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What CxO’s can learn from the Tour de France 2021

During the first weekend of the Tour de France 2021 a big debate arose, based on interviews by two of our most experienced Belgian riders. It immediately caught my attention because those interviews perfectly reflect what is happening in the business domain today. Curious?

Thomas De Gendt

Thomas De Gendt threw the cat amongst the pigeons in a pre-race interview. In a very relaxed style he explained that he was delivering the same performance as ten years ago (expressed in watts, best 10 minutes, …). Even at the age of 34 years old, he’s at the top of his game. 10 Years ago, he was famous for his long solo rides. He could stay ahead of the chasing peloton and win races like that. With this same performance, he is now barely able to follow the group. He’s claiming 70% of the other rides can simply do better. So, what is going on?

Illegal performances?

Journalists’ first reactions were suspicious: “He’s insinuating they are using illegal substances …” Well, let’s stay away from that interpretation, because it’s simply not what he meant. Because only a day later, one of the youth coaches of the Belgian federation came with a more interesting story. Over the last 10 years, the way cyclists are training and are being formed has transformed. And yes, you can read ‘transformed’ as ‘an ultimate make-over’. Young cyclists are showing performances, measured in an objective way by numbers and statistics, that are simply not comparable to what happened 10 years ago. They are way beyond the performance of the youngsters from 10 years ago. But how?

Let’s look into two business trends that are an exact copy of what is happening in the cycling world.

Data is the new gold

About 30 years ago, training methods were most of the time ‘trial and error’. How the human body works was known to some extend, but applying that knowledge in a training environment was close to impossible. The technology was simply not available. About 20 years ago, a small amount of tech slowly started to be available for pro-riders. In lab environments, at a high cost. About 10 years ago, the revolution started. Technology became available for everybody to use. Today, the average Sunday morning cyclist is recording his or her ride : heartbeat, watt output, velocity, cadens, … Name it, it’s all available. A simple Sunday morning ride evolved into a data gathering (for those who want that). However a lot of these cyclists don’t use the data, other than posting it on Strava. But for young ambitious riders, this data is pure gold. They can properly structure their training, in a way that was not possible without this technology. Actually, in a way that was not even available to pro-riders some time ago. They use the data to make most of their potential. 

But how is this a parallel to what is going on in the business world? Data is available in large quantities. But what do you do with the data? Do you have a data strategy?

Adapt your way of work

What worked 10 years ago doesn’t work anymore.

The ‘old’ generation cyclists did a VO² max test every now and then. That gave them input for their training schedule in the weeks after. During the training sessions, best case scenario they could use heartbeat as guidance. Today even the Sunday morning rider has access to all kinds of tests that can be done from home on a smart trainer. And the data from these tests are directly generating personalised training schedules, downloaded from or uploaded to a cloud training platform. If they want, every ride can be optimized. So the previous generation had a process which was ‘working’. It was a proven process, a proven business model. Never change a winning team. At the same time, much like young cyclists are totally changing the game, startups come out of the blue to disrupt your business. They have access to technology which didn’t exist 10 years ago. And they are using it in their advantage, disrupting the traditional market place in a manner you hadn’t thought of because you didn’t consider it necessary.

Be prepared for the new normal

On a cold Sunday morning, early July, Thomas De Gent came to the conclusion it is game over for him. That’s why you should ask yourself: is your business ready to operate in the new transformed world?

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