3 lessons to succeed in business from the Tour de France

The fastest cyclist in the world will not win the Tour de France. This title is usually given to the champion of the individual time trial (Fabian Cancellara) or the Tour’s best sprinter (Peter Sagan). In fact, the fastest cyclist in the world almost never wins the Tour de France (TdF). Ever.  Over the last 10 years of watching this spectacular event, I’ve learned 3 lessons to succeed in business from the Tour de France.


Champions have:

  1. An incredible team
  2. A deep capacity to suffer
  3. The ability to recover quickly


1. An incredible team:

A great teammate can put a smile on your face













In 2012, Bradley Wiggins became the first British born Tour de France Champion. While Wiggins was the individual to wear the champions (Yellow) jersey, it would not have been possible without his team. Chris Froome, leading Wiggins above, played a key role in the victory.  Froome spent much of his time leading out Wiggins.  Froome’s job was not to win the tour, but to help Wiggins win it.  Froome’s job was to defend attacks from competitors and create a wind slipstream that would conserve Wiggins’ energy for key moments throughout the race.


Your business goal is likely to win and keep the customer. Sales might be the ones to get all the glory when they make a customer, but it’s the entire team performance that will keep them.


2. A capacity to suffer

Pushing through the pain barrier
Pushing through the pain barrier













You can see it on their face. Champions are made through suffering. Something within these men pushes beyond the limits of their competition, and their own. This classic 2010 mountaintop finish up the legendary Col du Tourmalet decided that years TdF champion. Alberto Contador (in yellow) and Andy Schleck (in white) turned themselves inside-out enroute to victory and ultimately destroyed the field of competitors.


Winning takes grit. Those that succeed know how much pain they endured and how hard they worked.  In a great book called The Dip, Seth Godin talks about this kind of suffering in business.


[box] The dip is the long slog between starting and mastery…It’s easy to be the CEO. What’s hard is getting there. There’s a huge dip along the way…Successful people don’t just ride out the Dip. They don’t just buckle down and survive it. No, they lean into the Dip. They push harder, changing the rules as they go.[/box]


3. The ability to recover quickly


Yes, Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven TdF titles for using performance-enhancing drugs. In the Oprah interview in early 2013, Lance stated that he felt cheating is what happens when you do something to gain an advantage over a competitor they didn’t have. Lance’s cocktail of EPO, testosterone and transfusions was designed to help his body recover quickly so that he could fight for and defend his title everyday. It worked.


Yet, the ability to physically recover quickly is only one half of the equation. Athletes, like people in businesses, must also be able to recover mentally from setbacks. As you can see in the video above, Lance had to overcome massive mental setbacks following his crash. The crash caused Lance to lose his position, his momentum and could have broken his mental focus, which might have ended his race.


Crashing in business is less obvious but no less painful. A string of NOs while cold calling, getting turned down for a promotion, a marketing campaign that flops, losing market share to a competitor. In business, you can’t avoid every crash. Neither can your competition.  However, if you’re able to mentally recover quickly, dust yourself off and get back on your bike victory will be yours.



Are there any other lessons from cycling that you think business can learn from? 

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about business?



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