Friday Group Ride #123

The Tour is coming. You know this, because the weather is hot and when the weather is hot (or cold for you Aussies and other Southern Hemispherics), and you’re a fan of bike racing, you can more or less feel in your bones that the Tour is coming.

We’ve already more or less discussed the contenders. The quick wrap on them is: Cadel Evans will win because he knows how and has a good team and will peak at the right time. Unless Brad Wiggins wins because he has been absolutely flying and Sky is a super strong team also. Unless someone else wins. All the others are dark horses and thus super fun to imagine standing on the final podium. Andy Schleck is not a contender, nor is he a dark horse. He’s a spectator, which is too bad.

So we’ve covered the contenders, and we’ve talked about the Hump, that mystical mixture of confidence, luck, maturity and talent that finally puts an already strong rider onto the podium in Paris. If you have not won the Tour de France, and you want to or think you can, you will know, in your heart, that you will have to race better than you ever have at any other time in your life. You will have to surpass yourself.

This week’s Group Ride explores the strategies a potential champion, or any rider really, might use to surpass themselves. What are the mental tricks we employ to go farther, faster and better?

One idea I have worked with a little bit recently is something I call the Doppelganger Challenge™. It is a variation on the competing-against-yourself strategy, but there’s a twist.

It goes something like this. I set out on a ride, and I don’t feel my best. I begin to wrestle with my conscience over whether I’m going to press on to meet whatever goal I have for the ride, or whether I’ll turn around and go home. Most of the time, in my case, my goal is simply to finish whatever distance I’ve set out on, so I set the bar pretty low. That makes the mental wrestling match even more intense, because I quickly conclude that turning around and going home is pathetic (even if it is sometimes the right thing to do).

The trick with the Doppelganger Challenge™ is to imagine that someone just like me, with the same body and lack of talent, is racing against me. I ask myself, “Will that person give up? How hard will they go? Maybe they’re mentally strong, so I need to push myself to match them. Often, when I compete against that false stranger, I can do more than I would have on my own.

I’m not sure Cadel or Bradley or any of the other Tour riders will need to employ this strategy. I will hope to collect royalties from them if they do, but getting back to the task at hand, what do you do? What are your tricks? How do you work around the mental hurdles that arise? Tell me how to win, even if winning just means getting home before I fall over in the pedals, drooling on the hot asphalt.

Photo courtesy of Matt O’Keefe.

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  1. Peter Lin

    For me, the trick is simple. I ask myself “would you rather be on a stationary bike or on the trainer?” The answer is usually no, less the temperature is below 10F.

  2. Walt S

    It takes Faith to ride beyond your limit. Not a religious conviction, but a belief that the pain we endure in training to become better cyclists is truly going to make us faster, more competent, more race ready. We have all read the advice of the experts on how to get the most performance out of our bodies and some of it is even true. But the mind games we must play within ourselves to participate in the beautiful yet brutal sport that is cycling, must become an integral component in our arsenal if we are riding to win.

    One tactic I use is to try to ignore the pain, the lactic acid burn, and the false voice inside that says we must listen to our legs screaming at us to stop, is to focus on the result I want to achieve. That includes catching the rider ahead, maintaining a break, and sometimes even playing the game that I am a participant in The Tour climbing a col in the Pyrenees. The pain will be there, but our resolve to achieve that final outcome, whatever it may be, has to be stronger.

  3. Doug Page

    I usually feel better after an hour or so on the bike, so I give myself that first hour. After that, for a perennial paranoid like me, it’s easy. I imagine a sneering Fred is closing on me, and ride accordingly.
    P.S. I like the kits in the pic, very minimalist, class.

  4. Champs

    Challenge yourself to new climbs, try different routes, and take them to interesting destinations.

    The waterfalls, mountain vistas, lush forests, and tasty pubs of the Pacific Northwest are more than rewarding for the effort.

  5. DJ

    When I’m alone I tend to just go back home when I’m feeling weak and tired. It doesn’t do your muscles any good to wear them out even more when they’re already sore. When I’m with a group and I’m nearly about to fall off the back I’ve found the best thing for me to tap into those secret power reserves is to get super pissed off, gnash my teeth together, start swearing to myself and push that damn gear. I tend to be a happy person and if I don’t do that I tend to just stop pushing myself as hard, cheerily ride home and possibly do some sprint intervals on the way.

  6. rashadabd

    What works for me is less philosphical more practical. I have found that I respond well to concrete challenges. Making it to the next light post in under 10 seconds, not droppping below 11 mph on a particular climb or beating my own or someone else’s time on Strava (so sorry to hear about the death of a user and the lawsuit that has followed). It helps me get out of my head a little bit and actually feel or see the presence of a real challenge or antagonist. There are still those rides where I’m just happy to finish though.

  7. rashadabd


    +1 on giving props the the Pacific NW. I just moved to Oregon and love the beautiful rides we have out here.

  8. Graham I

    “I imagine a sneering Fred is closing on me, and ride accordingly.”

    That’s me the sneering Clydesdale Fred and I’m coming on fast… was keeps me going is catching skinny pompous people who are dogging it and yearning for home

  9. Joe Ruskendude

    It’s all about competition. Competing against somebody in my mind, at some level, which has always been at the local level, but there’s always someone to dream about beating.

    If there’s a problem, it’s thinking about other things that drive me, like math or music. I don’t want to do that much when I’m riding. It’s like Floyd Landis talked about in Landis and Kimmage:

    …And rather than try to have to face that, I just didn’t want to face it…and this goes back to why I said that cycling ended-up in hindsight, probably being a drug because if I ride around and start thinking philosophical things like this, at some point I get the argument in my head: ‘Why am I even bothering to do this?’ And then I just go home. So, unless I turn my brain off and don’t think about it, I don’t race well.

    Unlike Floyd at that time of his life, I’m more than happy to get philosophical about life, but if I’m super motivated in some other area of life, and I start thinking about that when I’m riding, I’ll want to turn around and go home.

  10. Derek

    I like to go to any early season race and really get my ass handed to me. Then later if I want to go quit and go home I remember how that felt.

  11. Derek

    I like to go to any early season race and really get my ass handed to me. Then later if I want to quit and go home I remember how that felt.

  12. Nick

    Guided visualization keeps me going. As in, if I start baking off I visualize me angrily walking up behind myself and guiding my foot straight into my arse.

  13. scaredskinnydog

    Does a sled dog feel pain when its running across the tundra? Does a salmon feel pain when its swimming upstream. Those are the kind of questions I used to ask myself when racing. Instead of letting fear and doubt rule your feelings learn to embrace the pain i.e. “Hello pain old buddy, its so good to see you again, lets hang out for awhile”.

  14. Jesus from Cancun

    Over the years I tried different things, nothing extraordinary. Just stubborn discipline, I guess.

    But my favorite of all time is Jens Voigt’s famous “SHUT UP LEGS”.

  15. Alex TC

    I just keep reminding myself that buddies are out there pushing harder, going farther, getting faster, leaner, meaner. And how that and my own training will determine, or at least influence, which side of pain (delivering or receiving) I will be at next time.

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