All riders and coaches recognise that in order to get the best race results, riders have to be in the best shape possible. Much attention is given to the preparation of the body in terms of training and physical therapy but one aspect of ensuring best rider performance that is often overlooked is the mental side of the sport. Road cycling races involve the riders spending a lot of time alone with their own thoughts and this can be problematic for some riders. Thoughts creep in worrying about current position, questioning whether they have the fitness to keep up or imagining how bad their legs are going to feel when they tackle the next climb.
From an outside perspective we might not consider that these thoughts could impact performance but research has shown that improving our internal conversations can have a dramatic improvement on performance. Researchers at Bangor University found that cyclists who completed a basic two-week positive self-talk intervention (athletes were asked to focus on thinking positive messages, such as “I can keep going!”) lasted 18% longer on exhaustion tests compared to their previous results. At Matrix Pro Cycling we work to ensure every athlete approaches each race with a confident, positive mind set so they can ride their best.
Within the team, it is my job to ensure the riders are feeling confident and relaxed before every race and mentally prepared for the upcoming races. The pre-race briefing for the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad race focused on the long stretches of cobbled roads, which clearly pose a problem for riders and can cause anxiety and nerves when approaching them. As the sport psychologist I provide the riders with mental strategies to help them feel confident when they come across these obstacles during the race. In this case, asking them to repeat positive self-talk phrases as they approached challenging parts of the course. This helps the athletes approach the cobbles with less fear and greater confidence so they perceive the obstacle as a challenge they can overcome rather than something that could impair their performance.
The Matrix Fitness riders are really open-minded, take on board my messages and consequently our riders are lining up at the start line completely physically and mentally prepared for each race. Having riders that are confident, relaxed and mentally prepared for the challenges of each race is the perfect combination for achieving great results. Every race provides a different challenge but our riders will always be prepared for whatever the race throws at them!