I remember watching an interview with Chris Horner where he said something to the effect of, “It doesn’t get any more good old boys’ network than the pro peloton.” In even my own racing experience I have to agree. It is a lot easier to make the winning break or ride at the front of the field when everyone around you knows and respects you. Smart riders will only yield position to those they know or trust won’t ‘lose the wheel’ – much to the frustration of every young, unheralded racer at some point in their career.
In business we call this being an ‘industry insider’. I am spending this week at one of the bigger conferences in the Photonics Industry and I have been at it long enough now that I can’t walk 20 feet without seeing someone I know and enjoying the chance to stop and catch up with them. That is in stark contrast to my first conference 13 years ago when I had to work pretty hard just to get anyone to give me the time of day! There was no instant gratification to this process. I earned the status I now enjoy through many years of working with my peers.
However, as I work to grow our cycling program at Horizon Organic/Einstein Bros I often think about how I might expedite this process. On the sporting side, I feel the best way to accomplish this is to combine some experienced and well respected riders to help our developing riders ‘navigate’ the intricacies of the peloton. Our more senior riders like Chris Winn, Fabio Calabria, and Emerson Oronte have already proven themselves in the pro peloton and are well respected. Having them representing the team instantly elevates the perceived level of the program and our place in the ‘pecking order’ of the peloton. Note that hiring experience isn’t enough in itself, as there are plenty of riders that bring a poor (or at least different) reputation with them either through their previous actions or attitude. We had the opportunity this year to bring on many ‘bigger names’ to the team, but the riders I selected reinforced the culture and perception I want people to have of our program. (And yes guys, I asked around!)
For my part, I have also been working hard to increase the professional reputation and status of our program within the cycling industry and sponsor network. I have found this is best done by leveraging my existing network as aggressively as possible. Passion is pretty infectious, and more people than I would have ever expected have volunteered to help after I explained to them the mission and direction of our program. I have also actively sought out mentors for myself and the program. In addition to being able to leverage their experience, a good mentor or advisor can often serve as a reference when reaching out to a new connection. Two great examples on our team are Daimeon Shanks who probably introduced me to 100 people at Interbike last fall (as well as conquering the internal cable routing demands of all our team’s Felt DA1 TT bikes), and Colby Pearce whose reputation brought legitimacy to our program when we first started the team four years ago as well as helping me make many of our great sponsor and rider connections.
I look forward to making some bigger fish take notice and seeing our team earn its place at the front of the U.S. pro peloton this season!