Val wielrennen kampioenschap van de haarlemmermeer

Overcoming a fear of falling on the bike

How to overcome a fear of falling on the bike?

During the Haarlemmermeer Championship at the HSC de Bataaf course in Zwanenburg, we’re barely 10 minutes into the race when I feel my wheel slip in one of the still damp corners. Nothing out of the ordinary, it can happen of course. Except, a year ago, during the descent of the Hai Van Pass in Central Vietnam, I had a hard fall due to a large oil slick. This unpleasant experience left me with a minor trauma that I’ve been working on a lot in the past months.

Whereas before, my cornering technique was one of my best skills, I notice that the fear of falling with the bike has made me tense. I’ve certainly improved, but during the Haarlemmermeer Championship, my emotional thoughts got the better of me. In this article, I want to delve into the strategy as a sports psychologist that I’ve chosen to regain my own confidence!

Val wielrennen
Getting patched up by two lovely Vietnamese nurses

Falling with the bike, a minor trauma

It’s April 2023. Along with some cycling buddies, we’ve just pushed ourselves to the limit over the stunning Hai Van Pass, between Hue and Da Nang in Central Vietnam. As is customary after such a long battle with oneself, each other, and the mountain, we gather atop it, perched on tiny plastic chairs, sipping refreshing drinks, and recounting the heroic struggle and exchanging excuses why we couldn’t hold each others wheels.

After catching our breath, we plunge downward toward Lang Co beach. The road is rough with many potholes and pits. Oil tankers crawl up and down regularly, making it difficult and dangerous to overtake. We’re barely three corners in when I, as the first of six riders, dive into the next hairpin. I steer slightly to the left to take the corner wide before cutting sharply to the right.

Before I can even adjust my line, my bike slips out from under me as if I’m on an ice rink. The other five manage to swerve around me and the massive oil slick. A heartfelt ‘GODVERDOMME’ slips out of me. As I pick myself up, I see that my right side is black with oil, and I have open wounds in several places. My biggest concern is the dirt and possible infections. My bike still works, and thankfully, I can continue the descent. Down below, there’s a pharmacy open with two lovely Vietnamese nurses who patch me up, and I can resume my journey.

val wielrennen vallen fiets
Right before my misery

Championship of the Haarlemmermeer

We fast forward a year. I’m getting into shape a bit later than usual. It’s Sunday, April 21, 2024, and I’m standing at the start of the Haarlemmermeer Championship with my brother Ronald. I’ve been pondering and hesitating for a long time about which category to register for this year. Many of my teammates at Team Utreg ride in the Sportklasse, aka the basement class, and despite the temptation, my pride and ego are greater. I’m not yet in the basement class, Amateurs, aka basement class -1.

As we arrive in Zwanenburg at the sports park of HSC de Bataaf after a ride of 25 kilometers battling against the wind, I see that there aren’t many of us, about 18 riders. However, there are some notable names and recognizable outfits. “It’s going to be tough today,” I hear myself think.

It’s cold for this time of year, but dry and sunny. Long sleeves it is. After warming up, I position myself by the fence for a race of 90 minutes and 5 laps. Quite a long race for such a small group.

Self talk to gain confidence

As soon as the race starts on this small racetrack, the pace picks up, and I noticed during warm-up that the edges of the track at the back are mossy and damp. I don’t consider myself a very strong cyclist, but I’m handy. Riding good lines in the corners is a skill I used to excel at before my fall in Vietnam, but one that I’ve lost a lot of proficiency in over the past year due to fearful thoughts of crashing while cycling. Admittedly, I haven’t often ridden in a group at high speeds approaching corners.

In the third lap, something happens that I can’t afford at that moment: my wheel slips in the corner, even though I don’t seem to be leaning in as much. At that moment, a crazy number of thoughts rush through my mind. Here’s a brief snapshot:

“There we go again.”

“Too much pressure in my tires?”

“Is it still slippery?”

“I really can’t handle corners.”

“Why am I losing so much speed here?”

“What will others think of me?”

“Why can they do it and I can’t?”

“How am I ever going to endure this for 90 minutes?”

“I’ll hit the brakes next time it happens.”

I feel my courage faltering, but I try to pull myself together. As a sports psychologist, I’m thankfully able to recognize what’s happening and know what my task is. I’ve been set back quite a bit in my trauma processing, and irrational and emotional thoughts are taking over. What I want to do at that moment is pull myself out of the emotional brain and get back into my rational brain. I decide to talk to myself in two ways, or even apply self-talk.

Instructive self talk

I want to maintain focus on my task, which is to take the corner as effectively as possible. With instructional self-talk, you ensure that you give yourself instructions. For example, “outside, inside, outside” is a very effective form of instructional self-talk. You approach the corner from the outside, cut it inside, and come out again on the outside. Looking through the corner is a second instruction I give myself to maintain my task focus.

Positive self talk

Another form of self-talk to regain your self-confidence is positive self-talk. You give yourself encouragement and express confidence in yourself. In my case, I do this by injecting logical thoughts about why I slipped there. I put pressure on my pedals too early and the road is drying up now. By using these thoughts, I manage to bring myself back into the race.

Champion of the Haarlemmermeer

After the only serious breakaway of the day is reeled in, it seems like it’s going to come down to a sprint. At 350 meters from the finish, there’s a tight bend, and even before the race, I’ve decided I want to be in 3rd position here to come out well. With a headwind, I want to wait long and only start my sprint at 150 meters. Without fear, we storm towards the last bend with the little peloton, hitting 53 kilometers per hour. I’m on the inside and have to brake slightly to fit back into the train.

I come out of the bend in 5th position. The speed immediately picks up again; there’s no waiting. In the slipstream, I manage to keep up but there’s a small gap.

300 meters to go. 4th position, one man to my right and two ahead of me.

250 meters, Ronald starts his sprint and is in 2nd position, I’m still holding onto that gap.

200 meters, I feel the power in my legs and shift gears, moving into 3rd position.

150 meters, I can shift up again and have closed the gap with the two men ahead of me.

100 meters, every stroke counts, and I draw level with the number one who tries to shut the door on the right but luckily leaves a gap.

50 meters, I’m in the lead and still gaining speed. I glance under my arm, no one’s coming! One hand leaves the handlebar, and I scream out. Fuck yes!!! Champion of the Haarlemmermeer, the most beautiful municipality in the Netherlands.

Val wielrennen kampioenschap van de haarlemmermeer

Did you find this interesting? My name is Lex Ligtenberg, MSc. Sport and Performance Psychologist, and I assist ambitious poker players and elite athletes with their mindset. As a passionate amateur poker player, I discovered during my master’s that the processes and skills applicable in the world of elite sports are exactly the same as those that can be utilized at the poker table. Winning poker players are engaged in delivering top performance both at the tables and during their study sessions. This realization prompted me to focus on providing individual guidance to both poker players and ambitious athletes who are ready to take the next step in their careers!

poker mindset professioneel pokerspeler

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *