Where contests are really won

Posted by on Mar 9, 2012 in Facilities Management, Incidents/Downtime, Leadership | 1 comment

Santiago Botero is a Colombian professional bicycle road racer.  He’s best known for winning the mountains classification in the Tour de France, and the World Championship Time Trial.  During the 2000 Tour de France, he kept a daily diary of his thoughts and progress for a newspaper back in Colombia.  What follows was his entry for a part of the race that took place in the mountains:

“There I am all alone with my bike.  I know of only two riders ahead of me as I near the end of the second climb on what most riders consider the third worst mountain stage in the Tour.  I say ‘most riders’ because I do not fear mountains. After all, our country is nothing but mountains.  I train year-round in the mountains.  I am the national champion from a country that is nothing but mountains.  I trail only my teammate, Fernando Escartin, and a Swiss rider.

“Pantani, one of my rival climbers, and the Gringo Armstrong are in the Peloton about five minutes behind me.  I am climbing on such a steep portion of the mountain that if I were to stop pedaling, I will fall backward.  Even for a world class climber, this is a painful and slow process.  I am in my upright position pedaling at a steady pace willing myself to finish this climb so I can conserve my energy for the final climb of the day.  The Kelme team leader radios to me that the Gringo has left the Peloton by himself and that they can no longer see him.

“I recall thinking ‘the Gringo cannot catch me by himself.’  A short while later, I hear the gears on another bicycle.  Within seconds, the Gringo is next to me – riding in the seated position, smiling at me.  He was only next to me for a few seconds and he said nothing – he only smiled and then proceeded up the mountain as if he were pedaling downhill. For the next several minutes, I could only think of one thing – his smile. His smile told me everything.  I kept thinking that surely he is in as much agony as me, perhaps he was standing and struggling up the mountain as I was and he only sat down to pass me and discourage me.  He has to be playing games with me.

“Not possible. The truth is that his smile said everything that his lips did not.  His smile said to me, ‘I was training while you were sleeping, Santiago.’  It also said, ‘I won this tour four months ago, while you were deciding what bike frame to use in the Tour.  I trained harder than you did, Santiago.  I don’t know if I am better than you, but I have outworked you and right now, you cannot do anything about it.  Enjoy your ride, Santiago. See you in Paris.’

“Obviously, the Gringo did not state any of this.  But his smile did dispel a bad rumor among the riders on the tour.  The rumor that surfaced as we began the Prologue several days ago told us that the Gringo had gotten soft.  His wife had given birth to his first child and he had won the most difficult race in the world – He had no desire to race, to win.  I imagine that his smile turned to laughter once he was far enough not to embarrass me.  The Gringo has class, but he heard the rumors – he probably laugh all the way to Paris.  He is a great champion and I must train harder.  I am not content to be a great climber, I want to be the best.

“I learned much from the Gringo in the mountains.  I will never forget the helpless feeling I had yesterday.  If I ever become an international champion, I will always remember the lesson the Gringo taught me.”

Reflecting on the situation, Santiago realized that the Tour de France was actually won months before the race.  One could say the same of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team.  While the actual games were played in Lake Placid, New York, in February, the team actually won the game months before on a rink in Minnesota.

When we see a great contest of teams or individuals, we remember the moment, but often don’t realize the thousands of hours of practice and training that went into those few seconds or minutes.  It is there that the contests are won.

Mission critical operations are the same.  Through thousands of hours of training, study, and drills we prepare for those moments when the breaker trips, a fire breaks out, or when an earthquake strikes.  Our win is the survival of the facility and its ability to continue to serve its mission.  Are you preparing your team to “win”?  How much time – what percentage of total time – do you prepare to “win” in those situations that your team may face?

Mission critical operations are not totally about saving the day but, for the most part, making sure that we don’t get into situations where we have to save the day.  We win in these situations by making sure that we can do complex and intrusive operations without affecting the mission of the facility.  This too requires preparation, training, and practice.

Lance Armstrong did not win every stage in the seven Tour de France races that he won.  In fact, of the 21 stages of the race, Lance has at most won six of the stages.  During all other of his six wins of the race he only won at most four of the stages.  In one race, he only won one of the stages.  This shows that winning this very difficult race is about strategy and consistently doing well.

We have similar parallels in our industry.  We rarely have those moments when our activities are in the limelight, but we work with purpose and a strategy to “win” in the long run.  This too is determined by how much we train, practice, and prepare.  What we do on a daily basis to prepare does count.  As I often do, I ask a question at the conclusion of this post.  Today, I ask:  How are you preparing to win?

One Comment

  1. Awesome analogy! Great story. I will plan to use this (with your permission) in my training exercises…

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