The mind, as you might have heard, is a powerful thing. Even those of us who are a bit thick possess hidden depths and reserves of resource, buried skull-deep in that wobbly blancmange we call the brain.
The cliché industry has been all over the power of the mind for years – healthy body healthy mind, mind over matter – but funk legend and all-round philosopher George Clinton gave us the definitive take: Free your mind and your ass will follow.
You DAMN right George!
And if that isn’t a slice of inspirational cycling advice to print on your top tube and give you pep on a bad day then I don’t know what is. What we can say for sure is that if your head is, to continue the posterior theme, up your arse, then you will have a bad day on the bike.
There’s a moment in the David Millar documentary Time Trial that illustrates this. In the movie Millar, a year too far into a long pro career, has morphed from classy race-contending pro to cannon fodder. Hanging off the back of the race, grumpy, and raging against the dying of the light.
The camera tracks our man at one point, racing though Italy, I think, as he sidles up alongside Geraint Thomas mid-race while the peloton ticks along in a lull. Millar is miked up, and we hear him strike up a chat: alright G…man, this race…so tired…this weather is horrific…such a bad day…blah de blah…
A stream of raw negativity, like sewage into a pristine sea of chipper young pros.
If Millar’s body is letting him down then his mind is following. Or maybe leading. Either way, this is the not the positive psyche of a bike racer on the cusp of a good result.
To Millar’s credit, he has the self-awareness to see this (presumably along with the director in the edit room) and the documentary hits our screens as a poignant portrait of a spent force.
Thomas’s reaction is most telling though. Team Sky (now Team Ineos) do no mess about. They clearly give short shrift to the entire concept of negativity.
We watch as ‘G’ blanks elder statesman Millar. Just does not engage with him. As if he hears negative words plopping from the mouth of the Scot and Pavlovially equates that with detriment to his performance. Worried he’ll be dragged down too, to wallow in the painful struggle of it all.
Bike racing is a tough old game as it is, last thing anyone needs is to shoot themselves in the foot.
Or head, rather.
Thomas just pedals harder and eases away, exit screen left, to leave Millar talking to the figurative hand because the figurative face ‘aint listening.
What Thomas knows, and Millar is too far gone to engage with, is that to be positive on the bike sends your mind down the road, around the corner, and over the crest of the next climb. Progress is then achieved involuntarily; as a tall man leaning forward cannot help but take a step the same is true on the bike.
Lean into the day, the ride, the road.
When the pain comes – in the legs, or the lungs – you knew it was coming and you’re waiting; stripped to the waist, massive blade between your teeth, and ready to fight like a knife-wielding alley cat.
If you expect tosuffer like a dog, on the other hand, you will suffer like a dog.
Free your mind, as Clinton and his Funkadelic collective wisely counselled, and your Lycra-clad ass will follow.
(Images: The Scottish Documentary Institute – Martin Radich/Joakim Karlsson)