While his Bbox Bouygues Telecom team-mates celebrated Thomas Voeckler’s stage victory at Bagnères-de-Luchon, Pierrick Fédrigo was, he later admitted, on the verge of breakdown. The Bbox puncheur felt his chance of adding to his two previous Tour stage wins had gone. The following day’s stage to Pau offered him one final chance for victory, and the prospect of failing to take advantage of that last opportunity was shredding his nerves.
This is where former football coach turned sports psychlogist Denis Troch came in. Introduced to Fédrigo earlier in the season by his Bbox team-mate Freddy Bichot, Troch has been tutoring a growing list of clients in positive visualisation techniques. In Fédrigo’s case, Troch has worked on boosting the Bbox leader’s often fragile temperament by encouraging him to focus on "strong moments" in his career, such as his sprint victory over Franco Pellizotti on last year’s Tour stage into Tarbes.
"He visualises a positive image of an event that he has already experienced and summons up that image for two minutes every day, thinking about it when he’s going up a climb during training," Troch told L’Equipe. "While he’s focused on that image he doesn’t think about physical pain at all. In order to conquer his nerves before a race, I’ve given him techniques that enable him to switch from one emotional state to another. He thinks of a positive image, such as being with his family or on the beach."
Fédrigo acknowledges that working with Troch has improved his racing. "Denis manages to get me to let go of things that used to block me mentally. I think of scenarios that I’ve already experienced that boosted my confidence and tell myself that I’m going to reproduce them, and that gives me confidence," Fédrigo explained.
The best example of this prior to the Tour came in March’s Criterium International. Rather than wait for Alberto Contador to make his expected attack on the race’s key mountain stage, Fédrigo made the move himself, winning the stage and going on to take the overall title. That led to him being touted as a good bet for success in April’s Ardennes Classics. But Fédrigo fell back into old habits. "I was anxious, I had knots in my stomach, and my old back pain started to come back, which showed me that I have to keep working on this, that I am still quite fragile."
With this Tour hopes fast disappearing, Fédrigo turned to Troch again. "I gave him three words to focus on rather than a long dialogue, but he was sure to understand the meaning of those words. His powerful reply showed that he did," said Troch, who added that those three words would remain "our secret".
On the road to Pau the next day, Fédrigo was once again the predator who struck at the Criterium International. Part of breakaway of nine riders that formed on the Tourmalet and Aubisque, the Frenchman knew he was the fastest finisher in the group. Buoyed by thoughts of that success in Tarbes last year, he sat at the back of the group to watch his rivals, then burned past them with confident ease. The second man home was Sandy Casar, already a stage-winner at St-Jean-de-Maurienne and another of Troch’s clients.
Troch’s next task will be convincing Fédrigo that he can improve on his paltry tally of just one victory outside France. French national selector Laurent Jalabert felt that the Bbox rider had the potential to contend for the world title last year, but did not believe in himself. Now that Fédrigo is working out exactly how to do so, Jalabert is likely to have a very different rider at his disposal for the Worlds in October.
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