Something happened on the run yesterday that really brought home to me how much cycling performance is ‘all in the mind’.
Let me set the scene – Since moving to France at the end of last March I often go on the Rochechouart club runs on a Saturday afternoon. I’ve got to know a lot of the riders and how they ride. Now, because the end of March is the start of the racing season, there are some riders who I know from racing that i’ve never seen on the club run. OK so far? Right, so as the 2008 racing looms nearer some Wednesday afternoon sessions have been organised to get base miles in. Brisk, progressive, but not fast. The first one was this Wednesday. The riders were – two racers (Maxime and Eric) one strong man from the Saturday club runs (Bernard), and me. Bernard is one of the strongest from the club runs, he loves to go on the front, and likes to dish it out, he climbs well and is ‘bunch engine strong’.
Here’s what happened – We set off, all seems well, banter and joviality as normal, no hint of any problem. The first few kms Maxime is on the front. We climb up toward Chassenon and down towards Chabanais. I roll through to take a turn on the front, and after a few more kms I move over to let someone else through. I don’t want to hog the show. When I roll around to the back Bernard waves me through to go in front of him. No problem, I’m thinking that he’s just saving himself until we get to the meat of the ride. However, as time goes on it becomes clear that he doesn’t want to go anywhere near the front. Unusual.
60kms later, and Bernard is starting to struggle, but he’s OK, and were not far from home. 10km from home the two racers Maxime and Eric peel off and head home leaving Bernard and me to ride the last few kms down to Rochechouart. At this point, to use the words of PG, Bernard ‘falls apart like a cheap watch’. Now he cannot even maintain an easy pace, and tells me to go ahead and leave him. I use his words on him saying “se necessaire pour le moral de la group arrive ensemble”, (it’s good for the moral of the group to finish the ride together). This is what we always do on a Saturday. He’s obviously blown, I slow down and try to get him chatting. The kms always seem to go be easier when chatting, even to a daft English bloke with a poor grasp of French. Bernard tells me that he didn’t know the ride was going to be so long, and so fast, that he hadn’t eaten enough, and only had one bottle!
Now here’s the thing – The ride had been no harder, faster, or further than some of the Saturday rides where Bernard had been strong. The big difference was that the racers were not there. Both Maxime and Eric are first category riders. I think, that in the company of the racers Bernards confidence in his ability deserted him. He’s easly strong enough to have coped with the ride and more. But today it really was like riding with a different man. Surely, it’s all in his mind.