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Yesterday evening I attended in Ride Out Amsterdam a meeting with Merijn Zeeman (sporting director) and Mathieu Heijboer (performance coach) of the best cycling team in the world: Visma | Lease a Bike. Last year their team won all the course races: Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta. It was an interesting night. It started with a good pizza with a former coaching client (who is coaching me now on the bike), admiring the very expensive bikes at Ride Out with an espresso, in the company of cycling enthusiasts (why only males?).

For Christmas I send a managementteam that I’m coaching ‘The Plan’: the book in which they discuss how they’ve become the best cycling team in the world. We took our learnings from it during a workshop. Tonight was the follow-up of the book. It didn’t disappoint, some of the insights:

  • Future-back approach is key to their succes: set the end goals and lay the puzzle to realise these ambitions from the future back to today
  • Everything is linked together: what riders eat depends on the training they are going to do today and the phase of the preparation they are in and the personal goals they have
  • The performance system is so advanced and well developed that the riders need to fit in. There is limited room for individual ideas or wishes by riders
  • Science is key: for developing the bikes (mock-up of the body of Wout van Aert so they can test in the windtunnel without him being around), food-programs, training schedules, mental training etc
  • They are as much as possible transparent in what they do: books by journalists who’ve followed them for 3 years, Netflix series, Amazon documentary. Not that they enjoy it so much but it’s a way of proving that the past with doping is gone
  • The team comes always before the individual. Exceptional individuals, like Wout, can demand some room: he’s not going to ride the Tour since he wants to win a golden medal at the Olympics
  • The national cycling board is way less advanced than the commercial teams. In everything. Reluctantly they let riders go cycling for the national team in the Olympics and the Worlds. They send them with their own mechanics
  • Roglic made a transfer after 12 years working with them to BORA. It led to the question: ‘Are you not pissed that he takes all your secrets to another team?’ The answer is revealing:  ‘No that’s part of the game. Besides that, we’ve spent hundreds of hours planning and thinking how to win races. He has seen only the end-result of our thinking proces: eat this today and ride this training the next hours. Our riders don’t have the time to think it all over. They need to cycle 5 hours a day and rest.’

So it’s clear that they try to predict everything what reality is throwing at them and prepare for it. It has made them hugely successful. I admire their professionalism, eye for detail and dedication. Now, the morning after I’m wondering where the love for the individual cyclist is. I missed it last night. It makes me think of the Olympic sailing team I’ve been following in the past. Their credo was: sailor centred, coach driven. Within the cycling team it has become coach driven. Maybe a little too much to win upcoming year? Time will tell. Paris-Roubaix is the race Merijn is most looking forward to. I’ll follow it with great interest: Sunday April 7!

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