June 29, 2012

Mentorship of Champions

Last night, I had the privilege of being at the premier of The Road Uphill, a movie about the Schleck brothers. It’s two days till the Tour de France and it was an important look into the aspects that surround these two talented boys. Andy – confident, powerful, a bit more brash. Frank – insecure and without the belief that makes a champion.

There are flashes of Fabian Cancellara, who never let’s you doubt he is the man to beat and Jens Voigt, who will give everything for his leaders.

Here is a quick overview of the film:

I was deeply saddened by the movie. It was incredibly beautifully filmed, and the storyline is great, but left me sad.

The movie starts by showing young Schlecks and the story of their father, an ex-pro who rode as a domestique. Their dad clearly believes that winning isn’t everything. That is why he rode as a domestique in the support of other riders and not winning for himself.

The attitude at Leopard was the same. Their team directors always spoke of others to watch, about it not being about the win and for me, the Leopard team was a rehashed version of CSC, down to Nygaard, the worst Riis impersonator on the market. Survival camps, hugs and team spirit were all part of Riis’s formula for success, but he taught his guys to win. At all costs. You bury yourself for your team mates, because they will turn themselves inside out for the win.

If I rode till I coughed up a lung and the guy who I rode for was openly ok about not winning I would be highly irritated. The mediocrity issue is also touched on in this post and was openly witnessed by the spat between the Schlecks and Bruyneel earlier this year. He wants winners.

Sponsors demand winners.

Do you think Trek make the 2nd best bike in the world and are ok with that? No, they innovate and fight to make the best product on the market, so that a rider like Andy Schleck can use it to win the greatest race of the year. Their R&D is paid back 100 times if he wins. If he comes second, I would imagine the sales are not quite the same. It’s the same for all their sponsors.

Their Craft kit is custom-made perfection, for winners. Not cool kit for kids who got close to the top.

Perhaps I am being a little harsh about this, but damn it, sport exists for the win. I just don’t believe either of them will win the Tour without changing that attitude. Tony Hawk wasn’t happy with the 720 that existed on the ramp, so he pulls out a 900 and stuns the world into action. He could have stuck with 720 no hassles. But the 900 was what we remember with almost 8 000 000 views on Youtube.

Which brings me to mentoring and how important that is. Had their father been a winner at all costs, perhaps they would not have been as good as they are, his kids. When dads are as good as an Eddy Merkx or a Michael Schumacher, we don’t see their kids emulating them, because their dads push too hard at a young age, perhaps, or are disinterested because to be those kinds of winners requires a selfish approach in the first place.

Bjarne got the best out of the Schlecks – Frank with classics wins and the belief that he could win and Andy – he took Andy from a young age and moulded him. I met Andy & Frank when we brought the CSC team to South Africa in 2006/2007 – Bjarne then believed that Andy would become the tour champion and Frank should focus on the classics, specifically the last week of classics in Liege and Amstel. He was mentoring them and moulding them for the future, with every word.

In the film last night, I felt the guys were lacking in mentorship and almost made the rules as they went, raced as they felt. Lacking in tough love. An entire film about it being about uphill only, but that it’s alright to finish second, as long as you had fun, is not what professional sports is about. It’s not what gets young kids through the time times when they are trying to get to the top.

When it comes to champions, it requires a helping hand to mould the raw talent, the powerful determination that is there in an athlete. Look at what Bjarne did for Basso, for Fabian and what Bruyneel did for Lance.

They have the best bikes, the best wheels, the best gear, the best financial support, massage, food and more. Why should their performance not reflect the same?

Why should they play it so safe?

Maybe there is not enough on the line for them?

What are your thoughts?

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