Cycle of Adversity

This article originally appeared in Pedal Magazine, 2017

Many of us have faced adversity in our lives…if you’ve ridden your bike for any length of time you are sure to have gone through some tough times, be it an injury from overtraining, a crash or simply burn out. Of course, there are many other sources of adversity in our lives from personal health, family, career and friends. 

The dictionary defines “adversity” as “difficulties; misfortune: resilience in the face of adversity”. Interestingly, the Latin origin of adversity is defined as “to turn toward”, in other words to face your problems head on.  Adversity also causes high stress levels which stimulate the nervous system and adrenal glands. Many times, we may react to adversity in ways that we had never considered. However, I believe that the key from suffering an adversity in your life is tolearn from these difficult times to help you become a better athlete and person - what I call the ‘cycle of adversity’. 

Over my cycling career as well as my personal life, I have been faced with many challenges and difficult times. I believe that racing my bike has taught me a lot about how to deal with these life stressors and I hope that I can share some of those lessons with you here.

As a full time bike racer, we raced on average 100 race days a year. I often say that if I read a race correctly, I could put myself in a winning position about 20% of the time. Of those races, I was able to win 5 of those races…that’s 95% loss rate…which can be stressful in itself when your job is to win races. In this case, it was important to step back and look at the big picture and realize that if each of my 15 teammates won 5 races, we would be winning over 50% of the races we entered. Those feelings of loss were replaced with a inner pride of having contributed to the team as a whole. 

The more races you enter, the more chance there is of crashing, it’s just a fact. As a junior cyclist, I was sticking my nose into places that I probably shouldn’t have, such as trying to ‘slam’ and pass on the inside of a corner during a criterium or trying to pass through an impossible gap during a sprint - consequently, I did crash a lot in my younger years.

Tour de France crash at the top of the Galibier - rookie move! 

Tour de France crash at the top of the Galibier - rookie move! 

 

The easy way out was to put the blame on the other riders but I was able to be retrospective and realize that I needed to change how I approached these situations to try and avoid future conflicts. Some race situations are truly beyond control but for the most part, changing the way I raced started to help me be a better and safer bike rider. For example, I began to ‘read’ the other riders and understand who was safe to ride behind. I rode closer to the front of the group where the better riders were always positioned. The back of the pack was where the dangerous riding was and making the extra effort to ride up front gave me the added bonus of putting me in a winning position. 

I’ve also had my share of adversity personally. Making the transition from a full time professional athlete to a business person was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. No one really prepares for this radical change in lifestyle and it was certainly a shock to stop riding every day and start selling bicycles the next. Again, I was able to look inwardly and rely on the lessons I’d learned from racing and training. I broke the necessary skills down into manageable chunks, so that I didn’t feel overwhelmed. I learned solution sales skills, CRM and spreadsheets became second nature! In retrospect, being forced into the necessary changes broadened my world view and I’ve been able to apply my athletic experience to the business world. 

Everyone has experiences that they can draw on as they move forward through life’s ever changing and evolving challenges. The key for me has always been to reflect and bring forward lessons that I’ve learned in the past that I can apply to today’s situation. It’s a full life cycle of facing adversity head on, breaking down the challenges and sometimes making mistakes as you work towards overcoming the situation and hopefully, learning and improving yourself over time - turning the cycle of adversity into your secret advantage!

This article originally appeared in Pedal Magazine, 2017

The Power of Bicycles

Originally appeared in Pedal Magazine - Summer 2017

Canada turns 150 this year, but 2017 is the 200th anniversary of the bicycle. Amazing to think that the bike has been around longer than our own country! 

We’ve all felt the power of a bicycle at some point in our lives…most likely, many times. The feeling of learning to ride your first bike can never be replaced. I can remember making swooping turns down the road, feeling the flying-like g-forces pressing me into the saddle and then hitting the coaster brake hard, making a long, black streak of rubber as I fish-tailed along the pavement. Magic! And the freedom. All of a sudden, a whole new world opened up for me. I was able to go further on my neighbourhood adventures, exploring the back lanes and park trails of Coquitlam to my heart’s content. 

And then, there was commerce. With a bike (then it was a Raleigh 5-speed “Chopper”) I was able to make money with a morning paper route. Delivering papers was my ticket to ride, literally. Having pocket money was another form of freedom and gave me that independence that I craved deep down. Being the first person on the road in the early morning was very special, with the city slowly waking up as I rumbled along with 50 heavy papers in my front carrier basket. I sometimes wonder how I kept that bike going with all that weight, up and down those hills with the little power that I developed back then! 

Mechanical exploration came next. With my paper route money, I bought a used 10-speed and slowly reconditioned it in our garage using my Dad’s shop tools. A pipe wrench made a mess of the BB lock ring and a hammer and punch disassembled the free hub (once I realized it was a left hand thread!). Much to my dismay, I watched what seemed like a hundred tiny ball bearings bounce across the floor when I lifted the free hub apart! Using some thread and a lot of grease, I actually got it back together with most of the parts. Pliers were used to tighten and loosen the spoke nipples to true the rims and eventually, I taught myself to lace and build my own wheels. 

Adventure was the real reason however, that I was drawn to the bicycle. With the re-built 10-speed, there was even more opportunity to venture further afield. Fortunately, my parents had both been positively affected by bicycles in their youth, growing up in post-war Europe. My Mom still had her Dad’s cycling log book of every ride that he had done in the hills around Southern England as a member of the Chichester Wheelers. With their blessing, I added a ‘rat trap’ and some cheap panniers and did some solo trips to the Gulf Islands, camping out and riding on some amazingly difficult hills. What a feeling to be under my own power, riding as fast as I could go (or would dare) on the descents with steels rims and centre pull brakes! 

Competition was also in my blood. I played high school volleyball as well as hockey and soccer growing up. Due to some fortunate circumstances and amazing volunteers, I was introduced to the local weekly 10-mile Time Trial, organized by the Vancouver Vets. There I tested myself weekly and met other Junior riders - soon we were training and racing on the track and road - pushing ourselves to new limits.

Camaraderie and teamwork drew me further into the world of bicycles. Working on a professional cycling team created a level of trust and empowerment that I take with me everywhere I go in my post-racing world. Racing bicycles transformed my life and has given me a multitude of incredible experiences and allowed me to live a truly unique and exhilarating life.

Fast forward to today’s hyper-connected world. We definitively know that many people in under-developed countries are not able to access proper education, health care or even nutrition simply due to logistics surrounding their immediate environment. Schools are often 10-20km away, nurses and doctors cannot easily access many villages and food distribution only take place at regional markets. 

Think about where you are today and reflect on what the bicycle has done for you. I’m sure everyone has their own stories of how a bicycle effected their lives in a positive way at least once in their lives. I have recently attended WBR fund raisers in California, Vancouver and Vermont. People are responding from all walks of life and sharing their stories of life empowerment through the bicycle. 

For only $147.00, you can change the life of a girl or boy who otherwise would not be able to attend a full day of school, have adequate access to healthcare when they are sick, or eat nutritious meals. World Bicycle Relief provides a sturdy “Buffalo Bicycle” for each $147.00 donation. To date, they have delivered over 350,000 bicycles to people in need. There are many amazing success stories that will warm your heart and I’m sure, will encourage cyclists of all types to engage in their own way. Go to WBR’s website to find out how you can get involved: https://worldbicyclerelief.org/en/ 

 

7 Business Lessons from Life in the Saddle

It takes years to build up the strength and savvy to be a professional athlete. I always find it amusing when people talk about the number of years that a rider was as a pro and ‘only’ had 8 wins in his 16 year career. Case in point, Matt Hayman at this year’s Paris-Roubaix. What they fail to mention are the years and years and years of pedaling at the pre-pro time of your life when you are adding the building blocks for later.

So much sacrifice takes place by so many young athletes, it’s a miracle that many make it through this natural selection process in one piece. I discovered cycling because I found out that I loved the solitude and adventure of riding somewhere I’d never been to, getting lost and finding my way home. Along the way, this playfulness helped me keep the joy in bike riding, something that I still treasure today.

Of course, some don’t make the grade and fall through the cracks, never to be heard from again. Some ‘retire’ early for various reasons and go on to lead prosperous lives in another world outside of the tight circus-like circle that is ‘pro biking’.

Those that do make it through this initiation process find themselves at the bottom of the heap as a neo-pro. Just when you think you are ready, you get the sh*&* beat out of you in race after race, in conditions that most people wouldn’t contemplate going out to walk their dog in. It’s a brutal blow to the psyche and again, there is a weeding out of the guys who make the transition to year two and three as a pro. Once you’ve established yourself after two or three years, it’s time to watch your back as the young ones are gunning for your spot on the team. Getting your 10,000 hours in to become an expert as pro biker is a never ending cycle of ride-eat-sleep, and repeat over and over again.

However, looking back I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to have learned very useful lessons that are now helping me in my software sales business career. Here are 7 key lessons that I learned from cycling that I lean on every day in my business life.

Race Days are Like No Other

A hard day at work is an easy day on the bike. I sometimes chuckle to myself when I hear co-workers complaining about their ‘hard day’ at the office. Stressful encounters with sales managers and their quotas and clients with their demands can certainly be trying. But, all it takes is to remember a circle of death stage such as Galibier, Croix de Fer and a finish up Alpe d’Huez and things fall into perspective.

Save Your Matches

Work Hard but Ride Smart. I was a decent amateur rider winning a few national championships but turning pro quickly made me realize that I wasn’t close to being the strongest guy. It became a matter of survival and strategic cunning to finish some races, especially when you weren’t on good form. Racing smart taught me to save my ‘matches’ for just the right moment when they were needed most. Simple things like missing a turn in the break through a corner saved me just that much more energy for the finale. These days, I take the meetings that matter and say no to others – saving mental energy for the right ones.

Domestiques Count

I have been a rookie many times over in my life. Changing jobs mid-career has put me on the back foot for a while and all eyes are on me. I remember my first days with the new teams that I rode for and there was certainly an expectation to prove myself. In a race situation, I was never prouder than when I was able to set up a teammate with an initial attack that led to his winning counter-attack. My simple solution was and always will be to stick to a game plan and do the work. Good leaders will recognize your efforts.

No Matter What - Keep Pedaling

There were a few times during my athletic career when I was really ready to hang up the cleats. Somehow, I found the mental energy to keep going even though I was at a physical and mental low. Often, I needed a break from the racing intensity to recover and re-discover my love for the sport. You can’t win every race (or business deal) and the best you can do is create a learning opportunity from the loss and live to tell the tale.

Prepare to Win

Reward has a way of surprising you. I can’t tell you how many times I ‘couldn’t get out of my own way’ on the bike, only to have the form of my life a week or two later. I hadn’t expected to put myself in a winning position, I just happened to ‘fall into the break’! I found that when I tried to force my presence on a race, I ended up thrashing around getting frustrated and losing my temper at my fellow riders. Doing my homework to build a solid sales pipeline paves the way for many future wins, sometimes when you least expect it.

Feel the Moment

This lesson is a feeling that comes with experience.  As a 20 year old, racing two Kermesse races a week as an amateur in Belgium taught me a lot. Of course, I couldn’t waste energy but which attack would lead to the winning break? At first, I couldn’t figure it out. Every attack that I followed died out only to see the winning move ride up the road. I learned to be attentive, anticipating cross winds, studying my competitors’ habits and understanding and optimizing my own strengths. All of this comes together for the ‘moment’ when you strike hard. Winning at sales if often very similar. It’s always tempting to jump the gun and ask for the order too soon. I’ve learned to get the lay of the land (as my Dad often told me!), do the homework and then feel for the right moment – I know I will know when the time is right.

Share Your Knowledge

A final lesson that creates the most value. As a veteran pro, it was fun to mentor a young ‘up and comer’. Frankie Andreu was still wet behind the ears when he joined 7-Eleven in the late-80’s. Since he was willing, we taught him everything we knew and I was proud to see him racing as a trusted domestique well into the 90’s. This year, a couple ex-junior bike racers - now young business students - will be working side by side with me coaching our Juventus youth development program. I hope to share some of these business and cycling skills with them so that they can carry on the tradition.

 

Gritifice

Originally appeared in Pedal Magazine – Spring 2017

My legs are screaming, my lungs are on fire and my mind is racing…can I beat the peloton to the line and win the time bonus away from Eric Vanderaeden? It’s 1km to go on the 1st road stage of the 1986 Tour de France and I’m hanging on for dear life in the breakaway…pulling on the bars with everything I have left.

Suffering on the Rivet

Suffering on the Rivet

At the age of 25, I’d been bike racing, full time for 10 years. I’d already learned many lessons on how to maximize my potential as a cyclist. Efficiency, strategy, grit, perseverance, sacrifice…and I was drawing on ALL of them to stay strong all the way to the line…

Looking back, I often wonder where these skills came from. I certainly acquired aspects of these attributes as I raced as a junior and with the 7-Eleven and National teams, however, were these learned skills or inherent in my psyche? This is something that I’ve always wondered about. 

Over the years, I’ve raced with and against many talented riders who were often stronger than me on any given day. I noticed that if I played it smart and used my energy wisely, I could often find a way to beat them. Even then, there were times in the race when it came down to “mano-a-mano” where we each simply had to grind it out to see who could suffer the most and mentally “crack” the other guy. 

On the topic of Grit, I recently read an article written by Jared Smith, owner of Incite Marketing and an adventure seeker who loves to ride and who recently trained with Navy SEALs in a 5 day "suffer-fest". As part of Jared's preparation, he interviewed Dean Golich with Carmichael Training Systems who has years of research on the topic of "grit" under his belt. Here's an excerpt from Jared's article: 

Golich, citing Angela Duckworth, (who’s studies have concluded that "single mindedness" or "lifelong deliberate effort" result in “true grit”, which results in higher and greater achievement in any field) has concluded that personality traits can be a predictor of one’s ability to breakthrough mental ceilings in performance.  Using profiling tools, Duckworth has extrapolated the willingness of different athletes to push past their max efforts.  

 According to Duckworth: most athletes generally fall into one of two personality types: Those with mental toughness, and those without. Those with it are able to doggedly, and persistently pursue a course of action over and over and over again towards an end goal. Duckworth calls this personality’s tendency towards persistent practice and action: “true grit” - "the role of deliberate practice in acquisition of expert performance.” People with true grit tend to be entrepreneurial, attracted to routine, high achievers, so called AAA's who will continue down a path despite fear of, and experience with multiple failures. You can point them out in a room, because they tend to lack empathy, they're not warmhearted, and they thrive on receiving (and giving) negative feedback. She puts them into a category of “fast learners”. Thick skinned people who enjoy self-critique and who willingly accept negative feedback learn significantly faster than those who require a more diplomatic approach to learning (i.e. the “empathetic types”). 

 According to Golich, empathetic types; i.e. people who are good-natured, thrive on positive reinforcement, are willing to listen, are typically patient, and seek to learn multiple and diverse points of view tend to perform worse on tests of mental toughness. However, they do play a major leadership role in high performing teams (all high performing teams require people who are intuitive to the emotional requirements of the group and who will often sacrifice themselves accordingly. The so-called “fast learners” tend to ignore their teammates’ signals of emotional overwhelm – often to the detriment of the team.  

Team Spirit in the New Era

Team Spirit in the New Era

This is the dichotomy of bike racing…you need to be selfish in addition to being mentally and physically tough - “True Grit”. Nothing can get in your way as you pursue your short and long term goals. At the same time, bike racing is a true team sport. Everything that a rider does is a calculated effort designed to benefit the team as a whole – “Pure Sacrifice”.

I believe that there are specific personality traits that are inherent in successful people, including cyclists, some of which can be enhanced with repetitive training and some, that are simply part of who we are. Think about where you fit into the Grit and Sacrifice spectrum and try and blend the two to be the best “Gritifice” team player you can be.