Do you want to improve your focus and become a stronger cyclist? We have created a guide to overcome challenging days on the bike & tips to help you focus. Find out more, here.

A Guide to Being a Focused Cyclist

Its time to start getting the best out of yourself, by becoming a focused cyclist.

uphill cycling
2020-04-22 23:30:00

Have you ever found yourself concerned about how you will get through a challenging day on the bike? Do you ever find yourself getting distracted by things you have little or no control over? Perhaps worrying about other rider’s performance, changes in the weather, steep gradients, technical problems and the list can go on, but all of these things have something in common; they can all equally prevent you from riding, and performing the way you want to. Its time to start getting the best out of yourself, by becoming a focused cyclist, whether you’re choosing a Galibier to Ventoux tour or other road cycling holidays and challenges.

Plans Are There To Help You Focus

Thinking extensively about how you might feel at the end of a week, or the end of a particular day youve picked out as being especially tough looking is not always conducive to you performing to your best right now. If you go into a ride or trip concerned about how you might feel in the future, or have doubts about if you have what it takes to go the distance, this can prevent you from performing to the best of your ability and can even ultimately become frustrating.

From the experience I’ve gained from riding in the mountains with many people for over a decade, Ive discovered that thinking about how fast, or fit other riders are, or how challenging the next few days look to be can wreak havoc with your own ability to ride well. Its highly unlikely that you or I will ever be the fastest, or fittest rider in the world (thats reserved for the pros and world champions). However, what we can control is focusing on being the best rider we are personally capable of being.

To start moving closer to fulfilling our potential, a good starting point is to have a ride plan for each event, challenging trip or multi-stage event, and have the confidence to stick to this plan once its been nailed down. Its worth remembering that it can be very advantageous to be focused only on the part of the ride that you are experiencing at the present moment in time, whilst working/riding through the plan. If you are consistently thinking about how hard the final few kilometres of the 3rd climb of the day is, how can you possibly be giving your best right now? Id also highly recommend leaving the analysis of the day until after the ride is over. Mid-ride analysis is just another trap that can easily be fallen into. Trust me, Ive been there!

Before a ride, have you ever tried to break what looks to be a very challenging day down into manageable chunks? If you have already done this, have you tried to focus your attention purely on each individual phase of your plan at any one time? If you have, youll know that a lot of worry, or even stress, can be removed from a situation just by concentrating on what you are supposed to be doing at that specific point in time. Theres no point in burdening yourself with worry about what may or may not come later, deal with and overcome that later when you need to. Its a small thing, but by continually reminding yourself to concentrate on only this section of road, this kilometre, these next 10 pedal strokes until the gradient relents, can make a big difference to your day.

cycling up mountain

Focus On Yourself, Your Plan, Your Personal Effort

So, youve got your plan together for the day and know how youre going to ride this morning. On the first climb of the day a couple of the others you rode with yesterday have shot up the first mountain faster than youd planned to ride. Well if youve agreed to ride together then that could be deemed as poor form, however people have different goals for parts of a ride. Does this behaviour mean that you should change your plan and head after them at a higher than planned intensity level? Even if you decide not to deviate from your plan, should you let this bother you?

Its very easy to become distracted by what others are doing. Once the seed is sown that someone is riding faster than you, or is seemingly better or more durable than you are, it can play havoc in your mind. You have your plan, you know why you created that in the first place, you know that you have a pace thats sustainable not only for that first climb of the day, but also one that will allow you to finish the day strongly especially when youre on top of your nutrition as well. Why should you deviate from this? Quite simply, you shouldn’t! Youve trained hard and know better than anyone what you are capable of, so stick with your plan and trust your instincts about whats right for you. Dont be afraid to have fun and test yourself at times, but at the same time, just because someone is seemingly quicker or stronger than you that does not dictate that this will be the case further down the road.

Its not only other riders that can cause unwelcome distractions; its even easier and at times more troublesome to be distracted by something that wasnt planned for. The wind, rain or a mechanical in a bad place can cause all sort of unwanted distraction and emotion. As a part of your ride plan consider thinking about some of the potential problems that could happen and decide in advance what youll do in the event that these things happen. This forward thinking approach can ensure that when little things go wrong or conditions change, you already have an idea of what youre going to do or how youre going to behave. In turn, this helps to keep stress and upheaval to a minimum. Try to not to be distracted by things that are outside of your direct control during a ride.

A little personal story. Years ago, as a less experienced rider at the outset of Colconquerors, I used to hate riding into a headwind; it really used to bother me (as did the heat, flies and many other things!). I made a conscious decision around 2013 that from this point on, riding into the wind was good for me, good for my fitness and training not to mention others I ride with. Now as some of you will know, I enjoy riding into the wind and take inspiration from watching challenging days during the various pro races during the season. The wind has not bothered me since, as I know in advance how Ill deal with it each and every time.

group of cyclists riding up mountain

How will you ride today?

Starting your day with some very positive thoughts of how you would like to ride can have a very positive effect on how you actually ride. Conversely, if you think youre going to have a bad day, guess what, theres a strong probability that you will. We have to be realistic as things are often not as perfect as wed like them to be. However, being mainly positive about what youll achieve today and how, is never a bad place to start from.

On the surface, conjuring up a positive image of yourself doesn’t sound like a complicated thing to achieve. Surprisingly though, depending upon your state of mind it can actually be quite challenging to picture yourself riding exactly as you want to, smooth cadence, seated most of the time, looking composed and so on. Take some time before events and trips to practice imagining yourself riding exactly as you want to in various situations. This can be especially helpful if you are going back to a place youve ridden before where you faced a specific challenge (one you remember for perhaps the wrong reasons!). Try not to think about how it felt the last time, but instead think only about how you would like it to look and feel on this present occasion. What did you learn last time that can help?

A couple of things Ive found very useful:

  • Firstly, the night before your ride or event have a think about your plan or itinerary for the following day. Pick out the key elements or major challenges of the day, close your eyes whilst you are somewhere comfortable, or even better lying in bed ready for a solid night of sleep, and imagine yourself riding that ride and those specific sections exactly as you want to see yourself riding them. Really try hard to concentrate just on seeing yourself ride the sections youve chosen as well as you can. Having these very positive thoughts on your mind ahead of a solid night of sleep is going to give you a head start when you encounter the ride along with its challenges the next day.


  • Secondly, find yourself an inspirational video of someone that you admire on YouTube and watch this before you set out on the ride. I have a small selection of clips that range from old team time trials, to Tour de France Stages and even stages from the Giro dItalia ridden with truly appalling weather conditions that I watch when Im likely to be faced with similar that day. Watching someone you admire battling the elements, or pushing themselves to achieve what they are capable of and picturing yourself doing the same within your own ride removes lots of barriers and can turn a potentially negative or stressful situation into one that can be enjoyed, and perhaps even noted later as a memorable achievement.
cycling solo

What If I Didnt Perform Well Yesterday?

We all have bad days whatever we do for a living, its just a part of life. Riding your bike for pleasure or work isnt immune to the curse of having a day below par, one that doesnt meet with our personal expectations. If youve experienced an off day, let it go, its behind you and now out of your control. The best thing that you can do right now is not to worry about it. Once the dust has settled, have a think about everything that happened during that day and use to information thats still fresh in your mind to make tomorrow a more positive experience.

Some quick post ride analysis can often reveal details that, when thought about with a clear head, give an indication not only why things happened, but also gives positive information that you can use to make the next day a great one. Perhaps you didnt sleep well the night before, forgot to eat until the coffee break 2 hours into a ride, changed your in ride nutrition, forgot to take your recovery drink after the previous challenging day or had other external pressures on your mind (work kept calling in the morning whilst you were riding etc). Any one of these things, and many others, has the ability to distract you and if ignored can lead to an approach of, ‘well today wasnt great, therefore tomorrow is going to be this way as well’. If youre thinking like that theres a high probability that the next day isnt going to start as well as it should.

Look for the positives in challenging or disappointing situations and use them to your advantage. If you are on one of our trips feel free to talk to us about your day, as we can always help you get things back on track if youre faced with challenges whatever they might me.

inspirational punch after goal completion

Is This The Hardest Challenge Youve Ever Faced?

So, youre midway through a ride and the going is tough, its hot, theres no breeze and the gradient on this current climb is seemingly getting steeper by the second and the road surface is adding at least 2% to the gradient! Ever found yourself feeling like this? I know I have…!

There are times when the challenge can seem too much even to the point that we can question why we are in fact even doing this. Were not sure if our body is giving in or is it our mind just giving our body signals that its no longer capable of performing? One thing is for sure, it is very unlikely that the challenge that you currently face is anywhere near the hardest that youve ever faced on a bike let alone in life. At times like this when the going is feeling tough, its important to remind yourself of this fact, remember those tough 20 minute threshold intervals you hammered out in the winter, that series of VO2max intervals you doubted you could complete but did, that unbelievably steep 3km of climbing you overcame 2 days ago along with the photo showing a huge sense of pride in your achievement at the summit. Yes right now this is tough, but there has undoubtedly been tougher and I got through that and more. The sooner you start to give yourself small positive reminders that this is doable and that youve done harder, much harder before the sooner your mind and body will start to fall back in line!

Remind yourself of what youve achieved previously and if it helps conjure up images of your favourite Grand Tour rider rounding that final bend on a mountain stage to stay in contention. Those of you that know me well will appreciate what Tommy Voeckler does for me as he clings onto the yellow jersey on the Col du Galibier during stage 18 of the 2011 Tour de France. Yes its 9 years ago, but its truly inspirational and has saved me on many an occasion. Ive replayed that last few kms in my mind more times than I can remember, always to positive effect.

solo cyclist struggling

Having Realistic Expectations

Its natural to want to be as good as you can at something, especially when its the sport you love and even more so when its in the perfect setting like the Alps. If you are lucky then youll go through a complete winter of training and riding free of injury, having not had a cold, no unplanned work or family pressure and commitments to distract you from riding. That sounds very realistic doesnt it?!

If things dont quite pan out like this its important to be honest with yourself in advance. If youve been injured or sick then you may not be able to be in the condition you were last year for your event, but this doesnt mean that you cant enjoy it. Too many times people give themselves a hard time for not performing as they expect to when the reality is that there have been many other demands on life outside of training. This is normal even for top level riders at times. Did Chris Froome plan to have a career threatening injury last year as he prepared for the Tour de France? Of course not. Just like Chris Froome, its important that when we have set backs in our riding that we reset our expectations and plan to work back to our previous best in a sustainable way. Performing this reset on expectations of ourselves also removes a lot of pressure and allows us to get back to the business of enjoying riding our bikes in special, places, which after all is what its all about.

If youd like to talk more about how a coach can help with your riding drop me a line, Id love to help you. Get in touch with us either via email, phone us directly or use our online contact form.

Enjoy the ride!

group of cyclist completed ride