How to win the Tour de France

As Bradley Wiggins becomes the first British winner of the Tour de France, Dr Victor Thompson, a Chartered Psychologist, describes the challenges in one of the world's toughest sporting events. Following the historic results for British cycling in the 2012 Tour, take another look at the article we ran earlier this summer.

Talent and form or race-related fitness are very important, but there are other important factors to consider. One of these is having the right team behind you. 

Wiggins’ team is strong and experienced. They are working for him, well bonded and clear about its task, which is very important for the good performance of any team - inside or outside of sport.  

He has been able to plan his season around the Tour de France - between races Wiggins has been able to head back to his training base in Mallorca to do race-specific training. 

Team Sky is well funded and has a great set of support staff to help with training plans and strategy. His team boss, Dave Brailsford, has led the GB track cycling team for a number of years and we all know how successful they have been - probably the most successful ever.

But Wiggins isn’t a sure bet. Cycling, as with all sports, has no clear winner until the competition is over. This is one of the reasons why sport is so exciting and interesting. Almost anything can happen which can influence the result before the finish line is crossed or the whistle is blown.

To maximise the chances of winning, this is what a cyclist, like Wiggins, needs to do during the three week tour:

  • Know why you want to win, how good it will feel, and how you will maximise your chances of winning. 
  • Have a clear race plan for the three weeks. Know what you are going to do each day, when you are going to cycle hard and how hard, when you are going to go easy and how easy. 
  • Know the course for each day and the main hazards, such as roundabouts and 90 degree corners. This reduces the chance of getting caught out. Wiggins crashed last year when he was reported to be in the form of his life and suffered a broken collarbone.
  • Know who to look out for, who to follow, who to react to and who to let pass you. 
  • Recall all your training and race experience. You can draw on this physically and psychologically to help you deliver. 
  • Manage self confidence, deal with self-doubts, trust your plan and the plan of your team.
  • Maintain good relations with your team: the cyclists and support staff. Show leadership - keep believing in them, keep supporting them, and go that extra mile for them. 
  • Get away from the circus surrounding the tour, including the media, fans, demands and distractions, so you can relax mentally and physically. 
  • Hurt when it counts. When you push your body, your mind tells you that it hurts and you should back-off. To give your best performance you need to be able to relish this level of discomfort, to endure it and to interpret the pain as a sign that you are doing what is required. 
  • When climbing with your rivals, know that they are hurting at least as much as you. Love the challenge of seeing if they will crack before you do. 
  • Hope that luck is on your side. Other tour contenders have been caught-up in crashes, slipped on oil patches, found spectators in their path, and even been punched by spectators.

In conclusion, talent, physical preparation, psychological preparation, strategy, execution and luck would all help Wiggins deliver this year.

You can learn about Dr Thompson's work on his website and you can follow him on Twitter

Find out more about sports psychology at our Going for Gold website.

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