How Do Cyclists Build Mental Resilience for Grand Tours?

By Jiri Kaloc

Grand Tour racing is not just about the physical demands, it’s a test of mental fortitude as well. Riders have to deal with the stress of racing every day for 3 weeks while handling things such as crashes, mechanical failures, illnesses or fans cheering dangerously close. Let’s take a look at how they prepare for this.

Building mental resilience starts with setting goals for the upcoming season and defining a training plan to support them. This sets realistic expectations and allows riders to feel satisfaction that they did their best, even if someone or something prevented them from winning.

But even with the best physical preparation and mindset going in, there’s still a lot that can go wrong during those three long weeks at a Grand Tour. That’s why cyclists and their coaches developed a variety of tactics and habits to help them stay positive and resilient. Here are some of the most common things the pros do.

They break it down into smaller chunks

The prospect of giving your best for 3 weeks straight can be daunting to newcomers as well as seasoned competitors. That’s why coaches try to break the Grand Tour down into smaller units for riders. They set goals for every rider for each week as well as objectives for every single day. This helps riders stay focused and motivated. It makes every day different, even though the routine remains the same.

Strade Bianche Donne
Building mental resilience starts with setting goals for the upcoming season and defining a training plan to support them. © Profimedia

They learn to understand their emotions

Beyond the physical strain, riders grapple with a rollercoaster of emotions during a Grand Tour. The role of coaches and team psychologists is to help riders understand and work with their emotions. Pre-race anxiety is a common example of a misunderstood emotion. Many cyclists think that they shouldn’t feel anxious before a race if they are well prepared. So, when the pre-race anxiety inevitably comes, they feel like something is wrong and they enter a negative mindset. In reality, the pre-race anxiety helps create a kind of arousal that is needed and helpful for performance.

They develop helpful self-talk

A common strategy for dealing with the ups and downs of racing in a Grand Tour is developing self-talk. In a previous article, we interviewed Lorenzo Fortunato, a GC rider for EOLO KOMETA and he talked about his self-talk.

I think it is important to stay calm both in the race and after the race, not to get caught up in the excitement or mood swings. I always tell myself, ‘Don’t get excited when you go fast, and don’t get depressed when you go slow.’ Plus, I believe that by the third week, my opponents will be tired, which helps me stay focused and resilient.

If you’re interested in more insights from EOLO KOMETA riders, check out the article where we talked to their team captain, a GC contender, and a sprinter.

They disconnect

Being focused and constantly thinking about the race is draining. It’s necessary when cycling but when the stage is over, it’s important to relax and recover. That’s when it’s important to know how to unplug your brain from thinking about the race. Elisabetta Borgia, a team psychiatrist at Trek-Segafredo, described in an interview how she does it.

It is like being fully focused on the race and then trying to find a way to think about something else. To disconnect from the race to look at your interests, your passion for the family or something else. Because our energy tank is limited, you shouldn’t keep on using it when you don’t need it.

She also mentioned other things that the Trek-Segafredo riders do to unplug between stages like reading books, video calling their families, watching films on Netflix, meditating, listening to music or napping. Whatever helps take the rider’s mind away from the race is welcome.

They keep the good vibes going

It’s impossible to prevent feeling down at some point at a Grand Tour. When fatigue increases, a streak of bad weather could be enough to put you in a bad mental space. This is exactly where having a strong support network is necessary. Being surrounded by teammates can help lift your spirits and provide a sense of camaraderie. Pro teams work hard at maintaining good vibes not only among riders but also throughout the support personnel including the directors, coaches, therapists, soigneurs, and mechanics.