9 Ways Your Ego Destroys Your Performance

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Having a healthy ego is a good thing. You take pride in your abilities, have a solid sense of who you are and your place in the world, and generally positive self-esteem. Ego plays a role in an athlete’s level of confidence. It can be a factor in helping you sign up for a challenging event, and for racers it can be an important factor in the positive steps you take to put yourself in a position to win. But here are 9 ways your ego can trip you up:

Ego Trip #1: You pull too long

If you’re spending more time pulling at the front to prove how strong you are, that’s your ego softening you up to get dropped later in the ride. Unless you’re a pro paid to spend all day riding on the front, take your pull and rotate off. Save that energy for later. Some athletes also get sucked into trying to pull just as long – or a little longer – than the rider before them or the rider taking the longest pulls. “I can pull just as long as he can!” Just because you can doesn’t mean you should or that it’s a smart tactic for you.

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Ego Trip #2: You start climbs too hard

Ego can drive you to charge up the first 500 meters of a climb because it’s satisfying to push other riders to a challenging pace. And doing that in a race can be a good strategy for causing a split in the group. But doing it climb after climb on training rides or surging so hard that you end up being dropped later on is a sign that your ego is writing a check your body can’t cash.

Ego Trip #3: You failed to do your homework

“It’s just another century/criterium/mountain bike race, how hard can it be?” Ego can manifest as overconfidence when it comes to pre-event planning. Even if you have been an athlete for decades you should always take the time to research the event you are signing up for. A few years ago I saw an athlete show up for the Dirty Kanza 200 with road shoes and pedals instead of mountain bike shoes and pedals. It’s a gravel race, so presumably you could ride all 200 miles without getting off the bike. But anyone who has done the event or researched it realizes it’s a near certainty you will be walking your bike through a field, creek, or mud bog at some point in the race. At the Belgium Race Experience last year we rode the Tour of Flanders Sportive on a cold and rainy day. The next day I talked to the leader of a high-end tour group and learned that fewer than 50% of their riders finished, and those who did had stopped at the hotel to warm up and get more clothes partway through. Team CTS was prepared for the weather because we did our homework and every rider finished, and we only went back to the hotel when the event was done!

Ego Trip #4: You start your ride too hard

I know you don’t have as much training time as you’d like and you want to maximize the time you have, but time trialing out of the driveway isn’t smart. If you want to have a high-quality workout it pays to start your ride at a moderate pace, warm up, and then ratchet up the intensity once you’re ready. This ego trip also hinders athletes on super-long rides, like the 120-mile stages we ride at the USA Pro Challenge and Tour of California Race Experiences or long Gran Fondos. When you start out too hard you burn a lot of matches you can’t get back. Those efforts catch up with way before the end and you just don’t have anything left for the final two hours.

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Ego Trip #5: You ride overgeared

“I can ride this climb in the 23.” Most of us ride the same routes over and over in training and we get a sense for what gearing we can normally use on climbs and other segments of the loop. If you’re accustomed to riding a certain climb in the 39×23, your ego may entice you to use that gear when every other signal is telling you it’s too big and you’d be better off using the 25- or 27-tooth cog. Maybe there’s a headwind or you’re tired. Maybe it’s been a few months since you last climbed this road or trail and you don’t have the same fitness or you’ve gained a few pounds. Don’t get hung up on what gear you “should” be able to push; use the gear that keeps your feet moving and your power output where it needs to be.

Ego Trip #6: You underdress in the winter

Take a cue from the pros. When it’s cold they gear up for training rides. It’s their job to get out there and train in the cold and they know that dressing to stay warm makes those rides more comfortable and enables them to stay out longer. Yes, we’ve all seen pros racing on cold days in shorts and minimal gear, but they’re also generating a ton of heat because of the intensity and they’re willing to be cold if it means going faster. You don’t need to do that, so put on your leg warmers and get a nice warm pair of gloves.

Ego Trip #7: Everything you own is as light as it can be

Ultralight equipment is cool, there’s no doubt about it. But it breaks. Not as much as it used to, but it still breaks more often than more robust equipment. You will lose more time fixing something at the side of the road or trail than you will gain by riding ultralight equipment. When we designed the custom build for CTS Coach bikes we deliberately struck a balance between weight and durability in our equipment choices. The Ridley Helium is light, but not the lightest version. The stems and bars from Ritchey are light, but they have lighter options. Even the Enve rims we chose are more robust than other options they offer. The bikes are very slightly heavier than they could be, but they are also bomb proof.

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Ego Trip #8: You succumb to the “Go big or go home” mentality

I’m all for setting big goals and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, but be smart about it. If the “A line” in a mountain bike event is too gnarly for your skills, take the B line or run it. If life got in the way and you’re not prepared for the epic ride your buddies have planned, be honest with yourself and choose another option. Many times when people get themselves into dangerous situations during sporting events it’s because they ignored clear signs they were in over their heads.

Ego Trip #9: You mistake Strava stats for racing skill

I love Strava, so much so that CTS has partnered with Strava to make training plans, CTS training videos, and Strava-enabled coaching packages available to Strava Premium members. But there’s a difference between setting a PR or setting a KOM on a climb and being able to get to the top first in a group setting. Your segment times are typically self-paced, meaning you can decide exactly where to go harder and where to relax. In a group setting, you need to race the people around you as well as the course. A smarter rider who knows how to soften up the competition and leverage group dynamics and the characteristics of the climb will often be more successful in a group ride or race setting. Strava is a great training and social tool, but to be successful in racing you have to learn how to compete against other people, not just the clock.

Many athletes I know and have worked with have big egos, but the best and most accomplished athletes know when to check their egos and when to leverage them. Many of the amateur and time-crunched athletes I know have big egos that have served them well in their business and professional careers. That level of ego sometimes becomes a liability in athletic training and competition because it leads them to overestimate their fitness or skill level. If you’re struggling with some of the problems discussed above, the trouble – and the solution – might just be in your head.

Have a Great Weekend
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS


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Comments 6

  1. Pingback: 4 Ways to Win by Being a Smarter Athlete - CTS

  2. Oh crap! Guilty as charged – but I LOVE all that stuff – what’s life if you can’t do all those things?

    What you fail to tell us is how to stop yourself getting sucked up into all that. I just can’t hide at the back and draft, it just makes me nuts. And I don’t mind grinding back the last 10K when the bunch disappears off down the road. The beer always taste great after.

  3. To the above, may I add one more?o
    10. You think the point of riding is racing. You treat every ride as a race, a practice race or training for a race. All you think about is competing, riding through the pain and beating those around you to the next stop light. In fact, the best part of riding is being out in wind and the weather listening to the sounds. As the Assos people say, “Enjoy your ride.”

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