I’m a cycling fan and have been since Lance dragged me into the sport with his incredible work ethic and 'never say die' attitude combined with his drug-fueled, iron-fisted ruthlessness and cunning to ‘miraculously’ come back from near death cancer and ignite the imagination of hundreds of millions.
I cheered, bought a bike and learned to love suffering on a bike, exhorting everyone I knew to join the cycling cult – the new golf for business networking. I read every book Lance wrote and ignored all those who saw me as a lycra-coated speed impediment – I was obsessed.
Then the sport was relentlessly plagued by drug scandals. The truth is that’s it’s always been mired in drugs. Nothing new in the Lance era except for a giant leap in medical science with EPO, blood doping, testosterone, micro-dosing and the necessary technology to stay one step ahead of testers. I started reading books about Lance including Tour de Force by Daniel Coyle and my doubts grew. Then the truth about Lance became overwhelming and he broke my heart with how he dealt with it – no remorse; no redemption; just denials and arrogance until the end. I binned my yellow wrist-band. If only he had followed Tyler Hamilton he could have salvaged so much.
But Cadel Evans maintained my hope in cycling. During the drug era of the Tour de France he could never win. He never had any ‘unbelievable’ leaps in performance or super-human comebacks mere hours after appearing completely shattered. He simply had innate talent, unbreakable work-ethic and a stoic ability to suffer. That’s what winning a grand tour (3 week race) is all about – your teammate's capabilities and unity combined with your ability and luck to avoid a crash is the name of game. Oh, and one most big thing... your ability to suffer more than anyone else in the peloton.
Cadel is Australia’s greatest cyclist. He won the world cup (mountain biking) in 1998 and 1999 before switching to road racing. He was also the first Australian to win the UCI Pro Tour in 2007 and the UCI Road World Championships in 2009. He finally won the prestigious Tour de France in 2011. He has always been willing to turn himself inside-out and suffer more than anyone else but he was never a great leader of men. He is instead an introvert, complex, hyper determined and smart; but he does have a genetic gift – a VO2 max that is unrivaled. His VO2 max is 86 (Lance Armstrong was 84). VO2 max is a measure of the body’s ability to convert oxygen into energy and is often used to compare the performance of endurance sports athletes.
I believe Cadel won clean in his career and he's been a great ambassador for the sport. As proof of his 2011 Tour de France win being clean, he won with a time-trial up a mountain stage that would have placed him nearly halfway down the pack in previous drug-fueled years. His winning time was substantially slower than exactly the same mounting climbing time-trial stage winners had achieved years earlier.
in 2015, Cadel completed his very last professional race competing in the one day classic named after him, The Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Victoria, Australia. He finished in the leading sprint group in 5th place. Cadel is the only cyclist in history to achieve the number one ranking worldwide in both mountain biking and road racing. He is the greatest cyclist Australia has produced.
We farewell Cadel as a professional rider and thank him for his integrity, commitment and all the wonderful memories. He made a difference in the sport. For those in leadership and the business world, there are parallels and lessons t be learned from cycling:
- Be part of a great team. You use 30% less energy when you’re drafting behind riders in front of you. Your team can help pull you back to the peloton when you’re dropped or have a mechanical problem. You can’t win on your own. Choose your team carefully and make sure you can rely on everyone when times are tough. Do they have real commitment and work ethic?
- Conserve energy and work smart. Use the efforts of your competitors to pull you along in the market. Pick your time to jump out into the wind to sprint and win the deal. Never peak too early. Be cunning and smart as well a brave and committed.
- Learn to suffer more than anyone else. Don't wish it were easier to win, instead work to make yourself better. It's all the unseen hours of practice and training that enable you to ‘burst onto the scene from nowhere’ to beat the competition.
- Headwinds and mountains are what enable you to escape the pack. The word for crisis and also opportunity is exactly the same in Chinese. When it becomes difficult, it’s your opportunity to dig deep and put distance between you and your competition.
- Maintain your poker face. Unlike Cadel, never let anyone see that you are suffering. Be the duck – going like hell beneath the surface and completely calm above the water.
- Know the difference between a moral dilemma and a temptation. Cheating is cheating and no amount of justification cuts it. I recently heard Lance say that if he had his time over again that he would cheat again. I guess in his mind, it was a level playing field of cheating. Being able to look yourself in the mirror is however one of the most important things in life. Cadel can stare into the mirror with pride.
There is only one cyclist in the modern era of professional cycling who could suffer more than Cadel and I respect them both enormously even though I know he was a cheat. It’s Tyler Hamilton and he suffered so badly in a race he ground his own teeth down to the expose nerves. But he redeemed himself with honesty and contrition. The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle is the best sporting book I’ve ever read. It explains the ugly psychology of 'winning at any cost' and the dark seductiveness of 'rotten inner circles' and the way we can be lured deeper into compromise to become locked-in to a life of lies, only truly realizing once it is too late.
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Main Image Photo by Flickr: Michiel Jelijs