It’s About Leadership: Ryder Hesjedal & the Giro d’Italia Win

I’m a proud Canadian, but on Sunday, May 27th, 2012 my level of pride exponentially increased as a result of 31 year-old Ryder Hesjedal, a native of Victoria, British Columbia, who became the first Canadian ever to win one of the three heralded Grand Tour cycling races, the Giro d’Italia.

It’s akin to India winning the Olympic Gold Medal in Ice Hockey.

If you’re unfamiliar with cycling and specifically the Grand Tours, imagine being on your bicycle for three weeks, pedaling between Vancouver and Chicago (3,500 km), climbing up thousands of meters of mountains while moving at an average speed of 38 km/h.

Insane, I know.

Imagine being 6’2 and weighing only 159 lbs to boot.

Outlandish, I know.

Aside from my patriotism and passion for cycling itself, I’ve been reflecting on Ryder’s win from a leadership perspective.

  • Proactive Leadership – in November of 2011, Ryder’s management team (Garmin-Barracuda) informed him that he was going to be the ‘team leader’ for the 2012 Giro d’Italia. (this means the team would be helping him win the race) Not only was it a boost of confidence, it was an act of proactive leadership that allowed Ryder (and the team) to begin mentally preparing for the 2012 Giro itself.

 

  • Open-Minded Leadership – when Ryder was in his early teens, he and his family agreed to work with Swiss-born immigrant Juerg Feldmann, whose specialty was fitness and lung capacity.  He wanted to help the young lad increase his VO2 max (a way to quantify capacity of oxygen during exercise) to help his athleticism. By the age of 16, Hesjedal’s lung capacity was 4.6 litres, two times the amount of ‘normal’ people. When competing in the Giro, Ryder’s lungs were able to take in almost four times the amount of air and oxygen that you and I can handle. That is being an open-minded leader even at an early age.

 

  • No ‘I’ In Team Leadership – although Ryder’s name goes down in history as the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour and the 2012 Giro d’Italia itself, you can’t win a cycling race, particularly the Grand Tours (Spain, France or Italy) unless you have a team that is committed, communicative, collaborative and selfless. The Garmin-Barracuda team epitomizes this notion that there is no ‘I’ in team. Throughout the three weeks of racing, Ryder continually heaped praise on his teammates:
      • “I’ve been doing this for a long time but it still amazes me what we’re able to accomplish. And I’m going to savour this for a long time.
        • (notice he used the word we’re)
      • “We kept confident and said today is the day after missing out yesterday. The team was behind me 100% on the run in to the climb. Pete Stetina and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin Barracuda teammates) were never far from my side and Vande Velde put me in final position on the final approach. I just had to go for it and it went perfectly. This pink jersey is a product of good strong team work.”
        • (notice the use of team throughout his statement)
      • “The team was incredible, every guy rode incredible, I am honoured by their effort and all we did here. Thank you to my team, my directors, the whole staff and all of our amazing sponsors, and my beautiful family and friends.”
        • (notice the humility)

There is a lesson in Ryder’s Giro win for all of us.

It may take brawn but it also takes a leadership brain to accomplish any goal.

Chapeau Ryder.

And yes, below are our young goats dressed in Pink holding 31 pink carnations and daisies hours after his win.

Comments

  1. says

    Go Ryder Go. Nice post Dan – lots of great lessons to be learned from the world of competitive road cycling.

    I think the servant leadership / role shift for Vande Velde is another important leadership moment to take note – he became Ryder’s super-domestique and last-man on many of the important climbs, protecting him from the wind, setting a solid tempo, and allow Ryder to be ready for the crucial finales. Vande Velde himself was the defacto leader at Garmin in days gone by and himself wore the Maglia Rosa in 2008 when Garmin won the TTT at the Giro.

    So here you have a former “named leader” occupying a crucial leadership role, being the one responsible for supporting Ryder throughout the race and guiding and mentoring him as they went.

    Cycling is often about selfless efforts from teammates – while the individual is the focus, he couldn’t have done it without them.

  2. says

    @Brian – thanks for popping by.

    @Gordon – very well said. Kind of like a CEO stepping aside for the up and comer’. Well done CVV. (another great leadership example)

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