Once this period is done, though, we slowly start moving our bodies by going to the gym or running and eventually, we pick up bikes. Starting from zero is never easy, and the first weeks are tough mentally and physically. The power you had in your legs the last time you rode your bike suddenly feels like a distant sensation.
After a couple of sessions, though, the body starts responding, the happiness hormones kick in, and you find yourself daydreaming about what is next… about races, victories, and the euphoria that comes with it.
Managing expectations and being open to new approaches
Once the anticipation builds, you need to be patient and remind yourself that you need that enthusiasm to last. My racing style captures this tension. I am constantly learning how to be patient and find the balance between wanting to maintain an aggressive and unpredictable gut-driven style of racing and keeping all that energy for the right moment. I want to seize every opportunity but, sometimes, I struggle to keep myself calm and relaxed.
To keep myself on track, I focus on the fact that it is all about preparation. For example, I learnt a lot last season about proper fueling. For years, I could not put the carbs I consumed during the race to appropriate use, as my guts were just not ready for it. I thought that cutting off energy during my training rides meant I was doing the right thing. Since I lost weight, I thought I was helping myself.
Yet last May, I worked with a coach who showed me the way to mindful body fuelling and teaching the body to adapt. Before Tour de France, I had to train not only my body but also my digestive system. During training, I consumed 80-100 g of carbs per hour. At first, I felt really sick and overly full. After a couple of sessions, though, my body started to learn how to use the energy properly. That’s what helped me get on the podium at the end of the race. It made me appreciate that there are always things to learn and ways of improving my riding that I had not considered. It is not only hard training sessions that matter.
Finding the balance between training too hard or not enough
Of course, I understand the temptation to overtrain, even as an amateur athlete. When you want to win and be the best, it is easy to focus exclusively on the hard work needed to get there. We forget how vital rest is. I believe that for most people who train daily, rest days can be the hardest. Suddenly, you have extra time on your hands, and it might seem like you are losing progress.
That said, there are many tactics we can use to help find balance. Goal visualisation definitely helps me tune into my body and take rest when I need it. I realise the power behind everything lies in my mind, and if I can see something and believe in it, everything comes together and flows perfectly without disruption.
To help mobilise this strategy throughout the season, I divide it into three parts: classics, stage races (mainly Tour de France for next year) and World Championships. I focus on each part separately without thinking too far ahead. So my main goals, for now, are Strade Bianche and Ardennes Classics. I love those races very much. They are brutal, and even if you don’t win, you get an insane amount of satisfaction for surviving and fighting with all your strength.
Cultivating a healthy mindset towards nutrition and knowing when to make exceptions
I think a lot of people struggle with this. When it comes to nutrition, the first thing that used to come to my mind was that I wanted to look good and avoid carrying any excess weight. Yet focusing on that exclusively has led me into the wrong mindset many times during my carrier.
Now, I focus on the fact that there are times of the year when I can allow myself to consume more energy than others. Before spring classics, for example, it’s always good to be well built, to have powerful muscles that allow you to be fast and explosive up little steep hills. When preparing for TdF last year, though, I learnt that it’s essential to use nutrition wisely and to try to get to the lowest weight possible while still leading a healthy lifestyle.
Overall, though, I believe that the less strict we are around food, the better it is for our overall well-being. I have made a lot of progress in this respect, and I am proud of it. I especially appreciate it at this time of year. The holidays are a beautiful time you get to spend with your family. It happens once a year, so allowing yourself to be present and not overthink or obsess is the best way to get the most out of it. Of course, it is also a time to reflect and get inspired for the year ahead. That is what I am doing right now, both allowing myself to relax and enjoy while building up motivation for all the challenges to come in 2023.