Being a pro cyclist means accepting living with pressure, and an almost constant level of expectation around oneself. It is omnipresent throughout the season, even if the intensity does vary at different points.
Spring is here, and pleasant days are coming. And so is the Tour de France. It’s always around this time that I start to feel a sensation in my stomach, maybe I find it a little harder to sleep, my brain starts to overthink and I just become a little more difficult around my loved ones. This feeling, of invisible pressure from ourselves and those around us, is there for me on a daily basis. I guess it comes with being a high level athlete.
I used to get this even when I was an amateur - the stress would rise as we got closer to the French Cup events, which were the most important races. Ditto when I became a stagiaire, where I simply had to perform, and then again at a different level when I turned pro. Then comes the Tour de France, the race I dreamed of all through my childhood, and the pressure mounts all the while. Would I be up to it? Would I be able to meet the expectations of those I loved and those I worked with?
This kind of stress is often harmful, but it can also help you surpass yourself. The difference between a good rider and a champion is mainly that - either you get crushed by the pressure, or you can transform it into energy which makes you perform.
I’ve often been at my best when I have my back to the wall. It could be a big race, or contract renewal time. Hup! It gives me a kick up the arse, and makes me ride faster.
For the past two years I have had to prove myself in order to be at the start of the Tour; this year the pressure seems to be on my mind earlier than usual. The fact that some races are being cancelled due to the pandemic, makes it harder for me to prove that I am up to scratch. I have learned to bear this load, and to live with it, but the burden is always there. The public and cycling fans tend not to know much about this side of things, but it is always there, and it is good if team leaders are also aware of it. A gesture, a call or a message can take the weight of the world off the shoulders of the team riders. We all need to feel we have this attention, in order that we can approach goals in the best possible way. Without it, this job is all the more difficult. And if you are not where you want to be, it’s easy to just give up.
One day, when my career is over, all that pressure will go away, and I won’t miss it. And there’s no question that I’ll be looking to replace it with any other stress. I think by that point, I will have deserved to finally live without it.