Carmen Small: Dealing with disappointment when cycling plans go pear-shaped

Pro cyclists suffer set backs like the rest of us - it's how you deal with it that matters...

Sometimes our training and racing plans don’t unfold as intended – we have family obligations or we get injured or ill. It can be incredibly frustrating when you’re unable to follow through on your best-laid plans, but if an Olympic hopeful can deal with it in this crucial year, there’s hope for the rest of us.

Jessi Braverman (@JessiBraverman) spoke to American rider Carmen Small of Cervélo Bigla Pro Cycling to gather her advice after a recent disappointment…  

Carmen Small at then Giro Rosa – Image: Cervélo Bigla Pro Cycling Facebook page

In early December, Carmen Small was one of ten American women named to the women’s road long team for the 2016 Olympics. Four women from this list will have the honour of representing the United States in Rio next August. The 35-year-old has designed her season around her Olympic dream.

Small’s training program and race schedule for the winter and spring have all been designed to fit together like a puzzle – each piece reliant on the others to bring Small the best possible form going into the Olympics. The Ladies Tour of Qatar, widely recognised as the season opener amongst European-based teams, was a critical part of Small’s plans – so when she received a last minute email explaining that her Swiss-registered trade team had not been invited to race the four-day stage race she was distraught.

Read more about the Tour of Qatar

“Initially, I completely freaked out,” said Small. “How could this happen? We’re the fifth-ranked team in the world. Every other team ranked in the top ten was invited. We had every reason to expect to be there.”

Since Small lives in Colorado, winter training can be a challenge. She had planned to combine a January team camp in Spain with the race in Middle East. The base miles and early season race would offer her a relief from roller-riding and snowy cross-training.

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Beyond the challenges posed by training at home, there’s also the shift in early season targets. Small had expected she would need to be race ready by February 1. Without Qatar on her schedule, she won’t race until Strade Bianche the first weekend in March. It’s not ideal when Olympic selection may come down to early season race performances.

Despite her early disappointment, Small is pragmatic. With help from her coach, she’s adapted to the unexpected changes.

“I’m actively working on maintaining a more positive attitude this year,” she said. “I’m committed to controlling my controllables. Last year there were so many things that were outside my control, and it directly impacted my ability to ride and race.”

Carmen Small’s Five Tips for Ditching Disappointment

Small shares her tips for ditching the disappointment that can accompany a change in plans and embracing the adjustments that naturally follow.

Small and her husband. Image: Cervélo Bigla Pro Cycling Facebook page

1) Identify the problem

“Missing out on Qatar isn’t necessarily the real issue,” said Small. “It’s all the changes around travel and training that had the biggest impact on me.”

2) Adopt Small’s 2016 motto and control your controllables

“My ability to race Qatar is out of my control but nothing else is,” said Small. “I am in control of how I react to the change in plans, and I’m in control of making the decisions that allow me to make a new plan.”

3) Sort through the potential solutions

“I called my coach,” said Small. “It was a ‘Ok – here’s what happened. What’s next?’ kind of conversation. It took a lot of planning, and we considered a few options before ultimately settling on a new game plan.”

4) Put it into perspective

“There’s a visceral gut reaction, and I think that’s ok,” said Small. “But after that, the pity party has to stop. Really bad things happen all the time. Around the same time I found out about Qatar, someone really close to my husband and me passed away. She was sunlight, and she always looked for the good in people, and she was gone. That really puts thing into perspective. This? It’s not that big of deal.”

5) Look for the positive

“I’m married, and I have a husband that I like to see,” said Small. “Not going to Qatar means that I’m home longer with him and our cats. I decided to focus on that.”

Set-backs can be frustrating – but  they don’t have to ruin your plans. Follow Small’s advice – control the controllable – find the positives in the situation. 

Bigla Cervelo Pro Cycling published their own response to the lack of inclusion to the race, which you can find here. 

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