Oliver Naesen has opened up about the mental struggles a rider can go through when things aren't going their way, and that results are even harder to come by when faced with lining up alongside the likes of Tadej Pogačar, Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel.
"I have now learned that I should not compare myself with Van der Poel and Van Aert," Naesen told Wielerflits in a long and engaging interview. "The Tour of Flanders is a good example. When they – together with Asgreen – drove off and I couldn't follow, I didn't care anymore. Fifth or twentieth, who cares. I had started to win. But I wasn't among the best and let it go. A wrong attitude. That was also a lesson.”
The 30-year-old says that after arriving late to the top-level of the sport, stepping up to the WorldTour with IAM Cycling in 2016 at the age of 25, he made progress over the next three years up until 2019.
"I heard then 'you still have plenty of time to win the Ronde once' but now we are four years later and I have not come any closer than then. That's not easy. It has really changed, especially in the last two years. There are guys who are a lot better. Then you need to adjust your style. Even adjust your ambitions. And that is not easy for an ambitious athlete.”
Naesen says he's re-learned what it means to make sacrifices as a professional cyclist - when you train hard for a race and get nowhere near the result you want.
"It's not always easy mentally," Naesen says of his tough season. "And that's new, when I used to be asked if I had to sacrifice a lot to be a professional cyclist, I answered that I had no problem with that. But this year in the Tour I was like… 'F**k, it's damn hard'. I started here with a few miles on the counter, with days of dietinf, not to blame myself, but there is no reward.
“Look at Tadej Pogačar for example. I don't think he trains harder than me, but he's much more talented and goes through life as the god of cycling. If you do everything you can and you are rewarded for it, then life is beautiful and wonderful. If things suddenly go down, the support base becomes much smaller and it quickly becomes too much. It is difficult to separate that psychological effect from the results. I notice that now in myself, but also with team-mates. Let me say that this year I discovered the flip side of the coin. You learn lessons from that, you get to know yourself better.”
The Belgian adds he hasn't received help from a mental coach yet, but that he will make changes to his off-season this year. Usually, he'll finish his road season and then go mountain biking for fun a week later but this year he says he will follow the usual advice of his coach and will now not touch his bike for a month when his 2021 campaign comes to a close.
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1