Going Round in my Head: Cycling and Visualisation
Racing on any level is a psychological battle. Ultimately, once you are waiting on the start line, everything else you have done up to this point is irrelevant. How fast you’ve gone, how fast your opponents have gone, your form over the last year, who is the favourite, all of these factors are inconsequential. All that matters is what happens between now and you crossing the finish line. An extreme overload of pressure in an intense period of time and that’s before you consider the context, the crowd or even your own emotions. So it’s no wonder riders use mental and psychological techniques in order to help them process the pressure, to be cold, calculated and ruthless when it counts.
Visualisation and guided imagery have always been a big part of this preparation. Read any interview with Cycling legend Chris Hoy and you will find that he would sit and run through the race in his mind, over and over again, playing it out exactly how he wanted it to go. He says that this would help him get into the zone before a race and block out external thoughts, homing in on the task at hand.
This mental ability to control your anxiety and block out negative external pressures is highly sort after in cycling. Ex-British Cycling psychologist and Chimp Management theorist Dr Steve Peters appreciated this and was instrumental in helping British heroes Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton use their thoughts positively and get into the ideal frame of mind, which would allow them to claim multiple gold medals at both the Beijing and London Olympic games. Guided Imagery and visualisation can play a big part in helping to zone in on the race scenario as well priming your body for movement.
And then of course there are your opponents. Bradley Wiggins often speaks of winning the psychological battle with his fellow competitors. He took great pleasure scarring his challengers by being able to appear at complete ease whilst they toiled away behind him. A scary thought.