I started this series in October with the goal of becoming strong enough to ride L’Etape Australia’s 157km ‘race’, and sharing insights from people who know a lot more about how to achieve this than I do.
Form comes from lots of places, I wrote, which means there are lots of places you can find it. There’s finding a coach who speaks your language, pacing yourself through a baseline test to set some goals, learning about nutrition for during rides and between them.
An informative, personalised bike fit can make the world of difference to your riding experiences and learning about good pedalling technique can be as useful in identifying injuries before they happen as propelling you forward. Savvy bike preparation can increase your enjoyment and decrease the chance of mechanicals, and a conversation with a stranger in a bike shop reminded me that smiling is a secret weapon too.
As the day approached, I enjoyed the quiet confidence that comes with good preparation. For the final article in this series, I got in touch with one of the riders who always inspires me to push that little bit (or a huge bit) harder, Gracie Elvin (Orica-Scott, who will be renamed as Mitchelton-Scott in 2018).
In addition to being a fierce competitor on the bike, Elvin is also one of the most encouraging and most articulate. We spoke about self-belief….and then I held that interview.
While Elvin is a rider who excels in bad weather, it was important that riders made their own decisions about whether to ride or not in the 150mm of rain that was forecast for the day. It didn’t seem right to use her words to encourage people to push outside their comfort zones, in that situation, if they weren’t adequately prepared. But here they are now, and well worth reading whatever goal you have in mind next. As Elvin has found out while racing at the top, developing a strong sense of belief in your own unique abilities can take you a whole lot further than your physiological capacity alone.
You've written before about the difference that learning to really believe in yourself has been making in your racing career with Orica-Scott. Can you tell us a little bit about that here?
Ever since I was a young athlete I had a sense of what I wanted from myself but didn’t know how I far I could take it. With every season I have gained confidence in myself and turned that desire to achieve into a strong sense of self-belief.
Self-belief should be tended to as a slow burning fire and given small kindling before putting on the big logs. If you pick a big goal make sure to pick some smaller goals on the way and you will be amazed how your belief in yourself will grow!
Finding the right people to help you stoke that fire will be key as well. Having self-belief is great but having other people believe in you too is even better!
Can you give a couple of examples of specific moments on the race circuit where these types of thinking strategies have made a difference to your performance on the bike?
One of my first big results came when I was taken to a race to win it. Having the coach there fully behind me gave me that extra piece of confidence I needed. Other times I have won big races without that kind of support but knew if I did all the small things right then I could have a chance.
My biggest result so far was this year in Flanders when everything came together perfectly. I had the full backing of my team and coaches as well as knowing I had done everything possible in the lead up to the race. I visualised what I was afraid of and how to manage that so when the race was on I had the clearest mindset, pushed away the doubt and really enjoyed myself!
What are some thoughts regular riders can carry with them to bolster their self-belief in a long or particularly challenging ride?
Our instincts are always telling us to protect ourselves from pain so it is natural to want to stop pedalling when you are suffering, or even to not start at all. I get those thoughts all the time!
I try to embrace the pain and when I am nervous I think to myself, “Even if I’m not the best, I can suffer more than anyone here!”
It’s all about you and no one else. Just push one pedal stroke after the other and you will be amazed how far your body will take you. Take it at your own pace and try not to let the pace of other riders dictate your day, but don’t be afraid to keep up with riders that push you a little outside of your comfort zone!
Your teammate and fellow two-time national road champion, Amanda Spratt also rode at L'Etape. I confess to being just as excited about seeing her out there as Chris Froome. Do you believe, that if I believe it, I can ride almost as fast as Spratty one day?
You’re not the first person to be star struck by the famous “Spratty”, she’s a legend! Even though she is half the size of the rest of us she is a fierce rider and isn’t shy to use some cheeky tactics out on the roads. That said she is the friendliest of pro riders you will meet and will happily chat alongside you in the bunch. You will be fine after all your training. It’s all in your head!
Next time you’re out riding, or racing, or training for the next big event, draw on your own strengths and experiences to see what that extra confidence allows for on the road or on the trails. If that doesn’t work, channel your inner Gracie or try to chase down an imaginary Spratty. You might surprise yourself with just how far your mind can take you too.