Sarah Gigante: The importance of belief

 

It’s easy to tell riders to believe in themselves, but sometimes that can be as useful as a chocolate teapot. In a sport where we will all lose so many more times than we will win—even the incredible Lorena Wiebes has lost more races than she has won this season, and that’s saying something! — thinking that you really have a chance to be that one rider out of 140 who will take the victory is easier said than done. I was reminded of this mental struggle, and how I’m definitely not alone in facing it, when I watched Season 2 of Unchained this week (ok, “binged” is a better description… unfortunately I picked up a cold at the Volta a Catalunya on the weekend, and consequently watched all eight episodes as soon as they were released on Netflix!) In the first episode, Tom Pidcock explains to his DS that he is struggling to believe in himself after a hard day in the mountains, and despite his DS’ encouragement and a cheery “back yourself, mate”, Pidcock’s statement that you don’t just gain self-confidence through magic is all too true.

Why is it so important to believe in yourself? If it’s hard to do, is it something we can simply skip? Well, this is like saying FTP intervals are hard (they are!) and asking if we can skip them. Of course we could; no one is making us put in certain efforts on the bike, and no one can or will make us believe in ourselves either. But would the outcome be the same without those painful intervals? Of course not! The same goes for what would happen if you didn’t believe in yourself.

The truth is, no matter who you are, you’re going to face setbacks in your career. Perhaps, as a reader, you’re thinking that some riders seem to be luckier than others, while others certainly seem to be unluckier. I don’t disagree, yet we cyclists are all united in that the metaphorical roads we will ride along throughout our individual careers are not always smooth. Sometimes they’re bumpy, and occasionally they’re downright health and safety violations and would be better classified as goat tracks! The question is not if we will suffer setbacks and disappointments, but when. Thanks to self-belief, we can be more mentally resilient and have the potential to bounce back faster and higher. My coach Dylan likes to call it “failing forward”. My two most recent races are an example of this concept: I was so excited for the hilltop finishes both in the Vuelta and in Catalunya, but I injured my ribs in the former and had to pull out due to sickness in the latter. I’m certainly disappointed, but I’m not absolutely crushed like I think a younger Sarah might have been. Despite not achieving even close to the results I’d hoped for, I still believe in myself. I know I’ve been in great form and nailed the process leading up to these target events, and there’s no reason this unlucky pattern will continue for me and there’s every reason that the next great race could be just around the corner.

I’ve just seen this exact storyline play out at Catalunya for my teammate, and it was wonderful to witness. Our young Kiwi sprinter, Ally Wollaston, came into this tour still on her comeback journey after four months away from the team while she recovered from a knee injury. Speaking to her before the racing started, she sounded well and truly like the old Ally in terms of her form—the Ally who had won the first WWT stage of the season, the Ally who had domestiqued like an absolute legend throughout January, and the Ally who had cleaned up on the track in February—but she seemed a little unsure of herself after such a long period away from racing, and also with the recent Ride London event not going as well as she’d hoped. You can’t just magically gain self-confidence, however what you can do is to put yourself in a positive environment and surround yourself with people who do believe in you. The way the whole team committed 100% to Ally was incredible. With words of encouragement from our DS Jolien D’hoore (definitely the best in the business!) on top of support from selfless teammates such as legendary leadout woman Kim Le Court, Ally put herself right in the action on a hot and hilly Stage 1, which finished in a super tight photo finish with Marianne Vos. After the line, as we gathered together as a team around our sprinter, we sat through ten minutes of intense suspense while we waited to find out who had won… was it Vos, or was it Ally? Ally herself, despite her strong ride, kept saying things like ‘surely I didn’t win’ and ‘it can’t have been me’, but that just added to the explosion of excitement when we were told that Ally did indeed take the victory!

 

A team that always believes! Credit: Emelyne Asselman

 

Come Stage 3, thanks to the team looking out for my health and pulling me out of the tour due to illness, I was now watching on TV, but one huge positive from this was the opportunity to admire my teammates’ full commitment to Ally yet again. This final stage was packed with constant attacks (and dangerous ones at that!) but this aggressive racing was more than matched by Ally’s four biggest believers. In a dreamy repeat of Stage 1, after a strong leadout from Kim, Ally crossed the line in first place. This time, you could already tell her confidence had grown: an almost-too-early celebration and a big smile made for a wonderful photo to admire as we ate our Barcelona pizzas soon after.

 

Ally taking home the win in Stage 3 after an epic weekend battling Marianne Vos. Credit: Sprint Cycling

Believing in yourself is not just a cheesy motto, but instead it’s a catalyst for success that can help turn dreams into reality. It’s not always easy to do, but each time something goes well, whether that’s a small moment in training or a big Stage 1 victory against a childhood hero, treat it as a deposit in your self-belief savings account. Positive self-talk, celebrating the big and small wins along the way and reflecting on your strengths and preparation all go a long way and will work 95% of the time. However, for that other 5%, those times when you are struggling to believe and have used up all of your savings… surround yourself with positive people and soak up the support. If everyone had a team as wonderful as AG Insurance Soudal around them, the world would be a better place—and we would all believe in ourselves that much more!

Sarah

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