The Desire to Win: Using your mind on Race Day

I’d rather be lucky than suffer to win, but unfortunately you mostly have to suffer to win-- mentally and physically. 

Bicycle racing at any level is highly competitive and never easy.  What makes one racer succeed over another is not always talent, fitness or long training days with specific coaching or training plans.  That’s not to say a training plan or a coach’s guidance doesn’t prepare a bike racer for the rigors of racing and eventual success.  Of course it does and many a racer has proved it. But when a bike racer approaches the line of a mass race start, with up a 100 racers or more, the mental strength, the heart and determination to win can make all the difference in a race’s outcome.

The 2011 race year, for myself and many other Studio Velo racers in cross, road, mountain & triathlon, is highlighted by many examples of these moments of personal greatness and victory.  Many of you may recall my article from 2010, titled “The Legs to Race, The Passion to Win” in which I described my personal achievements on the race course fueled by the passion and enthusiasm for the sport and the support of all of clients.  In 2011, I not only experienced more of these mystical moments on the bike, but witnessed several other Studio Velo racers do the same.

When I line up to the start line, surrounded by dozens of fit, leg-shaven competitors, my very first feeling is inevitably fear and doubt; rarely do I exude tremendous confidence or optimism about the potential outcome.  You literally feel like the numbers are against you. There are 100 competitors who are racing the same race and you tell yourself, “What are the chances of winning today.” Yet, on rare occasions, moments before the gun sounds, a certain confidence or vision of victory overcomes me. I begin to tell myself, “ I can win; I can do this,” and I realize that ever rider, all abilities relatively equal, has a shot at winning. That confidence that so lightly graced your body now transforms into pure drive and determination, fueling an absolute desire to win, to suffer more than anyone else, to stand above the rest of the field in the final moments of the race.

This mental advantage is what it takes to win. It’s what separates first from second, second from third, and third from fourth at the end of the race. It’s why the first place racer explodes on the last lap or wins the finishing sprint with no teammates to lead him out. It’s how a racer distinguishes his entire racing career when he crosses the finishing line in first – perhaps for the first time—by using his mental fortitude to give it his all. 

This past October, I not only experienced this moment of emotional transformation, from doubt to confidence, to win a hard-fought battled in the Masters ‘A’ cyclocross race at Stafford Lake; I also witnessed another well-deserved Studio Velo racer, Eamonn Tucker, win his first ever bike race. I will never forget the look in his eyes as I yelled to him, “it’s your day Eamonn,” and he exploded off the start line with that perfect combination of heart and determination to take the race all the way to the line.  And that he did. Without grace or style, Eamonn literally outran the second-place finisher in the final meters of the race. Eamonn fell to the ground in exhaustion and a bit of disbelief. 

Unknown to his competitors around him at the start line, Eamonn was literally preparing himself mentally for the greatest finish of his racing career to date.  One could see it in his eyes.

Eamonn at Race Start

And that is precisely the difference between winning and losing on race day. It’s a racer’s ability to turn fear into desire, doubt into confidence, and fiction into reality – sometimes all in the seconds or moments before the whistle sounds.

To all of you racers out there, on and off the race circuit, from group ride challenges to virtual challenges, take a leap of faith. Tell yourself you can win and you will. It won’t be easy. It won’t come without work, but it will come. And when it does, relish in the moment. Because as many of you know, crossing the finish line in first is unlike any feeling in the world—at least it is for me.



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