3 Pathways to Excellence - Top Performers in Cycling and Business Share Common Traits

First Appearing in Pedal Magazine - Fall 2017

Bicycle racing is a team sport and as such, requires top performers who not not only strive for their own excellence but also take on the role of raising the execution level of their peers. The success or failure of the team depends on these key players to raise the bar higher than most had thought possible. 

The first trait that leaders often look for in top performers is Ability. Can the individual perform their given tasks at a high level and more crucially, are they able to ‘think on their feet’ and build out successful strategies based on situations ‘on the ground’. 

Racing in the 1988 Coors Classic, a 2 week stage race in the high mountains of Colorado, I was able to take the leader’s jersey with a calculated move on an early stage. The next day was a big mountain stage, not my specialty. The Columbian team forged an early lead in the stage, while I was hanging on for dear life in the main peloton. After cresting the climb together Davis Phinney, our road captain on Team 7-Eleven, brought our team together and had our 6 man team riding hard at the front to bring back the early aggressors. The boys rode harder than I thought possible to defend my leader’s jersey based on strategy that was orchestrated during the race. Pure sacrifice in the face of massive adversity.

                                                       That winning feeling with the team at Coors Classic

                                                       That winning feeling with the team at Coors Classic

A second key factor that can determine high performance is Social Skill, also called Emotional Intelligence. High performance players can manage their own complex tasks with integrity while at the same time building and maintaining cooperative working relationships with their teammates and other competing influences. 

Bike racing often requires ‘co-opetition’ between teams as they work towards similar goals. The peloton is full of type A personalities all competing for the same thing - winning at all costs.    During the 1989 Tour de Trump, a 10 day stage race, it became apparent that the Russian team was going to be hard to beat. Our leader, Dag-Otto Lauritzen quietly went to a few other teams who were also threatened by the ‘communists’. We formed a temporary alliance with those teams and all attacked together during the feed zone, leaving the Russians far behind. Dag-Otto went on to win the inaugural Tour de Trump with our full support as our leader. 

 With Davis Phinney helping Dag-Otto win '89 Tour de Trump

 With Davis Phinney helping Dag-Otto win '89 Tour de Trump

The third pathway to excellence is Drive. These individuals are willing to sacrifice to get the job done, often to higher levels than previously attained. They are never satisfied with past achievements and continually strive for improvement - both within themselves and for their team. Motivation is key here and Drive works as a force multiplier of Ability and Social Skill.

At the 1988 Tour of Italy (Giro), our 7-Eleven teammate, Andy Hampsten took over the pink leader’s jersey during a fearsome snow storm that defied logic. Riders finished the stage in full hypothermic condition. There was still 1 week to go in the 3 week stage race and everyone had to continue racing the next day. Our 7-Eleven team knew that the Europeans were out to beat them. No American team had ever won a major stage race and they were not going to go down without a fight. With our team leader Andy Hampsten in pink as our motivation, the 7-Eleven boys sacrificed themselves fully to lead Andy to an historic win that had never been done before.  

Andy Hampsten digs deep to win the '88 Giro

Assembling a team of players who have a complete grasp of Ability, Social Skill and Drive can be difficult. However, it often takes only one key person to change the dynamic of a team and the bar will be raised to new levels, beyond what was previously thought possible. They say that those that suffer together, stay together. To this day, the bond among the 7-Eleven team stays as strong as it was 30 years ago. Something that I will always treasure. 

                                                                              7-Eleven Team Reunion

                                                                              7-Eleven Team Reunion

Alex Stieda

Alex Stieda Cycling, West Edmonton, AB, T5R 3N3