The Tour de France and Performance Management

Many folk in the UK are not too concerned about the dismal weather we are being subjected to at the moment and are revelling in what might just turn out to be a spectacular summer for British sport. Tennis player Andy Murray has made it through to the semi-finals at a Wimbledon that has seen many top names lose in the first couple of rounds.

Meanwhile Team Sky are performing like a well-oiled machine in the Tour de France (TdF) and are currently well placed to launch race favourite Chris Froome into the lead over the next week or so. Were they to achieve this, they would repeat their success of last year when Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first British winner of the Tour.

Being semi-retired, I watch every minute of the TdF live on television in the afternoon and then re-live it again by watching the highlights in the early evening. To some people, this would be the equivalent of watching paint dry with only a few minutes of excitement should the race end with a bunched sprint. But once you invest time getting to know the sport, professional cycling racing is a complex and as thrilling as running a business with many similarities.

Success depends on having the right mix of star riders, supported by a team of domestiques who are willing to sacrifice their individual chance of success for the good of the team and an army of mechanics, doctors, physiotherapists, nutritionists and coaches, all orchestrated by team managers and performance directors. To give you some idea, although there are only 9 riders in a TdF team, Team Sky currently has a roster of 27 professional riders supported by 17 other named managers with some of these having teams of others in support. For instance, Carsten Jeppesen, Head of Operations, is supported by a team of 3 or 4 mechanics. So in total, let’s say Team Sky is made up of 50-60 people, although many of these will be contractors, whose services are called upon for major events.

So what performance management lessons can we learn from professional cycling?

madiot, What The Tour de France Teaches Us About Good Performance Management

Marc Madiot and Thibaut Pinot in a memorable stage victory

First, determine the strategy and provide the right resource to deliver it. At the end of the 2011 season, Team Sky added sprinter Mark Cavendish to their roster of riders and rapidly discovered that trying to deliver of two fronts – winning the yellow jersey (general classification) and the green jersey (sprint competition) – couldn’t be done. A dejected Cavendish spent most of his 2012 TdF in a supporting role carrying bottles for team-mates and even setting the pace on a climb in the Pyrenees while Team Sky focusses on its main objectives of winning the race with Bradley Wiggins. Sensibly Team Sky and Cavendish parted at the end of the season and he now rides for the Belgian team Omega Pharma-Quick Step where he is having more success. As yet, there has been no credible revelation of why Team Sky made such an obvious mistake – something that strategy mapping in an application such as SAP Strategy Management would have quickly revealed as ill-considered.

Ensure that everyone understands the strategy and adheres to it. On Stage 8 of the TdF last year, when he was leading Team Sky colleague and eventual TdF winner Bradley Wiggins up La Toussuire with four kilometres to go, this year’s favourite Chris Froome accelerated and left a struggling Wiggins behind. Anxious to win a stage for himself and probably feeling it was well within his grasp, he shot off up the road, apparently defying team instructions. Twenty seconds later, presumably after a curt directive over the race radio, he slowed and slipped back to support the struggling Wiggins.

When a window of opportunity arises, act fast. The misfortunes of punctures, mechanical failures, crashes and lack of agreement on whether to chase a breakaway and how much effort to expend can all create opportunities for any rider. They just have to be alert to what is going on around them, make a sound assessment based on their own capability – and act quickly. This was magnificently illustrated by 22 year old Thibaut Pinot, the youngest rider in the 2012 tour, when finding himself in the lead at the summit of the last climb on Stage 8, he decided to go for victory with 16km still to ride. He was frantically encouraged by his team manager, Marc Madiot, and crossed the line alone to win by 26 seconds – perhaps the most memorable stage of that year’s Tour.

Know what needs to be done – and execute perfectly. Despite having ridden the stages in training, most teams with a contender in the green jersey (sprint) competition will have a coach rise very early to ride and video the final few kilometres of the finish on the morning of the race once the barriers and banners have been erected. That way the team gets an up to date view of exactly what the finish will look like and can discuss their lead-out tactics on the team bus on the way to the start.

Well here’s hoping we end July with a few more candidates for knighthoods later in the year. Meantime enjoy your chosen sport this summer.

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