You train hard and smart. You do everything you can to recover. You eat well. You buy the right equipment and you take good care of it. You practice your skills and tactics. You get to the race fit and fresh. You warm up. You follow your plan. You win. Right? Well, sometimes, but most often, that isn't how the story plays out.
Bike racing is a tough sport mentally, and to be honest there are far more athletes out there who have the physical potential to be successful than those who have the necessary mental attributes. To be a successful bike racer, you have to go into every race with the belief that you can win. This takes a lot of confidence. In a way, it requires that you ignore the odds. These are the odds that tell you that even when you are the strongest rider in the race; even if your preparation has been flawless; even if you have the best equipment, the best team and the smartest tactics, you will probably lose most of the time. A successful bike racer ignores those odds and goes into every race with a plan. Not a plan to finish, not look bad, or get some upgrade points but a plan to win.
But there is also another side of this coin. How do you respond to failure? What happens when you did everything right and you still didn't win? Better yet, what happens when you crash? What happens when you get sick at the worst possible time? What happens when you get injured? What happens when you miss your start time? What happens when you get a flat tire and never catch back on? What happens when you make a split-second tactical error that ends your race? What happens when you burn out physically and mentally? What happens when you don't even want to look at your bike anymore?
Let me pause and say that I find it difficult to offer advice in this area because I am not great at it myself. Whenever I have an athlete who crashes, gets injured or sick, feels burnt out or disappointed, it affects me. I struggle to find the right words to say to them and I struggle to stay positive. The downside of doing something you love for a living is that it's impossible not to care.
Perhaps though, not caring should not be the goal. It's OK to feel bad. It's OK to be disappointed, sad, angry, jealous or robbed of your goals. Saying "look on the bright side" or "think of what it means just to be there" isn't helpful. Whatever it is you are feeling, let yourself feel it. What is important is what you do about it. What do you do with that anger, sadness and disappointment? Do you give up? Do you quit? Or do you find a way to turn those feelings into fuel you can use to reach your next goal?
"It is not the critic who counts. ... The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly ... who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat." - Teddy Roosevelt, 1910
The point is simple: keep moving forward. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep putting yourself out there. Keep trying and keep failing. At the end of the day, the most successful athletes are not the ones that did their training perfectly. They aren't the ones with the nicest equipment. They are not the ones who were lucky enough to never get sick or injured or crash or have a mechanical. They aren't the ones with the best genetics. They aren't even the ones who worked the hardest. They are the ones who rolled with the punches. The ones who adapted to the challenges of living in the real world and having real problems. They are the ones who turned their weaknesses into strengths. They are the ones who turned their failures into success.
Colin Sandberg is the owner and head coach of Backbone Performance, LLC. He is a Cat. 1 roadracer, a USA Cycling Level II coach and a UCI Director Sportif. He is also headcoach at Young Medalists High Performance and race director forTeam YoungMedalists. If you have questions or comments, feel free to use the comments section or email us. Thanks for reading!