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Six lessons from riding the Tour de France

Average reading time: 4 minutes 30 seconds

Just a few weeks after I finished riding all 3,400km of the 2019 Tour de France, I’d already lost count of the number of people who asked me what I learned from the experience.

I’m a big reflector and despite keeping a journal whilst I was away, I nearly didn’t pause for thought and deconstruct the experience. Which is easily done right?

How many times do we successfully land a major project at work and move straight onto the next without pausing to analyse what went well? Let alone celebrate the win.

This is one of the most damaging traits that I see in the senior leadership teams who come to me for support. It’s also something that if reversed, really does have the potential to lift the performance of the team, and entire organisation, to an entirely new level.

So, to some of the lessons I learned…

#1. The ego kills performance and vulnerability improves it.

This was such a key lesson that I wrote an entire blog about it here.

#2. Focus on everything that could go wrong.

Despite all that psychology and neuroscience tells us about positive language and visualisation, thinking about everything that could go wrong and creating contingency plans, remains a critical activity.

In my preparation I’d thought about what I’d do if I got ill, if my mum was seriously unwell and if I had major mechanical issues on the bike, along with many more scenarios.

And, most of those plans were called for to varying degrees.

#3. Build the team.

Whatever the challenge, be it sporting, business or charitable, it’s never an individual effort.

Despite spending months training alone on the bike, my Tour de France challenge was a huge team effort comprising physiologists, nutritionists, my local bike shop, chiropractors, the event team, friends who trained with me, the groups I rode with in France and everyone that sponsored me to name just a few.

#4. Protect the home front.

I’ve often heard people say that if you’re happy in your work, then things will be happy at home. I think these people have it the wrong way around.

I believe a strong homelife enables us to go out into the world and achieve incredible things.

The most important person in my support team was my wife Jo. Her unwavering support was the most critical factor in allowing me to focus on training for and riding the entire Tour de France route.

Without her support I undoubtedly would have failed.

#5. Budget and invest wisely.

You can very easily blow a lot of money on cycling and I very nearly spent a lot on kit and equipment. Just as in business, the critical disciplines of setting a budget and carefully analysing the expected return on investment paid huge dividends for me.

The theory of marginal gains has its origins in cycling and many of us attempt to apply it into our businesses.

The thing is, a lot of marginal gains are actually very expensive. Which is fine if you have the vast budget of Team Sky/Inneos and if success comes down to being a few seconds faster than the competition.

But we don’t have unlimited budgets so it’s important to invest wisely. And at the same time, we must also remember that there are some returns that cannot be modelled on an excel spreadsheet.

Sometimes we have to lead with our gut.

#6. Pick the right wheel.

In cycling we talk about “following the wheel” which refers to the effort that can be saved from riding behind someone in their slipstream.

Time and again the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” would ring in my ears as I cycled around France.

On the long, rolling 200+ kilometre days finishing the ride in a good state was always dependant on effective team work. By riding together, taking turns at the front and enjoying the company of fellow riders we could ‘go far’ as a group.

But we all needed a different strategy once we hit the big mountains of the Pyrenees and the Alps, where we all cycled uphill at different speeds.

On these days, we all needed to go as ‘fast’ as we individually could and get through the day as quickly as possible. There was a trade-off to be made between going fast so that you finish with time to rest and recover, versus not pushing so hard that you’re unduly fatigued the following day.

In the mountains it was often a case of “going alone in order to go fast.”

But there was a third strategy.

This was to follow the wheel of someone who was ever so slightly faster than you, meaning that you’d push yourself just that little bit harder.

In business terms, this is about hiring or working with people who you feel are better than you, so that you raise your own game to their level. As Max Levchin, PayPal co-founder said,

“Look for a partner you’ll try to impress daily, and one who will try to impress you. If the person you are choosing to depend on is constantly striving to learn and improve, you too will push yourself to new levels of achievement.”

This teaches us three important lessons:

  1. Most of the time we need to surround ourselves with a great team.
  2. Sometimes we need to push on alone.
  3. Always look to work with people who will push us to new levels.

If you’re ready to push you and your team to new levels them drop me a line at and let’s start the conversation.

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