Cycling is such a tough sport not only physically but also more so mentally. In your career you will have more bad days than good and form comes and goes. Ultimately, how you deal with the down times is the difference between becoming a champion and pulling the pin and hanging up the bike.
I personally have been having a bit of an up and down season to date and am currently playing many mind games with myself. I started back in January on a high building form, taking an early win and having some strong racing right the way through to my first two races in Europe with Omloop het Nieuwsblad and Omloop het van Hageland. Everything was progressing well, and I was excited for what the season would bring.
From there the change in seasons from winter into spring and I, like many others, came down with sickness. Instead of being smart and telling myself to stop and rest to get over it, I tried to ride through it. I think it is the mentality of most elite sports people that if they miss a day or two of training in season the form is going to go. What we forget is that we have such a large base in reserve, it is sometimes the best thing for us. It is more important to recover than trying to soldier on and staying in the current state for longer or making yourself worse.
My sickness came just days before I was due to head to Italy for the first Italian races of the season along with the Lotto Honda Team training camp in Toscana. The first race was Trofeo Costa Etrusca around the Toscana region and I was a mess, it was a hard day and I was sick as a dog. I remember all day just playing mind games with myself, getting dropped on climbs I would normally get over, all day putting doubt in my mind and considering dropping out. Gaps would open and normally I would fight to close them, but instead I left them open and then chased back. I continued on all the way to the end, but I wasn’t any use to my team as I couldn’t scratch myself. It was probably the hardest day mentally I had endured all season.
From there I had a week to recover and try to get better, still riding my bike, but taking it easier except for one 5hr day during our training camp that we did together as a team. By the time I had reached the first World Cup of the season the following weekend, I felt like I was almost over my sickness and ready to have a strong race but my body thought otherwise.
It was another race of mental toughness and mind games with myself. To start with it was a wet race, so you’re always thinking in the back of your head how dodgy and sketchy it is. Then it was another case of when I hit the climb my legs gave me nothing; people passed me who I know I can normally climb with. You question yourself what is going on and why can’t you hold the wheel or stick with the pace when you know you’ve done the work, but things just aren’t clicking. You find yourself in grupetto by the end of the day, of course disappointed when you know you can do better, but then doubting yourself if you really can.
I missed out racing Flanders this year as the team decided not to take me, but I was able to turn it into a positive. I had 3 weeks at home back in Monaco, was able to spend some of it with my boyfriend, and work on becoming 100% healthy again and get stuck into a solid training block.
The first week or so I struggled for motivation as every day on the bike I didn’t feel good. I think I had put myself into a small hole that I had to climb out - it wasn’t the best of times.
Finally I came around as the weather turned nice, and my head was in the right place. I was motivated again, followed a proper training program and started to get back to my old self again and was feeling good on the bike.
Most recently I was back racing with the team up in Holland. Not my favourite style of racing, but if anything it was good training for me. Feeling strong and form coming along, it was bad luck that played with my head this time. In two of the 3 races I was out the back in the convoy within 5km of racing.
The first one Drentse 8 it was a case of a crash mid field. I found myself with no where to go except over the top, coming down hard taking a big hit to my knee. It took a long time to get going again once the team car got to me, and my bike was rescued out of the ditch below. When I finally reached the peloton again after a long chase, I was a mess for the rest of the race and couldn’t get the right head on to be back amongst it.
In the Ronde van Drenthe bad luck struck again when 3km into racing my wheel got caught on another bike and ripped the spokes out. That meant a wheel change and chasing through the cars for another day back to the peloton. Although I made it back and up towards the front again, I hit the cobbles and went backwards and was suffering. That led to mind games as I thought I had form, but then I was going nowhere in the race, and I just couldn’t seem to put the pieces together. I later discovered that when neutral spares changed my wheel they left my brake rubbing, which could’ve explained a few things, but it still didn’t make for a fun day with my head.
I had a small turn around in the last race I did, the Ronde van Gelderland. There I finally raced my bike how I used to. In all the past Dutch races I have been playing the role of a domestique, but I actually managed to do my job this time. My head was on straighter and focused on the race and the task at hand. I was much happier with how things went, and it was nice being amongst the action again, good for the moral. It was a slight relief as we are fast approaching the next big race I am focusing on, La Fleche Wallonne, so hopefully the head will stay in the right place.
It has been a rough past month and it has been a big mental battle for myself. It is never fun when things just don’t go right, so I’m hoping things are now back on track. When things are good and all in sync everything is great, but in the end that’s cycling, so many ups and downs and only the toughest prevail.
Until next time, thanks for reading and happy cycling.