In March last year Alex Barros was just about hanging onto his grand prix status. The respected and experienced Brazilian's only grand prix victory was a six and a half years distant memory and he needed to start winning again if his 14-year grand prix career was going to continue into the 21st century.

Barros was preparing for the new season by training in a Barcelona gym. He became friends with the manager of the gym Rodolfo Hernandez, a former Tae Kwondo world champion.

That friendship soon turned into a partnership that revitalised the West Honda Pons rider's career.

Two more grand prix victories followed and a fourth place in the MotoGP 500 Championship ensured that Barros would be around for a long time to come thanks to the skills of Rodolfo both as a physical and psychological advisor.

The partnership based on trust and respect has as much to do with mental as the nutritional and physical preparation. It's a combination that has brought back the good and successful times for Barros who even at 30-years-old is regarded as a veteran after 180 grand prix appearances.

''I was working in a hotel gym when Alex walked in and asked for a look around. He soon joined and we became friends,'' recalled Hernandez, who is never far from Barros' side during a MotoGP weekend. ''He used to ask me for training tips and we got onto nutritional advice, in which he was really interested, in the end he asked me to work with him full time. At first I refused as I didn't think I knew enough about bikes and I had various business interests to take care of. However Alex insisted and I eventually decided to give it a go.''

Immediately the pair sat down and worked out a complete physical and nutritional programme for the season although parts of it shocked the rider.

''I came up with a training schedule and new diet which quite shocked Alex but he wanted to make improvements and decided he had nothing to lose,'' explained Hernandez. ''We identified the demands of different tracks and worked out the power he would need for each race by studying times, speed, corner angles and things like that.''

Within two months Barros had lost four kilos of fat and had considerably increased his strength and the results were clear to see out on the track. He took his very first pole position, after 168 grand prix starts, at Mugello in Italy. He followed that with a second pole two weeks later in Barcelona and was so unlucky not to win the race when he was sidelined with an electrical fault. Two weeks later the Barcelona disappointment was forgotten when Barros won the rain affected Dutch Grand Prix at Assen to give the new partnership their first success.

''I completely changed Alex's body composition through his diet. He was eating a lot of pasta for example, which all athletes think is a good thing but it's just a myth. If you don't balance it out with the right proteins it can have a fattening effect, so that was the first thing to go. When I met Alex his body was 13 per cent fat, now it's 6.3 per cent. He lost 4kg in weight but has put on 2kg in muscle.''

So the physical and nutritional side of things were taken care of but so much of grand prix success depends on mental strength and confidence. That was were Hernandez came into his own.

''Rodolfo has helped me out so much,'' explained Barros, who followed his success in Holland by winning the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring. ''The physical side has obviously made big changes but it's the mental strength he gives me that really makes me feel so strong. When I feel strong inside I feel like I can do anything. I feel confident about my ability and with us studying each circuit and adapting my training to the race I feel a lot safer, better prepared and can race to 100 per cent of my potential.''

Hernandez was a student at New York University and learnt about Neuro Linguistic Programming(NLP) which was pioneered at the University of Santa Cruz in California in 1975.

''It's extremely complicated but the best way I can describe it is comparing it to the way a computer works,'' he explained. ''If you want to close a programme down or save some work, your computer will ask you to confirm yes or no. NLP helps your mind to click yes even if you are doubtful or lack confidence, and helps you remain positive and focussed on what you are doing. It's not programming his brain with anything from outside, simply bringing out the positive things that Alex has inside and making sure he has them with him at the time he most needs them.''

The stress of a grand prix weekend can get to even the strongest rider and Barros in convinced you have to learnt to relax if you are going to be successful.

''Things can get very hectic and sometimes the pressure is just so much it makes you feel stiff that you can hardly ride the bike,'' revealed the West Honda Pons star. ''If you have problems and your mind can't relax, then you get so stressed thinking about the problem that you don't have enough mental capacity to find a solution. I need Rodolfo there to make me relax, find those solutions and be in the right state of mind for the race.''

However in this new world some things never change. Barros likes nothing better than a good old fashioned run to relax the mind and tone the muscles.

''My favourite exercise is still jogging,'' confided the Brazilian. ''I love being out in the countryside or up in the mountains. It's a great way to stay fit, keep your legs strong and get an all-over aerobic workout. I don't work on any specific parts of my body because bike racing is a sport where you need to be powerful all over and have good distribution of strength. If your legs are not strong enough then other parts of your body have to compensate and they get exhausted twice as quickly. It's not like car racing where the only real part of your leg you use is your foot. If you want to stay on board a MotoGP bike you need strength and balance throughout your body.

"I think this is the most important aspect of sports training in general, as balance is the most important characteristic of any discipline. You have to adapt your training routine to keep your body in proportion and equally balanced.''

Certainly Alex Barros and Rodolfo Hernandez have struck the right balance to bring further success to the West Honda Pons team in the most competitive world motorsport arena.


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