After the race I stood chatting with another athlete that had just done the same race as me. I was telling him how strong he rode and that I felt he was capable of winning the race that day. The race was the Texas State Criterium Championships. The race ended in an 11-man break away that went clear of the field and held off the pack to contest the win. I was one of the 11 riders and thus had a front row seat to the actions of the athlete I spoke of above.
As the race went past the 60 minute mark, of a scheduled 90 minutes, I could begin to see who the stronger riders in the break away were. There were those of us, myself included, that sat on the back of the break and pulled through sparingly. Then there were those riders who were constantly near the front and moving the break along with their strong pulls. Somewhere in the middle you had the riders that were playing poker and trying to hide their cards as much as possible.
The laps continued to count down and this meant the riders in the break began to strategize how they would win the race. Some of us had a concrete plan while others did not. Being at the will of your opponent and their plans usually does not bode well. I find it amazing how often a rider will simply crumble and give in to the wishes of another rider simply because their competitor has the facade of confidence in what they are trying to do.
Going back to my conversation with one of the riders in the break after the race, he expressed some disappointment in his result. I didn't make this any better by reminding hm of how good his legs were and how I thought he was one of the stronger riders in the break. As we continued to chat he then told me of the mental mistake he made that cost him a better result. I am calling it a mental mistake because the rider himself even admitted that he had the legs to do what he was thinking of doing in the moment.
The race course had a short brick section that turned left onto the finishing straight. From the exit of the brick section to the finish was only about 150 meters. Your position coming out of the brick section was essentially where you would finish place-wise.
Knowing this, we all knew that going into the brick section in prime position was of utmost importance. There really wasn't a place to come around anyone in the brick section either, so that was a neutral spot to make up any ground. Let's get back to the mental mistake. Said rider admitted to me that he thought about hitting the gas and moving up to better his position going into the bricks.
He thought about this but didn't act on his instinct. In chatting further with him about it, he said he failed to move up because he wanted to conserve his energy for the final 150 stretch coming out of the bricks. I quickly interceded with "well your position out of the bricks was your finishing position, so it would've been better to have burned the match to move up and at least give yourself a chance to contest for the win." The rider agreed with me. He knew what he needed to do, but was afraid of doing it because he was looking to the finishing sprint. The problem with this thinking is that in not taking action he threw his chances of winning out the window. I do not know what would have transpired had said rider contested the sprint for the win, but I cannot deny he had the legs to do so.
In order to win we have got to be willing to risk it all. There are times when it will work out and times when it will not. It is always better to find out than wondering what could have been. A simple change in mindset is what can take a rider like the one mentioned above from a contender to a state champion. I am confident that this young man will find himself on the top step of some races here soon.