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9.26 Cycling Psychology


This article is from the Bicycles FAQ, by Mike Iglesias with numerous contributions by others.

9.26 Cycling Psychology

From: Roger Marquis <marquis@roble.com>

[More up to date copies of Roger's articles can be found at

Motivation, the last frontier. With enough of it any ordinary person
can become a world class athlete. Without it the same person could
end up begging for change downtown. Even a tremendously talented
rider will go nowhere without motivation. How do some riders always
seem to be so motivated? What are the sources of their motivation?
This has been a central theme of sports psychology since its
beginning when Triplett studied the effects of audience and
competition on performance in the late nineteenth century. Though
a great deal has been written on motivation since Triplett it is
still an individual construct. As an athlete you need to identify
what motivates you and cultivate the sources of your motivation.
Here are a few popular methods.

GOALS. One of the best sources of motivation is setting goals. Be
specific and put them down on paper. Define your goals clearly and
make them attainable. Short term goals are more important than long
term goals and should be even more precisely defined. Set short
term goals for things like going on a good ride this afternoon,
doing five sprints, bettering your time on a known course, etc.
Set long term goals such as training at least five days a week,
placing in specific races, upgrading... DO NOT STRESS WINNING when
defining your goals. Instead stress enjoying the ride and doing
your best in every ride and race.

GROUP TRAINING. Training with friends, racing as a team, and all
the other social benefits of our sport are also great for motivation.
This is what clubs should be all about. With or without a club,
group training is vastly more effective than individual training.
The same intensity that can make solo training a challenge comes
naturally in a good group. Ever notice how easy a smooth rotating
paceline seems, until you arrive home to find a surprising soreness
in the quadriceps? Why beat yourself over the head when a few phone
calls (or emails) will generally find plenty of like minded
compatriots. As a general rule try to limit solo training to between
10% and 50% of total miles.

REGULARITY. It's nice to be regular, in more ways than one ;-)
Regularity makes difficult tasks easy. If you make it a point to
ride every day, or at least five times a week (to be competitive),
making the daily ride will become automatic. Riding at the same
time every day can also be helpful but be careful not to become a
slave to the schedule.

LOCATION. The 3 keys to a successful business, "location, location,
and location" are also key to effective cycling. The importance of
conveniently located rides, races, coaches, flexible school and
employment cannot be underemphasized. Good training partners, good
weather, good roads and minimal traffic can also make those long,
hard rides both easier AND more productive.

RACING. The best European pros actually do very little training.
Need I say more? There simply is no better way to improve fitness
and skill. Whether racing to place or to train the savvy cyclist
will do all the racing his or her motivation allows.

AS WELL AS cycling books, magazines and videos, new bike parts,
new clothing, new roads, nice weather, losing weight, seeing friends,
getting out of the city and breathing fresh air, riding hard and
feeling good, and especially the great feeling of accomplishment
and relaxation after every ride that makes life beautiful.


While high levels of excitation (motivational energy) are generally
better for shorter rides and track races, be careful not to get
over-excited before longer races. Stay relaxed and conserve precious
energy for that crosswind section or sprint where you'll need all
the strength you've got. Learn how psyched you need to be to do
your best and be aware of when you are over or under aroused.

It's not uncommon, especially in early season races, to be so
nervous before the start that fatigue sets in early or even before
the race. Too much stress can make it difficult to ride safely and
should be recognized and controlled immediately. If you find yourself
becoming too stressed before a race try stretching, talking to
friends, finding a quiet place to warm-up, or a crowded place
depending on your inclination. Remember that this stress will
disappear as soon as the race starts. Racing takes too much
concentration to spare any for worrying.

Every athlete needs to be adept in stress management. One technique
used to reduce competitive anxiety is imagery, also known as
visualization. While mental practice has been credited with miraculous
improvements in fine motor skills (archery, tennis) its greatest
value in gross motor sports like cycling lies in stress reduction.

Actually winning a race can also help put an end to excessive
competitive anxiety. But if you have never won (like most cyclists)
nervousness may be keeping you from that rewarding place on the


If you find yourself getting overstressed when thinking about
winning, or even riding a race try this; Find a quiet, relaxing
place to sit and think about racing. Second; Picture yourself
driving to the race in a very relaxed and poised state of mind.
Continue visualizing the day progressing into the race and going
well until you detect some tension THEN STOP. Do not let yourself
get excited at all. End the visualization session and try it again
the next day. Continue this DAILY until you can picture yourself
racing and winning without any stress. If this seems like a lot of
work evaluate just how much you want to win a bike race.

Visualization is not meant to replace on the bike training but can
make that training pay off in a big way. Eastern European research
has found that athletes improve most quickly if visual training
comprises fifty to seventy-five percent of the total time spent
training! Like any training imagery will only pay off if you do it
regularly and frequently. My French club coach always used to tell
us: believe it and it will become true.

(C) 1989, Roger Marquis (www.roble.net/marquis)
See also VeloNews, 3-91


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