Aspiring to

a higher level

Aspiring to a higher level when cycling a gran fondo (and running a business)

Many of us have an interest in sport, not just as spectators but as active participants, and sometimes it even becomes a passion. That’s what road cycling is to me

I trust several readers of this blog have heard of gran fondos or cyclo sportives: one-day events where up to 10,000 riders participate in a long-distance bicycling event, in which riders are individually chip-timed and have the right of way at all intersections, typically involving 120-200km with 2,000-4,000m of vertical climbing. Famous gran fondos include the Marmotte, the Maratona dles Dolomites, the Ötztaler Radmarathon, the Eddy Merckx and l’Etape du Tour.

Gran fondos aren’t like traditional bike races, rather you aim for the best time possible. If you finish in time you can achieve gold, silver or bronze level, with the time for each level (happily!) depending on your age. From the start of the race, it soon becomes very clear that there are different levels of competition, you have the top 100 riders, and then the gold, silver and bronze riders.

Let me take a first-year rider as an example. This could be a person who started cycling not too long ago, enjoyed riding shorter gran fondos close to home and has now decided to take the challenge of riding a longer distance gran fondo, maybe even in another country. Not sure what to expect, he or she is aiming to a) finish the gran fondo and b) do so in the best possible time. Let’s further assume the rider finishes in time and achieves a bronze level AND decides to come back next year and wants to achieve silver or gold level.

Aspiring to a higher level in cycling

Most people will agree that if the competitor does exactly the same thing as they did this year, not much will change. So what ‘levers’ can they pull to get to a higher level of performance next year?

  1. Weight: many people translate this into ‘I need a better (lighter) bike’ but, to be honest, if you’re 10kg overweight (or more), it would be better to focus on slimming down, and that’s a lot of effort, because it means that you have to break a pattern.
  2. Training: a simple answer is to ‘train more’ but, again, simply putting in more hours most likely won’t do the trick. What will help though is to get a trainer/advisor who can provide you with an appropriate training schedule, based on your capabilities, the time you have available and your goals. This could lead to you spending about the same number of hours on the bike, but spending them differently.
  3. Team: get other people, friends or family involved who have the same goal and train together, motivate each other and have fun in the months preparing for the next big event.
  4. Preparation: a lot of riders make the mistake of eating too much out of fear of not having enough energy at the end of the day, or they don’t drink enough or drink too much. Good and careful preparation, and mirroring this in earlier races, will help you feel comfortable and relaxed on the day itself.
  5. Focus: many riders could benefit from making the event an important personal goal and by doing so removing other competing ambitions, where possible, from their field of focus.


Aspiring to a higher level in a business environment

How does the above translate to an organisation or a CEO running an organisation? As a CEO you will have an executive team, or as a manager a management team, with the top riders and the gold, silver and bronze team members. Let’s assume that your lowest performers (bronze team members) are indeed aspiring to become silver or gold members, having had a poor performance last year.

Can we apply the same ‘levers’ as for improving for a gran fondo? Let’s check them one by one, assuming the employee is a manager of a business unit.

  1. Weight: the business unit manager may say they need more staff, more investments to be successful. But sometimes it’s better to have a closer look at the existing staff, to see how they can be motivated differently, or accept that poor performers are better off in other positions inside or outside your organisation. Secondly, a pragmatic review of the business unit activities could easily lead to the conclusion that some activities could be stopped or divested. By doing so, the business unit’s performance could actually be improved with the same number of employees or even fewer.
  2. Training: executive coaching could be a powerful tool to increase the achievement level of both the manager and the business unit. Provided that the manager is interested in being coached or can become interested. This is highly dependent on the type of coaching to be provided. In our experience, a combination of business/operational coaching, coupled with sensitivity regarding personal characteristics and team dynamics, delivers the best results.
  3. Team: there are two levels here, the manager’s peers and the manager’s subordinates. Do you, as the CEO, motivate and create an environment in which your team works well together and in which the gold team members take personal responsibility for bringing the bronze members to a higher level? Is the same DNA applied at all levels of the organisation? It’s impossible to overestimate the power of a joint team effort and of an organisation’s senior executive leading by example.
  4. Preparation: when a large deal needs to be closed, a complex sales opportunity arises that involves multiple business units and departments, a project escalates and requires a multi-disciplinary team effort, it certainly helps if your organisation is prepared. Have you done a ‘dry run’ for such situations, are you applying a cross-departmental sales approach?
  5. Focus: needless to say, this applies just as much in business as it does in people’s personal lives: get rid of a lot of distractions and results will improve. A lot of organisations are masters at adding new initiatives, projects, programmes, but very poor at killing old and even unsuccessful ones.


So, all in all, it’s really worth it to train for the next big event, do it ‘differently’ than last year, get help from the outside, from people who know what they’re talking about, and this year’s result will not only be better, but you’ll enjoy the race a lot more.

I’d be very happy to discuss this or any other topic with interested clients or candidates. I wish you great sporting success and gold at the finish line.

Gerrit van Munster

  • March 2 2015
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