At World Tour races you are constantly surrounded by athletes from the World's top teams. You race together, stay together and eat together. In the dining hall you're surrounded by the greats. Wiggle, High5, Rabo, Liv and Boels-Dolmans to name a few. It still puts me in my place, being surrounded by these amazing athletes with years of experience over and above me.
I never would have expected eating in this sort of environment would have made me feel so self-conscious about my food choices. Filling up my plate at the buffet and parading around in front of the rest of the peloton with my selection of dinner on display is a nerve wracking experience. Yes, I see the eyes watching me, just as I watched my competitors do the same walk of judgement back to their designated seats. How can you blame us though, it's a natural response to look and see what your competitor is doing, right? It made me question what I was doing and then change it in a bid to replicate those I look up to.
Where this strategy falls short, is that no two athletes are the same and what’s best for one athlete may be quite detrimental to another. This is something I've come to realise and am still working on to find the balance for myself. How do you learn from those more experienced around you but at the same time ensure you are doing what’s best for you?
A perfect example of where I have fallen short on this front, (which has happened quite regularly over the past few years), is post race massage. I have naturally high muscle tone, my flexibility is poor and I don't get massages very regularly. When I get a deep tissue massage I really suffer. My legs feel flat for the next 4 days and the day after I feel like I'm getting sick. All this I have grown to understand over the past year through trial and error. So when I turned up to my first Pro Tour Stage Race last year to find out we had a swonnie on hand to do daily post-race massages, I didn’t question it. Everyone else was doing it right? It must be good for you right?
Fast forward to the next day, 20km into a 140km stage race and I had been dropped. In hindsight, not only was it detrimental physiologically but it continued to effect me psychologically throughout the remainder of the tour as my confidence took a significant knock. It made me question my ability as a professional cyclist and whether I was good enough to race at this level. Something that's taken a while to get over and has only just restored after racing in the Tour of California last month. Since this experience I have worked out a plan that suits me in relation to post race massages. When questioned, I now have the confidence to know what I need and express that without being swayed by someone that may not understand my needs as well as I do.
The mistake of falling inline with those around you is one I have experienced all to often. Here is what I have learnt over the past year whilst travelling and racing.
- Focus on what you need, not what others are doing around you. Half the battle with confidence during racing is what's in your head. Touring is a great opportunity to learn from the best of the best. But keep check that everyone is different. Don't be swayed and trust your instincts.
- Be a sponge, listen and ask questions. However, not all articles nor people are reputable. Do your own research. Reach out to a specialist in that field of study that you trust. Learn as much as possible, then weigh up the prose and cons and make an informed decision. If you decide it's right for you, you can implement it confidently, effectively and with 100% commitment.
- Never try something new during racing. It's ever so tempting as you hope, against all odds, that it will miraculously improve your performance! However with most new things, your body needs time to adjust and you will need to tweak the process through trial and error in training.
- Once you know what you want to do, create a plan. Even if it's as simple as, what to eat before racing. If you don’t do it properly, you wont see an effect and therefore you wont come up with a solution you are confident to implement during a race (trust me on this one). This makes you susceptible to hasty decisions whilst racing (e.g. a tuna sandwich 1hr before a crit works well for my team mate but as I found out the hard way, not so well for me!).
- Last of all be mindful of what you say to others. When I find something that works for me, I have this natural desire to want to share it. I try to be conscious when doing this that I don't over dramatise (which I have a tendency to do) or force the idea upon someone that's impressionable.
Nic Moerig, Pro Cyclist, Podium Ambition powered by Club La Santa