I once heard a Cancer specialist being interviewed on the Radio. He mentioned how some cancer patients are told that they have to be positive about recovery. That positivity and willpower will help them overcome cancer.

Double edged sword

He suggested that this mentality can be a double edged sword. The Oncologist’s view was that having a positive attitude is indeed helpful.

however, he also said. That If people are told that they can beat cancer with positive thinking this may be putting a further burden on some cancer sufferers.

Patients who are not recovering may sometimes blame themselves and suffer feelings of guilt, thinking things like “I mustn’t be thinking positive enough”

He agreed that it is important to have a positive outlook, which will certainly help deal with the illness, but will not on its own cure it.

Competitive cycling

So how does the oncologist’s view relate to competitive cycling and cycling success?

The similarity is that some coaches, parents and athletes think that willpower and positive thinking will get results and override physical barriers to performance.

When results are not achieved this can lead to negative feelings of blame and guilt for the athlete.


A coach or parent meets an athlete who has been annihilated in the event after the finishing line.

The athlete says “I was wrecked; I hadn’t got an ounce of energy left”. The coach might say  “you need to be stronger mentally so you can hang on longer; you need to think more positive” and have more willpower!

But what if this athlete just hasn’t the physical ability to match his / her competitors in the competition or has been sick or is poorly trained?

In examples like this Willpower most likely will have absolutely nothing with the rider’s poor performance and lack of cycling success.

In fact the rider will probably have ridden to their absolute physical limit before being dropped.

 Effect on athlete

How does make the rider feel? Put yourself into the cyclists shoes! Physically shattered; he/ she has made every effort and just wasn’t at the required level on the day. He/ she is then told that they don’t have enough willpower or is not thinking positively enough!!!

Let us take two examples of riders of the same weight??? who are capable of reaching a particular sustainable speed before blowing up and having to slow down. Imagine that they are riding side by side on a hill.

Example 1: Physiology will decide the result

cycling fitness or willpower

Physical Fitness is key for cycling

When there is a big difference in power and speed between riders, physiology will decide the outcome.

Rider A will reach his maximum speed and heart rate before Rider B when she is cycling at above 30kph, therefore he will not be able to get enough oxygen to the muscles to sustain her speed and must eventually slow down. Rider B will still be comfortable at this speed and will just ride away from Rider A

 Example 2 :  Willpower could decide the result

Cycling mental and physical fitness

Cyclists of equal physical fitness

When two cyclists are well matched physically then willpower, positive thinking, tactical awareness, determination and ability to suffer could determine the outcome. So what does this mean to cyclists who want to achieve better performances and results?

The key to success

Is to train all the components required to enable the rider to achieve a very high workload specific to the sport. To put simply, building the physical condition to finish your events strongly.

Motivation and dedication to train

The most important mental skills could be to have the motivation, organisation and dedication to work hard at your sport and live a dedicated sporting lifestyle.

It is only then, when you are in battles with opponents of equal ability, that willpower is of major importance and could be the difference in winning or being runner up.

And if you have been training correctly your willpower will be strong from working through tough training sessions.

“The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road; long before I dance under those lights.”  Muhammad Ali

Paddy Doran www.peakendurancecoaching See testimonials here    contact here

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