Life lessons from the Paris/Roubaix bike race

Normal bike racing is brutally hard, to some extent it is about training and training until you are super fit, then competing over such a long distance that everyone gets completely exhausted and seeing who has been clever enough at saving energy, mentally strong or fit enough, to still have the energy, to beat the others to the line.

Each April there is a special bike race that is even more brutally hard than the others.  It is known as “The Hell of the North”  or Paris – Roubaix. This years race was held yesterday (Sunday 10 April).  What makes Paris-Roubaix especially brutal is the cobbles.  Most races are run over reasonably smooth public roads, Paris – Roubaix is 260 kilometers of which 50 are extremely rough cobbled farm tracks, split into around 28 sections.

The course is ridden on racing bikes, usually strengthened for the occasion, the cobbled sections are ridden at 40-50 kph.  If that does not sound to bad, just try maintaining 40 kph on the flat for 1 km, on a bike.  Average speed for the whole 260 kms is around 42 kph.  If it is dry there are clouds of choking dust, if it is wet there is mud and no grip.

Winners typically make this one race, on one day each year, the focus of their season, maybe even of  their career.  Winning it elevates a rider above the elite that form the pro peleton.  Winners will have trained and prepared specifically for the event. They will have a team of helpers including other riders as well as doctors, nutritionists, masseurs, mechanics, trainers and team managers all focussed on winning a bike race, in a rather bleak corner of northern France.

Why?  And why is this relevant to the rest of us?

Winning (or even competing in) an event like Paris-Roubaix is all about focus and motivation.  What it shows is that with focus and motivation we can push our minds and bodies to accomplish things that are unfathomably hard and physically impossible when we start out.  With focus and dedication we can make the impossible possible.

Focus is the key.  However worthy or pointless you might thing their aim is, the riders have total clarity around their target and are therefore able to focus on it.  It is tempting to look at professional athletes and think -“if I had the time to train as they do, I could achieve more”.  This is exactly the point, they have the time because they have chosen to focus, chosen not to be distracted, chosen to dedicate themselves to an objective.  Of course this can get out of hand and can become unbalanced, but the point is that if we are prepared to evaluate our lives and make the choice between what we really want and what happens to be around, we too can focus.  And when we focus we too can achieve remarkable, impossible things – whatever our field of endeavour.

Top riders will have trained 6-8 hours a day since they were in their teens and will have avoided late nights, alcohol and other distractions as well.  They will have stuck to a carefully balanced diet and had regular measurements of their physical and mental strength to asses progress.

Focus and the ability to accurately the evaluate the energetic value and cost of everything in your life, does not come out a conventional education, unless you have gone out of your way to find out, you are unlikely to know it.  It comes from knowing and living your purpose, articulating your vision for how you will achieve it and creating a plan for delivering it – and then realising the plan.  Purpose is key in all of this because it is towards your purpose that you need to evaluate the energetic value and cost of everything.  The question is, “does this person/relationship/place/meal/meeting/ training  or whatever contribute or cost energy in the pursuit of my purpose?”

We don’t all need to be as fanatically dedicated as a world class athlete, but if we want to be world class at whatever we do, whether it is sports or coaching or music or art or leadership we do need to be dedicated.   We need to understand our own mind and body.  We need to devote time and energy to practicing and learning.  We need to build up a support infrastructure that can take care of essential, but non core activities (like accounts in my case).  And we need to avoid distractions like over indulgence, draining relationships, negative media and so on.

So, the recipe for being a world class player in your own “Paris-Roubaix”:

1 – Articulate your purpose and your vision for how you will achieve it.

2 – Define your strategy and the steps you will need to accomplish.

3 – Identify and release tensions and distractions that hold you back and reduce focus.

4 – Develop your platform and support infrastructure that will fulfill non core requirements.

5 – Do it.

The survey that I started last week is all part of my own continual focussing of my work and learning.  The responses so many of you have given have been illuminating and enormously valuable, so thank you so much for your contributions if you have filled it in, if you would like to it is still on my homepage.

Consequences so far include:  I will put less sales stuff into these mails and they will have a stronger personal development focus.  I will develop some new “products” including training for coaches and training for facilitators in my authentic methodologies.  I will add an FAQ and clearer pricing to my coaching page.  I probably won’t improve my spelling – but I will explain that I did not really learn to write until I got my first computer, when when I was 27 and I am still slightly dyslexic (so unless my computer spots it – I don’t) – but I am very happy for you to tell me when I get it wrong (loose/lose, lead/led, it’s/its are common).

I will give a full summary of the feedback soon, but some of the answers have been truly lovely – like this one from Dawn Waldron (Thank you Dawn :-).

“I rarely ask for help, I’m stubbornly self-contained, I’m frighteningly self-aware, I’m unusually self-actualised and Neil is the only human being in the world whose professional services have changed my life. And by a quantum leap. If we were allowed to vote for one person to rule the world I’d vote for him (except for his spelling!,,,,)”

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With love


Neil Crofts
authentic business
+34 646391384
Skype – neilcrofts

About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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