Pro Cyclists' Mental Health

With the news that Peter Kennaugh is taking an indefinite break from cycling to deal with mental health issues and there being a lot of focus on depression and cycling I came across an old article that I found really interesting and gives some insight into possible aggravating factors


It was refreshing to see Kennaugh’s honesty if very sad, I remember watching him in the 2013 TDF decimate the lead group up the entirety of the HC Port de Pailhères, lead them down the descent, and then tee Porte and Froome up on the first few km of the final cat 1 climb. I was sure I was watching the next big grand tour name making his mark.

I think for professionals a lot of us forget how immense the pressure is, contracts hanging over your head every year based entirely on your performance on a few race days. I know how I feel when one event in my entirely voluntarily racing career goes badly, never mind how it would feel when your entire financial security relies on it.

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Great post. I suffer from anxiety which isn’t too far removed from what PK is likely trying to battle with depression.

Like you I feel pretty rubbish when I can’t ride my bike, feel like my clubmates are progressing more than I am etc. If my income depended on it one can only imagine the weight that would add.

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I started suffering from major depressive disorder in late 2008 and whilst the meds help I’ve had some pretty dark periods. The past two years have been very stressful in all areas of my life and as a result I’ve been severely depressed to the point where for the first time in twenty years I’ve found myself unemployed, unable to leave my flat frequently, unable to socialise and generally been feeling lifeless. However, i discovered cycling last summer, ride frequently and recently bought a used Kickr and discovered structured training. Whilst cycling isn’t the panacea cure for me it certainly helps a lot. However, I’m very happy i don’t have the stress of professional cycling, it must be brutal.

I used to be afraid to talk about depression but the more open I’ve been about it the more people have responded saying either they have suffered or they know someone who has. On the flip side, whilst it’s the biggest killer of men my age in the UK and the reaction I got from some (ex)friends were along the lines of “choose to be happy” or “stop feeling sorry for yourself” - as if anyone doesn’t want to be happy!

Our minds are equally if not more important than our bodies and yet mental health issues are often swept under the carpet. Talking about it raises awareness and hopefully helps those suffering feel less alone.


That’s great to hear the other side; the positive impact cycling can have.

While I don’t have depression to any significant level, I do have social anxiety, sometimes quite severely. And I find that cycling has been a really good way to meet people and just spend time with people and not feel awkward. You just go for a ride, and chat about bikes and jobs and lives and whatever, in a way that I would find impossible at a party or work event or something.


reading Clara’s book at the moment…open heart open mind…

I know the feeling, when I’m depressed in particular I also get pretty bad social anxiety to the point where I’ll often cancel attending things because I’m so afraid of socialising even though I almost always have a pretty good time when I do go. I joined my local triathlon club on the advice of a friend and whilst I don’t swim or run I do enjoy the group rides and i’m hoping to build up my motivation to learn how to swim. I’m looking forward to the group rides that we’ll do in mallorca next week at the club training camp - hopefully I’ll be a hell of a lot fitter thanks to my Kickr and TR than I was when working 7d/w only allowed me to do 3h of training in the lead up to that trip :grin:

Do you find you have a good time when you do go to social events? I’m not brilliant at small talk for some reason and it’s something I’d like to be better at but I’m not a natural.

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Sometimes I do have a good time, but whether I do or not, I spend a massive amount of time beforehand feeling anxious about it. I worry that I’ll have no-one to talk to, and/or nothing to talk about. Whereas at a club ride I know we can just chat training and wheels and powermeters and Bolts vs Garmins and favourite energy bars and cycling holidays, and then that moves you onto other subjects.

That Guardian article is a bit misleading. Titled “Cycling’s…relationship with depression” that then goes on to list lots of other issues that cause depression and anxiety. It seems a bit disingenuous to suggest there’s such a strong link between cycling and depression.

Correlation doesn’t equal causation and all that…

I know the feeling/thoughts very well and I’m sorry you have to go through that. The last party i went to I had a really good time until I met an acquaintance and we ran out of stuff to talk about and I was so embarrassed that rather than moving on to talk to other friends I made my excuses and went home - doh.

I doubt there’s anything particular about cycling that causes depression - at pro level in all sport there is huge pressure and if you’re suffering from depression or susceptible to it then that pressure probably isn’t going to help and could cause it to get triggered or worsen. I’d argue that non-pro cycling is probably very helpful in the treatment of depression - exercise can be beneficial to mood, getting outside is helpful, socialising on group rides is helpful, I even find cleaning and maintaining my bike very calming, almost meditative. This morning I was really down but I managed to get off the sofa, pop the cassettes off both my rear wheels and spend an hour or so cleaning, drying and reassembling them and now I feel a bit better :slight_smile: Weird, definitely.


How is the book? I would like to get back into yoga (not sure if the book covers that much) but despite being between jobs and having time I can’t work up the motivation to exercise other than TR and the occasional outdoor ride.

I couldn’t agree more!

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