Training the mind

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Yes the moustache is real

Denis Troch probably isn’t a name you know but he is an instrumental figure for quite a few French riders. A former professional soccer player with several Parisian clubs, Troch retired into coaching and then onto team management.

But football management is one of the most insecure jobs in the world, managers can get replaced more often that the turf on the pitch. Troch was famously fired after leading team AC Troyes into an impressive lead in Ligue 2. With only a few games remaining in the season promotion to the top flight seemed certain. Then the squad choked and Troch was sacked.

Yet at the same time as he was managing a football team, Troch was also the coach of Bouygues Télécom rider Freddy Bichot. As well as offering the traditional coaching methods, Troch’s speciality was working on the mind. Bichot began to spread the word and other cyclists began consulting Troch for le coaching mental. Not originally a trained sports psychologist, Troch’s ejection from football allowed him the time to get a diploma in the subject. Since then he’s been refining the technique. He explained his work to a management magazine:

“the fans say ‘we’re going to win’, the team owners say ‘we have to win’ and the media say ‘let’s see if the they can win’. The pressure is enormous. Faced with this, the coach and players have to focus on another mantra: ‘we have to do everything to win’.

The idea that an athlete can’t do much about the fans or the media but can focus on training, diet and the other “controllables” within their reach isn’t new, in fact it’s elementary. In football Troch relied on getting other basics right, explaining “80% of my work is spent watching. I say bonjour to everyone. As soon as there’s something different in the attitude of a player, I know there’s a problem. Troch’s work is based on improving a rider’s relaxation and concentration, as well as working on visualisation and even pushing back a rider’s pain thresholds. He works with riders from several French teams and will rendez-vous with them at races if they need it, for example visiting during the Tour de France rest day.

Yoann Offredo

FDJ’s Yoann Offredo is one of the riders who works with Troch. Visible in the classics last year, whether his solo lead on the Poggio in Milan – San Remo or third place in the GP Plouay behind Matthew Goss and Tyler Farrar, the 24 year old Parisian is a prospect for the future. But an uncertain one, partly thanks a tendency to waste energy in the latter part of a race rather than wait for a strategic moment or just the final sprint. Both the rider and his manager Marc Madiot are aware of this weakness. Apparently the FDJ race radio during the last half hour in Plouay was dominated by repeated instructions from Madiot that Offredo had to wait for the sprint. In an interview with the FDJ team website, Offredo confesses:

“I have doubts, I’ve always had them and I don’t know if I’ll ever know how to get rid of them. I don’t believe in myself, at least not until after I’ve crossed the finish line. This doesn’t stop from improving, working and suffering on the bike and to be at the front of a race like the champions, but I do doubt myself.”

Professional loyalty
It’s curious to see one coach working with so many riders across different teams. We’ve seen this happen with physiological coaching, notably Cadel Evans and Ivan Basso were head to head for the Giro d’Italia but both coached by the late Aldo Sassi. I find this fraught with risk, in a hypothetical situation could Sassi advise Basso that the Aussie could be dropped on the Zoncolan? Sassi addressed this, saying his job was to get the rider into peak fitness and it was up to a rider to race. Still, you’d feel strange hiring a coach who also directed your arch rival, no?

That said techniques like mental relaxation and visualisation are a different game, Troch’s role looks less awkward for rival teams. Indeed Troch says he doesn’t encroach on team management by avoiding discussion of results and specific performance with a rider, leaving this to a rider’s management.

La Tête et les Jambes
Troch isn’t alone. Sports psychology is a cornerstone of Dave Brailsford’s methods at Team Sky and other teams and riders have explored the field. From relaxation to visualisation, this has its place, especially since cycling is such a tactical sport where confidence and belief underpin performance. Self-belief might be a hallmark of a champion but that’s not always the case. The first lesson for a rider blessed with physiological talent but a weaker mind is that they can change their mind easier than their legs.

Photo: sports.fr

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{ 3 comments }

TG February 10, 2011 at 11:19 am

I remember reading about someone improving their descending with help like this. It was in a magazine.

The Inner Ring February 10, 2011 at 11:23 am

TG – yes, this is something that relies on skill but sometimes relaxation and even overcoming fears so it could well work.
I think Gianni Bugno, double world champion and grand tour podium rider from the 1990s said he had trouble descending until he started training with an audio cassette with classical music to relax him.

Anon February 11, 2011 at 2:43 am

As a great rider said – “There is no pain. There is only ‘can’ or ‘cannot’ do”.
As a pathlete [pathetic athlete] – you train your mind to just deal with whatever is burning down there and learning to associate those feelings with good things. I see the coupling effect of pain and speed. More pain – faster I go. Simple.

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