Last year, to coincide with the 2016 edition of the Tour de France, I wrote a series of blogs about Innovation In Cycling.

Twelve months on, and with the 2017 edition of Tour de France well underway, I find myself again reflecting on the parallels between our business lives and the challenges facing the Tour de France teams.

Reputations matter
Much of the focus of my ramblings last year was about Sky Pro Cycling, and the innovations they have brought to the world of pro cycling road racing. Twelve months on, they’re still one of the strongest teams in the race – but it’s also true to say their reputation has taken a few dings in the last 12 months. The murky world of TUEs has somewhat blighted Sky’s cleaner-than-clean image. For those less familiar with cycling, TUEs (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) are legal exemptions permitting the taking of otherwise banned drugs for legitimate medical reasons. There are strict rules around them, for obvious reasons. And suspicions arise when riders repeatedly have illnesses which seem to coincide with their biggest races. And this seems to have happened more with some of Sky’s stars than with some other teams.

To me, I believe there are lessons to be learned in the business world from Sky’s experiences in 2016. Put simply, these are some of the parallels:

  1. In addition to complying with the technical rules, there is a moral obligation to adhere to the spirit of the laws to retain a hard-won reputation for “doing the right thing”
  2. If your organisation has a good reputation, credibility and track record – you cannot assume that this will remain intact without continued effort to maintain that hard-won reputation.

Even the most talented people have their limits – the Tour de France 2017
Mark Cavendish is a sprint cyclist who has achieved a level of fame that transcends his sport. In addition to being the greatest sprinter of his generation, his career record is increasingly elevating him to the status of one of the all-time greats. But he had a gap in his CV – he desperately wanted an Olympic medal. And being Mark, he was only interested in Gold. So, he set himself the daunting challenge of winning sprint stages in the 2016 Tour de France whilst also going to Rio for the 2016 Olympics. The audacity of attempting this double takes a special mix of confidence and ambition.

Amazingly, Mark Cavendish won four stages in the 2016 tour, and then set off to Rio, and finally won an Olympic medal at his third attempt, taking the silver medal in the men’s Omnium. So far so brilliant. Mark was a bit grumpy at getting Silver and not the Gold he craved – but he’d achieved a remarkable double in the Tour de France and the Olympics.

However, early in 2017, Mark was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr Virus, a form of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. He was burned out, and had to rest for months to recover his health and fitness. Had he overdone it in 2016? Perhaps.

Remarkably, he returned to competitive racing in time for this year’s Tour de France and performed well in the first few stages. Sadly, he crashed in controversial circumstances in the sprint finish to stage four. An MRI scan confirmed the worst fears – a broken shoulder blade. So he had to abandon the race, but don’t be surprised if he re-appears in the Vuelta later this season.

So, the lessons for us in the business world from this year’s Tour de France?

  1. Don’t be scared to aim for seemingly unattainable goals.
  2. Having set your goals, make sure your plans to achieve them maximise your chances of succeeding.
  3. Recognise that everyone has their limits – even the very strongest amongst us need to balance our career goals with recovery time and looking after our health.

Derek Bell

COO, Co-founder
Mitra Innovation

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