[Editor's Note: This article was originally published in February 2007.]
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! As we begin this new season, we asked Bobby Julich, Ivan Dominguez, Dario Cioni and Magnus Backstedt how they motivate themselves through a long season and their personal fitness preparation as they enter the racing season.
Pez: How do you maintain motivation throughout such a long season, knowing you are a professional and representing your team and sponsors? How do you plan your season to accomplish both personal and team goals?
Bobby J: I think that changes yearly and throughout the year depending on how the season is going. I am older now and know my body very well. I know when I can get away with pushing myself and when it is not worth the effort.
I try to start off the season strong, and then take a little break, and then build up for the Tour. Once the Tour is over, if I am feeling strong (mentally as well as physically) I just ride until the wheels fall off. Normally, that bubble is at the end of August and I call it a year.
Ivan: It doesn't matter who I race for, whether it's a 'big-time' sponsor or just the corner shop. I, as a cyclist, have to keep the same motivation because this is my profession and my reputation is on the line. I have to be true to myself first in order to respond to sponsors.
How do I keep motivated throughout the year? Competition keeps me motivated. Every cyclist races to win. Also, through the years, I have met great people and some people from the public have gotten to know me by articles, etc. So, they come up to me at races to greet or congratulate me, or get a signature. When I am racing in very small towns, I hear them yell my name and this motivates me. I owe it to my fans to do as well as I can.
How long can I stay peaked? I cannot perform at the same level all year long. I work with my coach, Massimo Testa, to try for my race schedule to match the peaks of my performance within my physical abilities. So, there is a particular time when I must be at my peak. I train for a particular race, or series of races.
I have downtime. When the season is over, you can relax. During the season, maybe I stay at home one race instead of traveling; just knowing you don't have to get on a plane again can be a relief.
Dario: Being focused while racing is extremely important, since to do well you must be able to surpass the pain threshold. Only in this way can I reach a higher level of performance that will enable success. I think to be focused the whole season is impossible, so what I do initially is set my season objectives. As I get close to them, I increase my concentration level with the help of my team staff.
I think you can keep top form for a maximum of 30-40 days followed by a down period where I allow myself to switch completely off for a week and then start building up for the next event.
Magnus: It's more of a question of what you want out of the season as a professional athlete, rather than making sure you please the directors and sponsors. I always want to get the maximum out of the season to ensure I get a new contract for the next year and if possible a bigger one.
I also think that it is important to have a small break from racing after the spring classics so you can regroup and focus on riding tours. To stay on top form physically for any longer period of time is quite difficult. We are talking of a couple of weeks on absolute peak form, and then there are the few weeks on near peak form before and after your absolute peak.
So I think its very important to have a very high base level so you can perform well even if you are not peaking right then. I also believe that a 90 percent body with a 110 percent head always makes for a better result.