Lots of people I ride and race with are winners, and they have a winning mindset.
“When I line up, I line up to win!” they say.
“You have to believe in yourself,” they say.
“You’ve gotta have confidence that your training has prepared you to win,” they say.
“Visualize the victory,” they say.
“Plan the work and work the plan,” they say.
“Fuck that,” I say.
The losing mindset
Winners win because they have a winning mindset. Good for them, hats off, and all that shit. But us losers, we have a mindset, too, and since I’m heading off to Bend, Oregon tomorrow in order to race nationals and make snarky comments about Roger Worthington’s beer, I think it’s important to share my “Race to Lose” philosophy with all the losers who will be lining up to take their dose of humiliation and defeat, because let’s face it, all of you are going to lose except for one or two winners.
If you’re going to buy a $10k bike, take a week off work, train for a year, spend thousands on a coach, live a monkish diet lifestyle, and quit having sex in order to take the time to lose, you need to do it the right way. Any fool can lose, but a real loser loses from the inside out.
Racing to lose: The importance of hopelessness
The first step in a losing race campaign at nationals is hopelessness, which I define as “The complete, utter, total absence of even a scintilla of hope.” This is different from despair in the immediate face of getting shelled at Mile 10. It is a long-term hopelessness that begins long before you even show up for the race.
“Even a miracle wouldn’t allow me to win.”
“The probability of victory is the same as the point at which all molecular motion ceases: Absolute Zero.”
“Abandon hope, all ye who enter.”
These are excellent preparatory mindsets that will, over time, erase even the possibility of thinking that you might actually hope to win. However, the mindset of hopelessness must be augmented with detailed analysis of the course.
In the case of Bend’s RR course, a diet of hopelessness should be beefed up with facts like the following:
- I am racing against the guys who beat the guys who always beat me.
- 6,200-feet altitude makes it impossible for me.
- It’s a climber’s race. I can’t climb. At all.
- My race starts early when it’s going to be very cold. I do terribly in the cold.
- My race starts in the afternoon when it’s hot. I do terribly in the heat.
- Bend is too dry. I can’t win when it’s dry.
- The course isn’t selective enough in the beginning; I’ve got to have a hard start to win.
- The course is too selective in the beginning; I’ve got to have an easy start to win.
See? Tailor the facts of the course to fit your losing philosophy. No fact is so irrelevant that you can’t use it as a starting point for total capitulation.
Racing to lose: Psyching yourself out early
Most losers wait until race day to admit that they can’t win ever, no matter what. Don’t wait until you toe the line to be frightened by your competition. USA Cycling’s pre-reg list lets you analyze in detail the overwhelming superiority of those who are destined to defeat you. If you recognize someone like Christian Walker, who’s better at his worst than you at your best, remind yourself that he’s a former elite national champion. If it’s a reigning national champ like Rudy Napolitano or Mike Easter, focus on their results, victories, successes and contrast them with all the races you DNF’d.
If it’s the crit start list and it’s someone like Craig Miller or Charon Smith, people who you couldn’t keep up with if you were in a motorcar, visualize how frightened you are by sprinting, by contact, and by their scary, powerful, veiny legs. Stand in the mirror for at least ten minutes each day and analyze the fat pockets around your chin, knees, elbows, and gums.
Racing to lose: The importance of data
The best way to focus on defeat is to utilize your power meter data from the last six months, or better yet, six years. Carefully analyze watt/kg tables for TdF winners, and think about how that one time when you averaged 260 watts for 60 minutes, your best ride ever, you were in the hospital for the following week.
Look at graphs and spreadsheets that indicate decreasing power over time in order to predict “slumping,” which is a loser’s equivalent of “peaking”; that point where all physical factors have coalesced to make you your slowest the entire year (or perhaps your slowest ever). Pay close attention to heart rate trends, and look for indications that although slow and weak and overweight, you are likely overtrained as well.
If that doesn’t work, perform a reverse analysis to see if you are undertrained. Any recent loss of KOM’s on Strava or “PR’s” that put you in the bottom quartile of a segment should be studied in detail, memorized, or even tattooed on your forearm for quick reference in the race in the unlikely event you’re not dropped by Mile 2.
Racing to lose: No excuses
Unprepared losers reach into their bag of excuses to explain failure. Effective, thoroughly prepare losers, however, never seek excuses. They admit openly, before, during, and after the race that “I wasn’t good enough. I’ve never been good enough. I never will be good enough. I suck.”
Memorizing this mantra can help you lose completely before you even check into your hotel.
Preparation is key: Don’t let victory sneak up on you
Every once in a blue moon, a perfectly prepped loser will find himself in a winning break or in fifth wheel coming through the final corner of the crit. It’s important to defeat yourself at the last moment, since the temporary euphoria of being ahead of everyone else could potentially lead to victory.
Proven losers know how to ride dumb in a break by either pulling too much and dropping themselves, or by not pulling enough and getting dumped by the stronger riders. Either approach is okay, whereas potential sprint wins can be snatched from the jaws of victory simply by drooping your head and sighing heavily. The winners will take care of you from there.
(Next: Proper Diet for Losing on Race Day)