors (let's not go there).

Do you honestly think that the other pros don't ride in the rain? It doesn't matter whether it was true or not, Armstrong believed it.

I'm out in the rain, everyone else is eating pies, drinking coffee, on the beach; here's another success in the Tour in the bag. 

An equation that's as simple as it was flawed. But for a flawed person, and the ultimate alpha male (or c*cks, as we call them here) it's what kept him on the bike and focussed on the prize.

It doesn't matter what it is or how true or accurate it might be. Find something that you can latch on to that will get you through the effort and intensities you need to prepare for success.

We all have off days and sometimes think "I'll not go out because..." it's raining, it's going to rain, it's cold, I'm tired etc, etc. Never decide if you're going to go training until your in your kit and ready to go.

Prepare your bike, get your bottles ready, get dressed, put your shoes on.  Then, and only then, decide if you are ready to go out.

Try to convince yourself to at least complete the warm up phase of your session before coming to a final decision. If you still don't feel fully committed, then go home and use it as a recovery ride for preparation for your next big session! Turn the failed ride in to a positive ride!

Training and Competing
Make an absolute distinction between training and competing. Identify training races or events and use them as preparation for your big day. Don't ride a series of races or sportives thinking you're going to win them all. Because if you don't, you'll enter the failure mindset.

training camp

Start your non-objective, preparation events with a preparation mindset. Ride them looking for weaknesses on which you can work to become a better, stronger, faster rider. Identifying a weakness, or under-developed strength(!), is a positive thing. Finding out your climbing could be better is a good thing because now you can develop a training plan to climb better.

Pro's train their weaknesses and race their strengths. Non-pros generally avoid their weaknesses, train their strengths and race at an average combination of them both. Remember the article about the time-trialist that couldn't sprint?

If you're not the best climber in the world, think like a pro and ride some hills. If you think you lack speed, think like a pro and ride some criteriums or do some high-intensity speed work behind a scooter. Do a self assessment and tackle your underdeveloped strengths.

Suffering Strategies
Pro's don't feel pain the way we do. That's probably a lie, a better way to explain it is that pro's don't think about pain the way we do.

roubaixIf a pro rider and a non-pro rider, without any external indicators like heart rate monitors or power meters, rode at 90% of their physical capacity, you'd get a different level of perceived effort from each one. The non-pro would indicate that they were flat out, 100%, and couldn't possibly go any harder. The pro would tell you they were at 80% and could give more if they need to. Same effort, same suffering, different perception.

A pro rider trains very, very intensely or does a recovery ride. Non-pro's often train in the "dead zone". Where pro's ride at 30 mph or 15 mph, non-pro's almost always train around 20-22 mph. Non-pro's don't ride for sustained periods at the extreme levels of their pain threshold. Therefore when they do suffer, the suffering seems more intense.

Instead of going for a three hour, steady, flattish ride, go for a one hour ride screaming up short hills; do some high-intensity speed work, do some sprint intervals. As my mate Dave Whitt says, "hurt in training, enjoy the race."

Pain Perceptions
I once asked a champion cyclist how they went so fast for so long. They didn't mention anything about training, nutrition or recovery.

Their reply centered around, "I go as hard as I possibly can, until the pain becomes unbearable, then I back off half-a-turn until it subsides, and that's the pace I know I can sustain. Because I know I can hurt more if I have to, and I now know the pain isn't as bad as it was; and that makes me happy." A pro looks at pain as something to be embraced not something to be avoided.

The same level of pain can have two completely different perceptions depending on how it's being dished out.

pain Consider you're on the front of a 30-strong group, riding at 25 mph, with your heart coming through your chest.

The sweat is burning your eyes, the lactate screaming in your legs and a finishing sprint is coming up.

The man behind you can't hold your wheel and everyone is being strung out and getting dropped.

Now imagine all those sensations but you're the last man of that 30 strong group. The same level of pain has a completely different feel depending on whether you're dishing it out or having it dished out to you!

And that, dear reader, is all to do with the brain.

Body & Brain
Your brain needs to be trained as much as your body. A sport as hard as cycling is as much a mind game as is a game of chess. Don't let your mind fool your body in to thinking it's exhausted.

As you know, I ride lots of sportives all over Europe. The beauty of that is no one knows me! They don't know I can't climb! Every time I go out training with my mates here in Jersey I get my backside kicked up the hills by people who are better, stronger and faster than me.

My body is all over the show as I wrestle my bike to keep up with them, breathing like Darth Vader and pedalling like Pee-Wee Herman, clinging to the group, waiting for the pain to go away. /p>

When I'm away, I keep my body still, control my breathing, climb with a rhythm and maintain composure. My body still hurts the same, if not more, but I control all the external signs. No one knows me so I have an advantage. If I know I'm in trouble, I go to the front. Others think I'm strong so sit behind me and don't attack.

brainI've used my brain to control my body, and subliminally controlled theirs. Their brain has taken the external signals and made an assumption that has controlled their effort. Never let people see you are in trouble. Cycling is such a cruel sport, people always attack the weak; always.

So the message here is, when you're struggling, wheezing, fighting the bike and generally using more energy than you should on a horrible climb; relax, change your mindset, control your breathing and concentrate all your energies, physical and mental, on pedalling in circles and looking for a wheel.

Shoulders still, head up, confidence in your ability and the eye on the prize; the summit of the climb. It does make a difference, trust me.

Final Proof
I have a lot of people come through my doors to take one of my beloved tests (over 600 in the last ten years). Everyone dreads them because they know how hard they are. But everyone has trained hard and prepared well so they should have nothing to fear. Invariably everyone goes away with something positive from their test.

vo2max test

During the tests I push people to their limits, because their brain is trying to stop them reaching it. You cannot do these tests at home on your own. Well you can but the results won't be the same.

A test is an occasion, something to go to, something to attend, something special. When your body is screaming in lactate induced pain, the sweat is burning your eyes and your legs have turned to rubber, your mind and your inner voice keep telling you to stop and the pain will go away. I keep encouraging a push and a final effort.

Always, always and thrice always (sorry got all Frankie Howard there) an extra effort is forthcoming. I've just replaced their inner negative voice with my external positive one. And it always works. The power of distraction! Invariably the athletes tell me they gave it their all and couldn't push another rev. Which they believe to be true.

However, I know (and I tell them) that if an enraged lion was to come in to the room they'd be the first out the door and the last to be caught! Well it'd be a close thing between them and the dog, but I know it wouldn't be me first to the escape hatch!

Never, ever trust your inner voice when it tells you to stop. It's a habit that becomes hard to break.

The Message
Don't just think differently, perceive differently.

As I said before this is a massive subject and one to which I can't really do justice in one article. Start to believe in yourself and your abilities then adjust your objectives to the time, equipment and abilities you have available.

Whether you're trying to achieve an Island Games Medal or completing your first sportive, the effort may be different but the rewards, and total satisfaction for an objective well met, are exactly the same.

thoughtI know a lot of riders that have the physical attributes to be a winner in their category or discipline.  Unfortunately, they just don't believe in themselves enough to close the gap between where they are and where they could be. To realize your potential, sometimes it really is as simple as changing your mindset.

Don't let the Thought Police and your inner voice control your results. Thinking like a pro may not make you ride like a pro but it will make you a better, stronger, happier rider.

And it's a lot easier than yet another hour on a turbo!

Now I've never used this stuff, but some people have reported back good things, so please do your own research and see what you think before coming to a decision.  But it may just help... The Ultimate Cyclsit

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