Dr. Joan’s Sports Psych Talk: Tour of California begins Sunday
Another year has gone by, the Amgen Tour of California begins again this Sunday, May 16th. The 2010 Tour has been moved from February to May. But for the first time in the five-year history of the race, there will not be a stage winding through the golden hills of Marin. Marin residents have expressed mixed reactions, ranging from disappointment to seeing it as one of the inevitable changes of life.
A multi-day stage race, like all bike racing, is full of strategy and tactics. There are psychological aspects to the strategy and tactics that are critical to success in the race. A simple example of race tactics might be deciding when to hang with the main group of riders (peloton) and when to make a break (speed up to get ahead of the peloton.). In terms of strategy, each team may target specific stages to win; whereas other teams may be solely focused on getting their GC (General Classification) guy in the top standing at particular times in the race. Each team in a stage race operates as a unit whose primary goal is to get their GC member to the front of the peloton in terms of time. The team members are divided into four categories, domestiques (dedicated to bring the GC’s success), sprinters, climbers, and all-rounders. A stage race features many competitions within the major overall race. Each stage counts as a race unto itself. Besides the General Classification (GC), there are award classifications for the best sprinters, climbers, and time-trialists. One of the factors that made Lance Armstrong such a brilliant team leader was his ability to direct and control his team-mates psychologically, as well as physically. They were all focused on one objective, helping Lance win. It worked and Lance won an unbelievable seven Tours de France.
A Marin County legend and owner of A Bicycle Odyssey in Sausalito, Tony Tom provided me with the history of the Tour of California going back to the early ’70’s. Tony, at a young 19-years-old, opened his shop A Bicycle Oddessy in 1976. Tony’s shop is still known for Tony’s hands-on customer service and high end equipment. The first Tour of California was held in 1972 and started in Berkeley. It was organized by Peter Rich who owned Velo Sport in Berkeley, where the race started and was held for one year. Eventually, Tony and Dwight McCann obtained the rights to the Tour of California name in 1988, which they held for 5 years. In 1989, another concerted effort was launched to have another Tour. Three-time Tour de France, champion, Greg Lemond, the first American to win the Tour de France, was involved in the organization. Unfortunately, a key player was called away to the first Gulf War and the effort collapsed.
The most recent inception of the race, the Amgen Tour of California saw Tony intimately involved with the race development and planning. Another unsung hero who put his heart and soul into volunteering and helping shape the Amgen Tour was Bill Stephens of Sausalito. Bill was Volunteer Coordinator for the whole tour for the first several years. Fully committed and focused, the first three years saw Stage 1 leaving from Sausalito with great pomp and circumstance. Now, the race has taken on a life of it’s own, but not without the significant assistance of Marin County residents.
Dario Fredrick, the director of Whole Athlete in San Anselmo, is a coach of one of the professional riders in the tour, Stephen Cozza. Cozza is a member of the US-based Team Garmin-Chipotle. Dario first met up with Stephen at a local bike shop,Sunshine Bicycles in Fairfax. Stephen became a Whole Athlete client working with Dario on his cycling program. Despite Cozza’s series of injuries (one quite serious), he’s managed to rally back. He credits the help of Dario Fredrick. Stephen’s t-shirts, available on his website read “Never Give Up!” Much like the atmosphere Dario has created at Whole Athlete, his attitude remains positive. The Whole Athlete credo is, “Dedication, Integrity, and Fun!” Stephen looks at challenges as opportunities. His mental capacity and toughness are well known in cycling circles. Dario describes Cozza’s main qualities as having a strong mental fortitude, tenacity, and focus. I’ll be looking forward to charting his progress at the Amgen Tour of California.
When I think about the past Marin visits of the Tour of California, the energetic folks who made it possible, and the great coaches who prepare each athlete, I learned that a major stage race involves a regiment of people connected to cycling in different ways. I hope that, with the number of athletes involved in cycling, and the efforts of folks like Tony Tom, Bill Stephens, and Dario Fredrick, the Tour of California will grace Marin County again soon.
Dr. Joan Steidinger is a sports and clinical psychologist with offices in Mill Valley and San Francisco. She has been practicing sports psychology with clients ranging from recreational to pro athletes for the past 17 years.
As an athlete herself, she has been a competitive ultrarunner, Ride & Tie competitor, and ultradistance cyclist.