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Monthly Archives

April 2017

Pain, not suffering in cycling

By | All articles, Sport Psychology | No Comments

I watched Paris-Roubaix a few weeks ago, and I must confess it reminded me of how hard cycling really is. Cycling is synonymous with pain and suffering, through the training, the crashes and the disappointment.  It’s at the heart of the sport, and it’s what makes it great; and through this pain is how great champions of the sport were heated, tested and formed into the legends we will always remember. It’s what makes the glory of a goal accomplished so sweet.

At the end of a race or hard ride you’ll hear the “suffer fest” phrases quite a lot.  On TV coverage, the commentators will say “look at the suffering in his eyes”. And on Strava the ride titles are sometimes a laugh more than anything else. Riders like Tony Martin have spoken at length about what it takes to win a world title in the TT, and how to cross the pain barrier. Bradly Wiggins has also gone into the detail of what he experienced while taking on the hour record. But let’s not get too far into all of that. Instead, let’s look at the 2 sides of a coin: pain and suffering.

Riders in the tough spring classics

What is suffering? 

Suffering can be defined as extended periods of discomfort, hardship and pain. It’s chronic. It can be in the form of cancer or terminal illness, living in a gutter in the middle of winter while starving, or living in a deteriorating situation with no hope in sight. The most notable part aspect is that it’s out of our control, there’s no clear end in sight and we can’t stop it!

What is pain? 

Simply put – It’s suffering we can stop.  No matter how hard and unbearable the pain, at any moment we can turn the switch off and it’ll stop (forget the lactate!). Even though we don’t like to admit it, and don’t do it often, at any moment during a climb or hard interval, we can pull the plug and the pain will stop. There’s a clear goal (or reason/purpose) in sight, and it’s completely in our control.

Marco Pantani during the 2003 Giro, by Watson

Do you see the difference?

Cycling is a tough sport, and extremely painful, one of the most brutal sports there is, and we can be proud of that fact! It’s almost cult like, which in a way is pretty cool! But my friends and fellow sadists, it’s not suffering!  Sure, there are the troubled souls of the sport like Marco Pantani, a true legend of the sport, but one who unfortunately let his life fall apart and genuinely suffered, but as with everything, that’s the exception. Once you’ve been through true suffering or seen someone go through it, I have no doubt you’ll agree with me.

So what can we draw from this? Well I’d like to think encouragement!  It’s not as bad as we think it is, next time when you’re climbing a mountain or doing a brutal interval, think about the pain you’re experiencing this way: there are people out there experiencing the same pain, or more, who can’t stop it.  So it might seem hard, but it will be done at the top of this hill or end of this stopwatch; and then you can go home and recover, have a coffee, a beer and a laugh; and of course come back tomorrow!

Max Levy celebrating, by Drew Kaplan

For every bit of pain you experience on the bike, cycling rewards you. For every brutal climb, there’s a thrilling decent; for every head wind, there’s a tailwind; and for every painful pedal stroke, there’s that single stroke of glory at the finish line. So when you’re at your limit, the pain is too much, and you want it to stop so badly; just think about the people who are going through the same pain, but can’t stop it; they’re really suffering.  Draw some inspiration from them, and if you know someone like that, do it for them.

The sprint finish of Milan San Remo 2017, by Tim de Waele

It’s all about your attitude towards a given situation; choose the way you perceive it. If you can find the purpose in it, and see the end goal in sight, you can get through a whole lot more than you thought you could. And at the end of it all, it will be glory and reward so sweet.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom

– Viktor Frankl

At the end of the day, after all the “suffering”, up’s and down’s, good and bad luck, I hope you can see the absolute beauty of the pain in this great sport. And what a privilege it is to be alive, and chase your dreams on a bike!


Matthew de Freitas

The Moment We Race

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With the UCI World Track Championships on the go in Hong Kong this week, I thought I’d try and give you a little insight into what it’s like to race at a big track event, and some tools on how to manage the pressure and stress of the big moment better.

At the world champs, which are a 5 day long series of events, where riders go through round after round to reach the final, and face off against the best there is. It’s often hot and humid, away from home in a strange country like Hong Kong; there are bright lights, screaming crowds, a mix of languages from all over the world, and a tangible feeling in the air of pressure and anxiety of athlete’s moments away from either achieving their goals, or walking away having to wait another year. The rainbow stripes are on everyone’s mind – and it’s pure magic!

Matthew Glaetzer and Tom Babek by Arne Mill

This is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication, ups; and down’s along the journey that brought them there. This is essentially periods of switching on and off, getting in and out of the zone, and playing the waiting game. I’ve experienced this, and the toll that it takes on a rider mentally, is often worse than the physical. You’re ready to go, in your peak, tuned into the moment of what is about to happen – it’s difficult to be calm and relaxed when every fibre in your body wants to explode! But this is where the best are able to take control of the situation, focus on the task at hand, and bring out the best of themselves physically, mentally and emotionally. Often, it’s not only an individual thing, as with team sprint or team pursuit. Here you have a team relying on you!

When they finally step up into the moment where all the training, sacrifice, dedication, commitment, sweat, blood and tears of the time leading up to the big day is going to surface – it’s like the rush from something words cannot describe!

Eric Engler by Track Team Brandeberg

When you put it all out there, and the result is completed, for the winner it’s pure joy, but more than that, it’s relief! The pressure is finally released, and the rider almost returns back to normal being. This relief is often experienced by the rest of the field as well, mixed with something like sadness, disappointment and even regret, even so they went through the exact same sequence of events to get there, and to finally have that pressure released is so sweet. Often this relief is directly related to pressure, and pressure is the extent to which your desired outcome exceeds your believed potential (your self-confidence plays a huge role in this). It’s important to note that pressure and anxiety is not a bad thing, in fact it enables us to perform better, but only if we channel it right, and stay in control of it.

The question of how to take control over oneself in this moment, and be able to produce your best comes to the forefront. So many riders who have what it takes to win, step up in this moment, yet fail. Something goes wrong, and the situation takes control. They are unable to control themselves, their thoughts, their arousal, and their emotions. Ultimately they lose not because they don’t have what it takes to win but because they can’t produce it when it counts. Recently one of the British coaches told me that they train to go fast for one week every 4 years! It’s all about that one week, if you can’t produce it there, it doesn’t matter.

helena Cesr by UCI

Often to do this, we need to be what is commonly referred to as being “in the zone”. But what does that really mean?
Basically it means to be in your (note the “your” as it’s an individual thing) peak arousal or physical state (not too little and not too much), have peak mental attention, and be in control of yourself (this includes thoughts). This state seems to be mostly autonomous or on instinct. Everything just seems to happen as it should. To get to this state is a very individual process and happens over time through practice of trial and error. Sometimes we get there, sometimes we don’t. But it should be linked to your peak, of being totally there in the right space both physically and mentally when it really matters.

Even if your big race is just your first cat A race or masters worlds, the same principles can be applied to help better manage the situation. If it’s important to you and have trained hard for it, you are bound to experience pressure (from within), and have some expectation, this will cause anxiety and arousal, and needs to be managed to bring out your best.

Womans Team Sprint in Hong Kong by Arne Mill

So what can we do to take control of the situation and produce what it takes in that moment?

Well here are some techniques that might help:
Rational thinking: when in that situation, think rationally! Don’t get carried away and overthink every little detail – keep the chimp in the cage (Steve Peters)! For example, if someone breaks the world record before you, don’t think negatively, but rationally. For instance, if the world record just got broken – this track must be fast! Or if you see your competitor using a much bigger gear than you, don’t think his power must be out of this world, or you’ve made a mistake. Rather think, I’m on my fastest gear, I know I am, so he better be too!

Focus on process goals: process goals are those that focus on the process of a certain activity, so it could be the wind up of a 200m or the technique of start. Rather than thinking of the outcome goals, which are the result of this process. As if you focus on that, you’ll lose track of the activity you actually have to do. Outcome goals are simply there as motivation, or “the dream” in a sense.

Focus on the controllable factors: stemming from the above, and mentioned in a previous article, focus on the controllable factors, those that you have full control over. For instance: the warm up, sleep, diet, gear choice, tyre pressure, etc. Rather than focusing on things you have no control over, for example the officials, your competitors, the weather, etc.

Do what you always do: don’t on race day try something new, or something you’ve never tried before that you think will somehow make the difference; whether that be new equipment, supplements, or anything that’s out of your routine. This only adds stress from foreign external stimuli. Try and keep it as natural as possible, and in the most comfortable and common routine.

Get away from it all: in between races, get your head away from it by tuning into other things. Distract yourself in a sense. It’s impossible to keep focus continuously, and if you try to, could burn you out mentally. To go through phases of 100% focus, and then relax (almost like a batsman in cricket, or tennis layer – each ball on their own). Techniques can be to listen to music, play a game, or even just get outside of the track. The velodrome can be a draining place, especially for 5 days!

Believe in yourself: this is sometimes hard, but it’s important and necessary. Self-belief will relieve some of the pressure, calm the nerves, and give you the confidence to be bold, dig deep and give your all. Base your confidence on realism, but in the moment, don’t ever doubt you have what it takes! Remain calm and never portray any fears or self-doubt.

Have fun: the thing I’ve notice about champions is that they’re always having fun and enjoying every moment! Just have a look at Krisitna Vogel – she has the time of her life in training, and in every race! If you’re not having fun, why are you there? You’re supposed to love this! Some of my best results came from when I had zero pressure and wanted to have maximal fun!

At the end of all of this, it’s not so much about the result, but the journey to get there, and then be able to produce your best –whether that be the rainbow stripes, or a PB. Most important of all, it so have fun and enjoy every moment, before you know it, you’ll be back home and left with only memories.

Matthew de Freitas

Interview: Tomas Babek

By | All articles, Interviews, Sport Psychology | 2 Comments

Tomas Babek is a track sprinter from the Czech Republic, a BLS sponsored athlete, one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, and someone who is on the rise fast! In only a short time, he has stamped his authority on the international track circuit, winning the European keirin title, overall sixdays winner as well as being the overall 2016/2017 world cup keirin leader. Not only that, but he’s someone with an incredibly inspirational story of courage, perseverance and survival to tell the world!

With only 2 weeks to go to the world championships in Hong Kong, we thought an exclusive interview with the man that goes by the name of BABSON would be pretty cool!

Tomas Babek by Drew Kaplan

Tell us how you got into cycling, and specifically track sprinting?

I wanted to avoid the biology exam at primary school so I signed into the school bike race which was at same time (it’s funny because normally I always had A or B at every subject). There I met a guy who brought me to track cycling, the next day he took me to an old concrete velodrome and gave me a fixed bike and told me to ride on it. It was very strange but I liked that, and next month I claimed my first success at international event, so I continued!

Tell us more about your crash in 2011?

I was hit by a car, and nearly died, but doctors brought me back to life. It took me a very long time to get back. I couldn’t get back, and coaches wanted to kick me off the team but I’ve never given up and kept on fighting, and after years I got stronger then before… and claimed my biggest successes.

What would you say has been some of the biggest challenges in cycling for you?

Definitely to find the motivation after I was not selected for Rio 2016, which I proved very well after!

2016 was your breakthrough year, what do you think was the difference that made this year different?

I think the difference was that I went into the race like I want to win it very hard.

Tomas Babek in training

How does it feel to be world cup leader going into 2017 world championships?

It feels great and gives me some confidence but we will see J

How is life in the Czech Republic?

The cycling culture is not really the biggest one, especially in track cycling. We don’t have a 250m velodrome, so we train outdoor 400m long one and concrete. Support from national federation … better no comment.

What is a typical day in the life of Tomas Babek like?

Wake up 7:00 and have a nice healthy breakfast, then I’m off to training (track, gym, road), then back for lunch, do some work or study, then coffee and again out for training, after that I do some backlogs from morning, and then finally time with my fiancee J

Do you have any pre-race rituals? Or little things you like to do for good luck?

Yeah it is music, good warm up and deep breathing before every race.

Tomas Babek by Drew Kaplan

Would you share some of your numbers with us?

Top watts on track bike 2210W

In the gym 105kg for Clean, Deep Squat 170kg

Max candence on velodrome 204rpm, on rollers 247rpm

What is your life like outside of cycling?

I like skiing, study is my hobby too but I just finished my studies and graduated with the Master diploma. So I plan to start with Doctors degree next year.

What do you think of sport psychology?

I use my own, I don’t work much with psychologist, I just found my own way J

What would you say is your biggest mental strength?

Stamina and the “never give up” mode!

Where do you get your motivation from?

From inside of me, I am never satisfied with myself.

What does the future hold for Tomas Babek? I got a contract to Japan for JKA Keirin, but beside it I want to prepare, and get the medal in Tokyo 2020, after I want to finish my career and start as sports manager (this is what I graduated as).

What do you think of the BLS blog?

Well it is always nice to see someone who promotes track cycling!

Do you have any advice for young sprinters?

Just enjoy it, practise much, but always find a joy in it, otherwise you can never become good in it.


Tomas Babek by Drew Kaplan

Here’s a really cool short film about Tomas’ journey made by VideoDilna.cz, be sure to check it out:


I’m sure all of you will agree, Tomas is a true fighter and inspiration to all riders out there. He doesn’t take no for an answer and gets his motivation from deep within himself. I’m sure all will agree this is only the start of his successful career.

We wish to thank Tomas for giving us a little insight into the life of a champion, and wish him the best of luck for the rest of his journey, from world champs in 2 weeks, to racing keirin in Japan, to Tokyo 2020, to getting his Doctorate degree and of course – getting married!

Be sure to follow the rest of Tomas’ journey on:




Matthew de Freitas

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