Cycling and Business Share Common Traits
icycle racing is a team sport, and as such, it requires top performers who not only strive for their own excellence, but also take on the role of raising the execution level of their peers. The success or failure of the team depends on these key players to raise the bar higher than most think possible.
The first trait that leaders often look for in top performers is ability. Can these individuals perform their given tasks at a high level and, more crucially, are they able to “think on their feet” and build successful strategies based on situations “on the ground?”
Racing in the 1988 Coors Classic, a two-week stage race in the high mountains of Colorado, I was able to take the leader’s jersey with a calculated move in an early stage. The next day was a mountain stage, not my specialty. The Colombian team forged an early lead in the stage while I was hanging on for dear life in the main peloton. After cresting the climb together, Davis Phinney, our road captain on Team 7-Eleven, brought our team together and had our six men riding hard at the front to bring back the early aggressors. Based on strategy that was planned during the race, the boys rode harder than I thought possible to defend my leader’s jersey – pure sacrifice in the face of massive adversity.
A second key factor that can determine high performance is social skill, also called Emotional Intelligence. High-performance players can manage their own complex tasks with integrity while at the same time building and maintaining cooperative working relationships with their teammates and other competing influences.
Bike racing often requires “co-opetition” between teams as they work toward similar goals. The peloton is full of Type-A personalities all competing for the same thing – winning at all costs. During the
1989 Tour de Trump, a 10-day stage race, it became apparent that the Russian team was going to be hard to beat. Our leader, Dag-Otto Lauritzen, quietly went to a few other teams who were also threatened by the “communists.” We formed a temporary alliance with those teams and all attacked together during the feed zone, leaving the Russians far behind. With our full support for our leader, Lauritzen went on to win the inaugural Tour de Trump.
The third pathway to excellence is drive. These individuals are willing to sacrifice to get the job done, often to higher levels than previously attained. They are never satisfied with past achievements and continually strive for improvement, both within themselves and for their team. Motivation is key here, and drive works as a force multiplier of ability and social skill.
At the 1988 Tour of Italy (Giro), our 7-Eleven teammate Andy Hampsten took the pink leader’s jersey during a fearsome snowstorm that defied the imagination. Riders finished the stage in full hypothermic condition. There was still one week to go in the three-week stage race, and everyone had to continue racing the next day. Our 7-Eleven team knew that the Europeans were out to beat us. No American team had ever won a major stage race, and we were not going to go down without a fight. With our team leader Hampsten in pink as our motivation, the 7-Eleven boys sacrificed themselves fully to lead Hampsten to an historic win never done before.
Assembling a team of players who have a complete grasp of ability, social skill and drive can be difficult. However, it often takes only one key person to change the dynamic of a team, and the bar will be raised to levels higher than what was previously thought possible. They say that those who suffer together, stay together. To this day, the bond between the 7-Eleven team is as strong as it was 30 years ago – something that I will always treasure.
The bond between our 7-Eleven team is as strong as it was 30 years ago – something that I will always treasure.
Rookie crash on the Galibier in France in 1986.