In all sports, people talk about willpower. How determination is more important than talent, how success is determined by how much you want it. Everyone has an anecdote, whether it be a footballer’s lesser skilled brother who went further because his head wasn’t turned by distractions, or about the best basketball player who was dropped from his high school team a dozen times before making it in the NBA.
In the Spanish cycling scene, this is a common theme also. People talk about la cabeza, the head, being the most important part of an athletes body. You often hear people talk about a person who didn’t achieve their potential by saying le falta la cabeza, he doesn’t have the head. This seems to separate physical talent from determination. Suggesting a percentage of any sports person’s achievements are down to their genetics and another percentage is down to their cabeza.
Perhaps the ability to push through pain, to make sacrifices, to make sensible decisions day by day and to work on your weaknesses is a talent in itself. Perhaps having la cabeza is just another parameter like your VO2 max or muscular endurance. If this is the case then your willpower can be trained and improved, just like long rides increase your endurance.
In Spain I’ve heard people talk about willpower in terms of balas psicológicas, psychological bullets. If you force yourself to train in the pouring rain, or turn down the occasional pizza with your mates, it may show your determination but you use up your balas psicológicas. This analogy describes one’s determination as being finite. It promotes a more balanced approach in order to achieve sustainable development. Don’t waste all of your balas psicológicas training in the rain in October because you’ll be sick of cycling when the season comes round 4 months later. Don’t avoid all social events or junk food because eventually you’ll run out of balas psicológicas and crack.
This balanced approach of using my balas psicológicas wisely is something I kept in mind when planning out this winter. In the past I have spent time on my own in a hotel or a team flat from October to March, only coming home for Christmas. While this has allowed me to focus fully on training, I have struggled to stay busy in the afternoons and ended up getting miserable. Some of the worst times for me have come when living on my own. Last season it got to the point where the afternoons were dragging so much I would fear the boredom of rest days. I had to ride just to stay sane. Inevitably, this caused me to overtrain and even become anaemic.
Last season I was offered a place in my team’s flat in Durango, Northern Spain, where I spent the winter. I was in a town surrounded by other riders from the team so I had riders to train with and ended up getting to know lots of people. It was a much more healthy situation than what I had got used to but still I found myself getting bored in the afternoons. There was only so much training I could do and during the week in the winter there wasn’t much else going on.
This year, stopping my season in July to have my operation, I had time to think about what I wanted for next year. I asked around about doing some work part time and have ended up with a job teaching English in the evenings in an academy just next to the team flat. I also decided to begin studying to take an A level in Spanish, I want to improve my grammar and another A level is worth having.
A month into my new life of working, studying and training and I’d say it is going well so far. Being busy in the afternoons gets me out of bed earlier and makes me keen to get the most of the time I have on the bike. Rides don’t waste my balas psicológicas like they used to, in fact I am keen to get riding whenever I have time. I’ll have to see how I get on when my training load increases as the season approaches, but I think I’ll manage.
Next weekend is the first checkpoint of my winter training plan, a few days away from training in order to get to Leeds for the Dave Rayner Fund Dinner on Saturday the 10th. The dinner is a great event to raise money for the fund that makes it possible for me and so many other young riders to pursue our goal of becoming a professional cyclists. Some of the items up for auction include one of Peter Sagan’s green jerseys from this year’s Tour de France, and a mounted fine-art print of Geraint Thomas’ win on Alpe D’Huez, both signed by the riders.
Also please have a look at a Santiago Cadavid’s GoFundMe page. Santi is a British-born Colombian junior rider for the VCL. He has spent the last two summers racing in Spain for the same junior team I guested for in 2015, Fundacion Lintxu. Santi has managed several wins this season in the UK and Spain, and now he is looking to raise money to fund a trip to the Colombian national track championships in his parent’s home city Cali.