If sports psychology is well understood in a cycling context, its use is relatively rare. More often than not it comes down to an individual rider aiming to solve a personal problem, rather than using psychological tools to improve performance as you would the latest skinsuit or training technique. Stefan Küng, in an interview with Procycling last year, told of how he visited a sports psychologist to help deal with his habit of crashing in important time trials. Thibaut Pinot sought the help of racing drivers to improve his confidence while racing at speed. Some riders on Giant-Alpecin who were injured in the terrible training camp crash in January 2016, sought out help to deal with the mental scars left by such a traumatic incident. Some didn’t.
That said, it’s important to realise that just because riders aren’t seeing sports psychologists doesn’t mean that they aren’t receiving psychological support. The role of supporting riders, perhaps by uttering the right word at the right time or instilling confidence, is often performed by sports directors, team managers and team-mates rather than trained professionals. Often there’s no need to call it anything other than good management.
Some mental coaches have had success across the board – notably Dr Steve Peters and his work controlling the ‘inner chimps’ of British cyclists. Jonathan Vaughters, who experimented with introducing team psychologists on Slipstream, noticed that riders were generally sceptical, especially if the specialist had little direct experience of pro racing.
“I’ve found it far more effective to basically suggest to certain riders that they should go and see someone to move forward, and let them take ownership of it,” he explains. “If they don’t own it, if they don’t want it, if they’re not paying for it, then they’re not engaged in it.