Guest Voice Nathalie Novembrini: Homeward bound

The last day of a Grand Tour is always a big celebration, especially for the winners of the coveted jerseys. In the fans’ eyes, every rider who arrives on the Champs Élysées is a winner, but the teams and the riders don’t always share those feelings. Guest Voice and sports psychologist Natalie Novembrini takes us post-Tour in the last of her quartet of articles.

When the riders finally reach Paris, they are largely happy and relieved to be going home. But there’s always some lingering sadness. It’s like they’ve awoken from a dream. They’ve spent a month living with the same people every day, riding past millions of people cheering them on and calling their names. They were the focus of hundreds of camera lenses. Now it’s time to come back down to earth. Each and every rider will have had a different personal Tour experience.

The dark side of the podium

To finish a grand tour is never easy, so all the riders are proud of reaching the finish line and so is the team, but not everyone can celebrate in the same way. Those riders who didn’t win a stage or couldn’t achieve their personal or team goals are torn between on the one hand relief and joy, and on the other regret and disappointment.

They’re happy to have managed to finish such a difficult and demanding race. This provides them with high motivation for future races. They finished a three-week race, a grand tour, so they can do it again and also finish shorter races.

While every race tells its own story, if you can ride for three weeks then you can always ride five days in a row. More importantly, the rider knows he has the endurance required for longer races so his self-efficacy increases thanks to direct experience of having already overcome this situation. Maybe this is one of the reasons that enabled Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) to finish all three grand tours in 2012. (Of course, this is not the only reason!)

A rider who didn’t reach his expected goal will be frustrated. As I explained in my previous article, frustration can be dangerous. If a rider gets more and more frustrated, this could lead to situations which are difficult for him to overcome, such as depression. To become depressed, frustration must be a recurring experience, associated with continuous rumination. Even if it doesn’t get this bad, great disappointment may lead the rider to underestimate his value which in turn undermines his self-confidence when thinking about the next races, unnecessarily remonstrating with himself and negatively affecting his performance: “I’m good for nothing, what am I doing this for?” or “Now I feel good and confident enough to win, but I know that in the final kilometres I’ll have cramps and I’ll run out of energy, it’s always the same old story.”

The bright side of the podium

The other side of the coin are the riders who can fully celebrate.

This includes those who have won a stage, a jersey, are on the podium or achieved or even exceeded their goals. Although for those on the podium, if it’s not the top step they might be even more disappointed than those who have failed to achieve their aims.

The Tour’s global exposure has a big impact on the winners’ lives. Some say that winning a stage at the Tour can change your life. From an economic point of view, it’s true. Besides the prizes which are shared with the whole team, winners may benefit from bonuses, a pay rise and far greater public recognition. Or they could be offered a contract on another team with a bigger pay packet and a bigger role.

This sudden celebrity status and public acclaim clearly enhances the rider’s self-confidence and it’s always rewarding for him to hear fans shouting his name at the roadside or seeing his name writ large on the roads. But this also has its downsides. Success in a grand tour increases the expectations of the team and sponsors. A greater level of pressure might cause performance anxiety which negatively affects future performance. Sometimes the rider isn’t ready to bear that amount of stress and isn’t able to reach the goals the team and himself have established. Something similar happened to Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) after his Giro d’Italia win in 2004. After that, he hardly did anything in grand tours, except for the white jersey at the Tour de France in 2006. He has, however, won a number of one day classics including three Giro di Lombardias.

What really matters?

To sum up, it doesn’t matter if you’ve won the Tour or if you’ve come 128th. What matters is whether or not you’ve achieved your personal goals and, most of all, how you deal with success or failure. It doesn’t matter whether you feel excited or frustrated, but it does matter how you handle such strong emotions as it might affect future performance.

We’re all used to living and dealing with emotional experiences, but for a rider it is extremely important to learn how to control those reactions. As I’ve illustrated, emotions, thoughts and whatever else is going on in a rider’s mind have a direct effect on his performance. It’s up to the rider to try to use it in a productive way, to use it to his own advantage.

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  1. Pingback: Nostalgia del Tour… | nathalie novembrini

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