What do we count as the biggest sporting day in Australia? Is it the AFL grand final? Maybe the NRL grand final? What about Melbourne Cup?
Mental Stress and bicycle racing. Let’s face it, we’re (us racing cyclists) all head-cases when it comes to bike setup.
I know a guy who will stop every single day of the first month after he gets a new bike, adjusting a millimetre up or down in his bars or stem.
One millimetre, yes, one one-thousanth of a meter. His mind seems unconscious of the general insatiability to ever be feel ‘perfect’ on the bike.
It’s unexplainable on paper, but in our minds anything is possible.
We tell ourselves our seat is feeling too high, maybe because we woke up with tight hamstrings from yesterday’s core session, or our bars are too low, the sensation which may have been caused from the hip flexor tightening stair climb you made yesterday.
The mind plays tricks, and sometimes you just need to slap yourself out of it to adjust.
It is true though, that the body becomes hypersensitive at things it does all the time. If you pedal your cranks 16,200 times a day (90 rpm x 3 hours training), you’ll start to notice some fairly insignificant differences.
I first started thinking about these finicky bike choices when riders started doing mid-race bike changes in the Tour of California Time Trial last week.
Mid race? Are you serious? The results were mixed with riders who did and did not change bikes, no real evidence exposed a legitimate best-choice.
So I settled into last nights’ chronoscalata, and started seeing the variety of choices on offer.
It was great, Team Sky had those electronic gear changing knob ends, on clip on bars attached to their super light climbing road bikes! That’s cool. I started to notice the difference between the Italians and the rest of the riders.
Maybe it’s possible to loop the Frenchmen in too, because these two nations have a vast and old cycling culture, with strong tradition.
The Italians and French seem much less worked about super sleek TT position, super long knick length, or perfectly still riding styles.
Vicenzo The Pink took an old-school Italian approach (standard ‘don’t change what ain’t broken’ mentality) to last night’s event and bunged normal clip-on bars onto his road bike, taping some pads down.
He never had to make the treacherous and ungodly reach to the right to change gears from his regular gear lever. Hah. How soft we have become that we consider that to be an inconvenience.
I am a firm believer that having as little stresses as possible about your bike, or logistics, or whatever really, makes for a much more relaxed mindset whilst racing, which means you store that potentially wasted stress-energy.
I get the feeling that generally the Italians take this relaxed approach to Time Trials, and it shows in their aggressively incalculable approach to road racing.
The guys that are finicky and fuss all day about their watts and their 3.8 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram, and their perfectly low knick length, are the guys that waste a lot of unnecessary energy.
Although the above may be somewhat tangential to the crux of this crotchless prose, I do want to further point out that in last night’s stage of the Giro, whether it was bike or position on that bike, it was more than clear that mindset and physical condition outweighed any aesthetic aspects of performance.
Not one trend of late dominated the top of the leader board. Not the super-strength-core-empowered, not the electric gear shifting bar ends, not the deepness of the wheel, just physical conditioning and motivation to suffer.
Dario Cataldo couldn’t walk after his race, but the apparently GC conscious Pozzovivo appeared to be (figuratively) picking his nose across the finishing line. How different the power of the mind can be.
That feeling of having a gel stuffed down your knicks, and it itching ever so slightly on the inside of your thigh, 5mm too low, a little spot of sweat developing on it’s underside promoting a slight slipping and a touch of mental frustration.
Or the one drop of sweat that took stream down the middle of your polarised lens and left a stain of salty, human-derived electrolytes for you to have to de-focus from for the remainder of the race.
These small, irrelevant but present dilemmas can be enough to stress you out in times of needed calm and focus.
Don’t sweat the little things, just take it as it comes. Consider contrasting to Nibali’s apparently stress-free nature to Cadel’s “kill your dog” nature. It isn’t worth the fuss.
Follow Adam on Twitter @adamsemple