Last weekend, Australian cyclist Cadel Evans finally won the Tour de France, after two second-place finishes and 10 years of trying to win the grand tour.
The 34-year-old is far from the most stylish cyclist – some of the French media claim he lacks “panache” – but his story has captured the imagination of even the most casual cycling fans.
I think there are hidden business lessons to be uncovered from his win:
Grey hair matters
As tempting as it may be to celebrate the top 30 under 30 business leaders, there is something to be said for experience in company-building – one reason most of Canada’s wealthiest business people are in their sixties, seventies and eighties.
Mr. Evans started his cycling career as a mountain biker, won the World Cup in 1998 and 1999 and only started competing in road races in 2001. He has tried to win the tour 10 times before which is why, when his bike didn’t feel quite right on the climb up to Alpe d’Huez, he had the presence of mind to request that his team car bring him a new bike. The switch cost him time, but he didn’t panic. He gathered his teammates and they slowly paced him back into the peloton.
Consistency trumps one-hit wonders
In business, the most successful companies put together the whole package. It’s not just Apple’s product line that makes it a success, it’s also the way it treats customers at Apple Stores, the simplicity of downloading music and videos to iTunes, its branding, etc. Apple is consistently good across virtually all aspects of running a business.
Mr. Evans is not the fastest time trialist (he finished behind Tony Martin in the Tour’s second-last stage in Grenoble), nor is he the fastest climber (Andy Schleck beat him up Alpe d’Huez), but he is consistently good at both disciplines. That, in the end, gave him the overall win.
People cheer for the one who just keeps showing up
One of the sweetest sales we ever made in my research company was to British Telecom (BT). We had been pitching the company for years until finally it agreed to become a subscriber. When I asked the decision maker at BT why it had finally joined, he admitted that our perseverance over the years had finally won them over.
At 34, Mr. Evans is relatively old for winning his first Tour de France – Lance Armstrong won his first at 27, and Alberto Contador was 24 when he first sported the yellow jersey in Paris. Many people realized this might be Mr. Evans’ last opportunity to win, which is why the streets of Grenoble were lined with fans giving him an extra boost of energy as they cheered him on in the decisive time trial stage.
The beginning of this year’s Tour de France saw many of the race favourites crash early and have to retire from the race or ride hurt. Favourite and three-time winner Mr. Contador crashed. Team Radio Shack leader Andreas Klöden had to quit after a accident left his back in excruciating pain. Bradley Wiggins, another top 10 hopeful, crashed and had to stop.
Unlike the year before when he fell and broke his elbow wearing the yellow jersey, Mr. Evans was able to stay on his bike this year as the competitive landscape thinned out around him.
As in cycling, in business, sometimes you just have to outlast your competition. The more of your competitors who fall, the stronger your market position gets.
Special to The Globe and Mail
John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. You can download a free chapter of his new book, Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You.
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