When I'm having a bad day on the bike, I try not to beat myself up about it. I'm mindful of it instead—"OK, you're hurting"—and can be OK with it. I use a mental checklist: I ask myself, "What's going on here, and what can I do about it?" I have phrases that I say to myself, like "C'mon, Kat, get your head in the game," or "Breathe!"
Steven: What's most tough about a stage race like the Tour of California is that it's long. It's challenging to stay focused and stay alert. You're getting tired, and it can be really frustrating: some guys are stronger at the beginning, and some guys are stronger at the end. You have to be careful not to say to yourself, "Ugh, we have another five-hour ride today." I try to live in the moment and take every stage like it's a one-day race.
The Tour of California is nerve-wracking for me because it's so close to home, and it's my first race of the year. Through the season, I'm doing 60 to 100 races, and it eventually becomes second nature, just like going to work. But for me, the important thing to work on in this first race is self-doubt and negative thoughts.
For me, positive affirmations overpower the negative thoughts—I use a trigger word or phrase. For example, before a tough climb, I'll say to myself, "it's going to be an aggressive climb." I'm so psyched that I don't care how hard it is. I've found this really helped before the cobble climbs in Belgium—it's a battle, guys are bumping arms, and there's an insane amount of pain. My director would say to me, "there's an aggressive section coming up." Now I do that for myself.
Ben: The biggest thing that has helped me is confidence in my preparation. I know I've done what I needed to do, regardless of how I'm going at that time.
There's a bit of a gamble to racing—whether it's on an actual win, or losing a minute on the GC. As long as I feel I've given it everything I had, I'm satisfied.
In a stage race, you have to stay tippy-top mentally, because there's almost always a next day. Even if you give it everything and perform above expectations on one day, you still have the next stage(s) to go. I try to limit my mental "amplitude" during any one stage—I try to remain as calm as possible to preserve the mental energy that I'll need for the next stage or a specific moment in a stage.