I’m not a competitive sport person. That doesn’t stop me having huge respect for those who take part in competitive sport. Particularly grand tour cycling like the Tour de France. Forget about dopers like Lance Armstrong. I’m talking about the clean cyclists who drag themselves thousands of kilometres around Europe each year. What can we learn from their experience to apply to our everyday lives?
Last year Wired magazine profiled Tour de France winner Chris Froome and explored the science behind Team Sky’s success. Journalist Joao Medeiros describes “when Chris Froome is racing, he imagines he has a bag of coins to spend. Every time he wastes energy, he needs to pay”. Froome is a master of using his energy tactically across three gruelling weeks of competitive cycling. Here’s 5 lessons you can take away from ‘Froomey’ and the rest of the peloton:
1. Follow your own goals, not someone else’s
In the Tour de France you won’t see Froome winning every day. In fact he didn’t win a single stage of the 2017 route despite being crowned the winner. This seemed very strange to me when I first started watching the Tour. Why wasn’t he chasing down every other rider and crossing the line first every day? Then I realised that not all the cyclists are aiming for the same goal. Some are racing for the green jersey that shows they are the best sprinter in the race. Some are racing for the polka dot jersey that shows they are the best mountain climber. Some are racing for the white jersey that shows they are the best young rider. Some are racing for individual stage wins. And then there are the cyclists, like Froome, who are racing for the yellow jersey that shows they are overall the fastest round this year’s 3540km route. Every day Froome keeps his goal in mind. He doesn’t chase down every rider who breaks away to win because they may be heading in the same direction but not for the same end goal. He doesn’t get sidetracked by other people’s objectives. Otherwise he’ll lose sight of his own and be exhausted before the first week is over.
2. Find your own pace by listening to your body
Pacing yourself is as important in everyday life as it is in cycle races. Professional cyclists use power meters to know when they are exceeding their physical capabilities, and risk blowing up on the road. However, like the rest of us, they also have to listen to what their bodies are telling them. When the legs feel good, it’s time to really chase down that goal. Other days, it’s good enough to get round without any major disasters. You don’t have to be going flatout all day, every day. This just isn’t sustainable and is a surefire way to burnout too. Froome’s success is down to overall consistency. Some days good enough is…well good enough!
3. Save your energy for when it really matters
Froome slowly dips into his bag of coins over the course of the three weeks of cycling. On less significant days he’ll save energy that he can take advantage of on crucial climbs and descents, like the terrifying Mont du Chat. There is no glory in making easy stages more difficult than they need to be. In offices across the world we’ve glorified the idea of being busy. Staying late when there’s no important deadline to meet. Simply to show we’re present. However much of that ‘busy work’ contributes little or nothing towards our individual or organisational goals. I’ve been talking a lot about this on Facebook recently and the response has been incredible. Saving your energy for when it really matters is working smart, rather than simply working hard on triviality.
4. Ask for help rather than panic alone on the side of the mountain
It would be easy to think the Tour de France is an individual pursuit but in fact it’s a team sport. On stage 15 of Tour de France 2017, a mechanical problem with Froome’s bike left him at the bottom of a difficult climb with all his rivals racing ahead of him. At this moment of panic he got help from team mate Michal Kwiatkowski who gave him a new wheel. Then two more Sky riders paced him back into contention. By riding closely behind them (or ‘drafting’), Froome was able to reduce his energy usage. In life, having a support network of people you can call on to lend a hand or ear can get you back on track before you start to feel panicky, isolated and your confidence takes a big knock.
5. Take time to refuel and re-energise
Finally, let’s talk about refuelling. This is a particularly important part of a cycle race. Riders make sure they have enough energy to get to the end of today’s race and start tomorrow’s stage. It is an unwritten rule that no rider will try to take advantage of the sacred ‘feeding zone’ time during a race. After a race, riders take time to warm down and refuel. Italian rider Fabio Aru even took his trusty tupperware box into the post-race press conference this year. Team Sky team are known to replace the mattresses in their hotel rooms to give their riders a good night’s sleep. Self-care is as important when you’re driving a desk. Take lunch breaks away from your computer screen. Aim to eat homecooked meals rather than rely on snacks and convenience food. Weekends are for relaxing not work emails. Rethink your night time regime if you’re struggling to get to sleep and waking up exhausted. The little things matter in life, just as they do in professional cycling.
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