Cadel Evans is quite possibly Australia’s greatest every road cyclist.
He is the 2011 Tour de France Winner (and one of only 2 non-Europeans to ever win), he has won the 2009 UCI Road World Championships, the 1998 and 1999 Mountain Biking World Championships and he’s a 4 time Olympian.
What is perhaps even more remarkable is that his 2011 Tour de France victory came after 16 years as a professional at the age of 34 making him one of the 5 oldest winners ever. Additionally, it also came after two emotionally difficult 2nd place results in the Tour de France in 2007 and 2008 where he lost by 23 seconds and 58 seconds respectively.
And all of this was achieved remaining 100% clean in a climate of rampant drug cheating.
Cadel Evans journey is a remarkable one and his autobiography, “Cadel Evans: The Art of Cycling” is a fascinating insight into the mindset and psychology of a world champion that provides lessons for anyone who wants to lift their performance in any pursuit.
Here’s 7 powerful lessons I learned from Cadel Evans on what is required to perform at your best.
#1: Surround Yourself with Incredible Mentors
Cadel’s journey on a bike from aged 14 in Australia to the peaks of Europe is one of constantly seeking and finding incredible mentors for every stage of his development. At each point Cadel has always sought people who know more and have more experience so that could learn and grow.
At 14 years old, he started hanging out with a friend called Matt who ‘knows about cycling’. He later joins a cycling group with much older members to also learn from their experience. Cadel constantly hangs around the local cycling shop to pick up anything he can learn.
When he makes the move from mountain biking to road cycling in Europe, he meets Aldo Sassi, then the coach of the Mapei-Quick Step team and they form an enduring relationship until Aldo’s death.
For Cadel, Sassi plays the role of pushing him harder than ever to realise his potential:
‘Aldo I don’t know if I can do that’ I tell him.“Well if you can’t do this, forget about the podium at the Tour de France.”I worked until I dropped for Aldo. I didn’t want to let him down, or disappoint him.
And later on in his career, his mentors also became more experienced cyclists like George Hincapie.
He such an integral part of this stage of my career. He’s the man who’s established the good mentality BMC has. When he rides with us is the first guy to go to bed and the first guy to breakfast in the morning; the first guy to say no to having a glass of wine with dinner, and the one who always refuses dessert.”
Critical to Cadel’s journey in finding and learning from great mentors is that despite his success on the bike, Cadel stayed constantly hungry to learn and incredibly humble, willing to learn from coaches, and teammates alike.
From reading a lot of biographies and autobiographies, I’ve increasingly seen this theme of top performers seeking, finding and learning from incredible mentors throughout their life. And while I mentor a number of other people, my own journey has largely been self-taught.
My mentors have been books. And lots of them. And while this has been great for learning and developing insights, it isn’t as dynamic, responsive and as challenging as an in person relationship with a mentor. My challenge for myself now is to change this!
#2: Preparation Wins
Cadel tells a story about how he prepares for the Strade Bianche race. In the lead up to the race, Cadel is driving over the course as part of course reconnaissance.Cadel then asks to drive the car.
Fabio looks over to me. ‘You want to drive? Sure, you can drive’.It’s probably the first time he’s been asked this by a rider. I’ve arrived on the team with a reputation for meticulous preparation.“Can you take video of all the corners?’I want video of the start of each section so I can watch the videos back on the morning of the race as a reminder of what is ahead. As we drive along I’m getting a feel for where to and how much to brake for the corners…marking parts of the course mentally, like I did for years as a mountain biker. The next day I ride the same course of my bike.
Driving the course. Filming the course to re-watch. Riding it on the bike for practice. All before going out and doing the real thing. It’s this sort of level of preparation that helps Cadel win.
The degree of preparation Cadel puts in is incredible:
It’s Christmas Eve, and I can see smoke struggling up from the snow covered roods. There is no-one out today. No cyclists, not many cars. The last place most people would want to be today is riding their bike along an ice snow-encrusted country road. When it hurts, when it’s hard, and when not many other people could do it, that’s when I come into my own.”
Cadel out-prepares his competition.
Why does Cadel commit to this level of preparation?
Preparation is everything. The more of it you do, the more you can control the variables. And there are a lot of variables in cycling.
I know I often cut on preparation. Especially once you develop a competency for something, you tend to ‘wing it’ more because you can get away with it. Cadel does the opposite. The better he becomes over his career, the more he doubles down on preparation.
My main take-out here is that regardless of how good I get at a skill, ALWAYS double down on preparation. Don’t be lazy. Don’t cut corners. Do the preparation.
My new mantra: Always double down on preparation. Preparation wins.
#3 Leave Everything Out on the Road
Cadel shares a story from his first Tour de France. It’s Stage 2, and he is racing against the now infamous Lance Armstrong and the Discovery team:
I’m seeing black and blue just trying to hold the wheel. I can’t hear for the effort of concentration and the pain I’m in…The monitor reveals I’ve spent 2 hours and eight minutes at or above my theoretical threshold of 175 beats per minute on that climb…No wonder I was hurting.”
I want to pause for a moment. Cadel spent 2 hours at or above his theoretical threshold. 2 hours. I can only imagine the intense pain he would have been in.
How did Cadel do it?
This comes down to a mindset and a mantra Cadel developed:
Leave everything out on the road.
Put it all on the road. One of my best qualities as a rider is that I have a finite about of ability but I’m able to get nearly all that ability out onto the road. I don’t mind that at the end of a race I’m so exhausted I can barely walk. My commitment to myself from the moment I became a professional cyclist has been to try and get everything out of myself.”
This really challenged me. My ability is very finite (I’m discovering this daily!). Am I maximising it by leaving it all out on the road however?
I know too often I don’t. I put in 80%. I turn up, do the work and go home. But I don’t give it everything I’ve got. I don’t finish exhausted knowing I’ve given it everything. And the result is, I’m still tired when I finish. But I haven’t got the best result I could have.
#4: It takes 10 years
What does it take to have a shot at the Tour de France, or at a World Championship?
After four years, if you’re a talented young rider who works hard you will have built up a good base of training, got a bit of an idea about how your body works and gained some racing house. Maybe you will be good enough to become a professional.You learn to race, and be a good professional; that will take two to four years, so you’re now 23 or 24 now. Then you learn to train well and race well and learn about team dynamics. So now you’re 25 or 26 and you’re doing well, you get more opportunities.And you perform well for two or three years. You know the moves you can make.Now you’re almost 30, but with experience, and hopefully more opportunities you can do two to four great years.”
That’s 4 years to *maybe* become a professional. Up to 8 years to become a good professional. 10 years to have a shot at the big titles.
A 10 year commitment to have the opportunity to do something great. That takes commitment and critically patience.
This was incredibly humbling and inspiring for me. It can be easy to start down a pathway of starting a new project, business or career and after 6 months, 1 year, 2 years want to give up because you haven’t made it. You’re not the success you imagined you would be. I’ve felt this a lot.
This was a powerful reminder for me that good things take time. That while you might experience a set back now, you’ve got to keep at it, because it’s only the beginning. That it takes 10 years of commitment and lots of patience. That you need to play the long game.
#5: Self Reflection is the Key to Growth
Today at training I gave myself a 2 out of 5.”
At the end of each day Cadel would give himself honest ratings on his performance during the day reflecting on his training. He would rate his training, diet & self discipline, rest & sleep.
I write the scores into a little notebook next to my bed. It’s a simple book with lined pages and a blue cover. It’s my training notebook. I write in it every day because, at 15, I have become my own psychologist and motivator. “
What was the impact of this simple exercise for Cadel?
The training diary formalises by regimen and helps me prioritise everything in my daily life. And it creates my mindset. Over time, I develop discipline and motivation and the ability to make sacrifices because I have practiced how to do it. By writing it down, I formalise what I’m thinking, put a structure to it. The more I get used to writing down the score, the less I’m inclined to veer from my targets.“
I was absolutely blown away by the maturity and self-awareness that Cadel already had at the age of 15. To understand that daily self-reflection was the key to growing, motivating and pushing himself, staying focused on what was important and developing his mindset.
This was a daily habit that Cadel maintained throughout his career, asking himself every day:
What did I learn today? What could I do better tomorrow?” It helps me become a disciplined, determined, efficient and effective athlete.
Over the last 2 years I’ve been journalling every morning asking myself the same two questions Cadel has asked himself throughout his career:
What did I learn yesterday?
What can I do better today?
Reflecting on this each day has been an absolute game changer for me – my personal growth and understanding of self has exploded in the last 2 years, and I feel as a result my personal effectiveness as well!
What I love about Cadel’s rating out of 5 exercise however is that it also creates focus on what is important. So something I’ll be adding to my morning reflections is a simple rating on how I’ve gone the prior day in living out key values and focusing on priorities!
#6: Fatigue is Inevitable. Being Tired is NEVER an Excuse
There’s so many times I know I need to do something. Call a customer. Write an article. Prepare for a workshop.
And I don’t. I tell myself, “I’m tired. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
In Cadel’s experience however:
As an endurance athlete the first thing you learn is that fatigue is inevitable. Being tired is never an excuse.”
This was a major kick up the ass for me.
You can change this to read:
“As a [INSERT YOUR CAREER] the first thing you learn is that fatigue is inevitable. Being tired is never an excuse.”
This was powerful for me. A reminder that I’m going to get tired. I’m going to want to give up. Stop. Relax. A reminder that fatigue will be and is inevitable. To appreciate and know that it is coming and that it is not an excuse.
Cadel goes on to say:
As a cyclist the first thing you have to learn is to deal with fatigue. Waking up tried, then going out and making yourself even more tired… My body can work, if my mind can push it. You ask so much of your body and mind and it almost always responds dutifully.”
Our self-talk and our mindset are so powerful. I like how Cadel almost creates two distinct people who are having a conversation – his mind as one person, and his body as another. By creating this distinction, it’s easy to see that it is in fact a conversation we have every day and it’s a conversation we can change if we ask better questions of our body.
#7: Find Your Joy
In the end it’s about the love of riding, which, even in my darkest moments never leaves me. The magic of cycling never died. Through all the frustrations and injuries, teams that lost faith in me, and the injustice of being beaten by drug cheats, there was one overriding motivator. I never stopped loving getting on my bike.”
What kept Cadel going after 16 years in a highly competitive and intense sport was he always found joy in getting on his bike.
If it takes 10 year+ of commitment and patience to develop mastery, if it takes having to leave everything out on the road and pushing past fatigue to do something great, you’ve got to enjoy what you do. No matter how disciplined and committed you are, without joy you won’t last the distance.
So, it’s critical that you need to find what brings you joy.
What brings you joy?
Over the last year 18 months I’ve had to ask myself this very question.
What brings me joy?
I realised that what brings me joy is working with young people to help them find their mission in life. To inspire, encourage and motivate them to challenge and push themselves to be better and help others. To equip them with the skills and mindset they need to navigate a rapidly changing world.
What brings you joy?
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