What's Cool In Road Cycling

Psych it Up! The Start Line

What goes through your mind as you stand at the start line of a race? What is racing through your mind as you glance around at your fellow competitors? Are they thoughts of success or thoughts of failure?

Perhaps you are thinking, “I just want to finish?” or “I could never beat that rider!” If this type of thinking sounds familiar to you, let’s look into some other thoughts you can focus on during those key moments that will give you an advantage, and not a disadvantage as you wait for the gun to go off that starts the race:

You’ve Got Some Nerve!
The big problem is that many of us stick a metamorphical pump into our wheels before we even turn one pedal in anger. Henry Ford’s once said that “whether you think you can or cannot, you are right.” If you are giving yourself negative self-talk, most times it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy because your body cannot push itself beyond what your brain is willing to achieve.

First, let’s clarify one thing – being nervous is a good thing! If you are nervous, you are telling yourself that you can perform well. It’s taking the attitude of being passive or “not caring” which is truly detrimental. If you don’t care, then why are you wasting your money and time at the race? Even the great riders are nervous at the start of races. They know that they have trained hard and are prepared to get a good result and accomplish their goal of the race. The problem is if you let those nerves get you too aroused that you cannot focus.

Positive Self-Talk
1. Look around. Pretty much everyone else is acting and feeling like you are. Everyone is nervous; everyone hides their nervousness in different ways. Some act calm or (my personal favorite) tough. Some laugh, some talk (alot) and some pray! The main point is that you are not alone in your nervousness. Don’t let what everyone else is doing affect how you feel, especially those riders who act “tough” and try to intimidate other competitors.

2. Respect – Everyone is equal and no one deserves to win more than anyone else. When you are at the start line, it is important to remember that no one rider is more special than another, no one rider deserves to win more than another. You work hard, they work hard. Everyone who steps to the line deserves to win the bike race.

3. No excuses. It doesn’t matter if you lost training time because of work or you were sick that week. If you step to the start line, there are no excuses and everyone is equal at that point in time. There are no handicaps.

4. Remember where you came from. Think about how much hard work you put into this sport. Think about the different types of intervals you have done that prepare you for this specific type of race. Think about other positive races you or your team has had.

5. What do you do with those negative thoughts that creep into your mind? Look on the bright side. At least you are not a competitive golfer where 99% of your time is spent dwelling on what can and cannot happen! Greg Norman (golfer) used to “flush” his negative thoughts down the toilet and Bruce Lee use to write them out on paper and literally burn them with a match! Sport psychologist Terry Orlick recommends developing a mental reflex of “parking” those negative thoughts by coming up with a key phrase such as “park it” whenever negative thoughts or distractions stray into your head during practice or competition.

6. There are a lot of positive things you can FORCE yourself to think about. One suggestion is to think tactics and how the race will develop. This may sound obvious, but when we feel pressure, we revert to old habits. So FORCE yourself to think about how the race will play out and how you can make a difference in the outcome.

Make the effort this off season to transform the normally stressful start line into a strategic area for you. Remember, this takes time and effort. Focus on one area first, and then add another and another. Always be thinking about what you want to happen and not what you don’t want to happen. Channel all that energy into a positive result that can build upon itself for future races and wins.


Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at www.athleticamps.com

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