BEVERLY LUCAS IS A GLOBAL CEO

Beverly Lucas is the CEO for Knight Composites a global company designing and manufacturing high performance wheels for the cycling and triathlon industries. Originally hailing from Sheffield, Yorkshire, UK, Beverly is the true definition of a multinational company leader. Like many CEOs of international companies, Beverly’s hard working pragmatism and dedication has led her to global success.

Beverly explains to Dalton Koss HQ the importance of being politely pushy and why it is easier to run a global company when you are living and/or working in a number of countries across different time zones.

I started racing when I was 9 for my local club, the Rutland Cycling Club, the oldest UK cycling club. Riding and racing your bike against your twin sister instils an independent spirit. My mum still tells me today that she knew when I was 4 years old that I would be the one in the family to fly the nest and go abroad to become an amazing leader. My mother’s support has been the one constant in my career for which I am continuously thankful.

I like to think that I have my mum’s dedication. She has always pushed and encouraged me. If I am honest, my leadership journey has been relatively easy. I never experienced sexism in the cycling industry; I have only been treated with the upmost respect. I think this is because I always maintain my ground, fighting for what I believe in. It stems from having determination, fire and passion and making it clear that I will not be trodden on. I have never let my gender get in the way of what I wanted to do.

My leadership journey started at Felt bicycles. In addition to having a strong work ethic, I had a brilliant boss by the name of Bill Duehring. He always steered me in the right direction and is the great-uncle I never had. Bill shaped my career, giving me advice to become the great leader I am today. If I can be half the person Bill is, then I would be happy. Bill encourages his staff to succeed. He was and still is my mentor.

When I moved to Bend, USA, in 2005 I became one of their first telecommuters. Bill had faith in me to continue my job no matter where I travelled. It takes a certain individual to work from home in a management role for another company. It requires work life balance. Felt was a real success story for me. I was one of the few women in the cycling industry in a management position and I’m proud to say I helped put Felt on the map with its first Tour De France team. It was wonderful to do this for Bill and he still thanks me today.

In 2007, I became pregnant with my second child Cameron and my husband and I decided to buy a bike shop in June/July of the same year. I just finished working for Felt, I was within three weeks of delivering and I was the volunteer coordinator for the Cascade Cycling Classic. Simultaneously, I was consulting for elite athletes, managing their contracts. It was at this time that Jim Pfeil came to me with (then) Edge Composites wheels and told me that the company needed some guidance. Jim called me and asked if I would consider speaking to Edge’s CEO about product globalisation.

I started to research Edge and I was impressed with their product considering they were a small company, but I uncovered that Edge didn’t own their own name or IP and a Chinese company was ripping them off, so I knew they needed help and I started to work for them from Bend. We then relaunched the company under a new name the following year at Eurobike and it was incredibly successful. I also took ENVE to their first wind tunnel tests using my connections at Felt. The results were less than spectacular and I recommended that they needed an aerodynamicist to assist their composites engineers with a much faster design.

At that time, the Australian cycling team, Fly Virgin Australia, was sponsored by, and using, ENVE composites. As an avid Formula 1 fan, it caught my attention whilst watching the Melbourne (Australia) Gran Prix back in 2009, that Jenson Button’s F1 team, then Brawn GP, were also sponsored by Branson’s outfit. I used this connection to basically blag my way into the Brawn GP compound in Brackley, UK, to discuss the potential of having Brawn GP aerodynamicists help with our wheel designs. An alliance with Brawn GP would have been massively expensive, but their Head of Trackside Aerodynamics told me about Simon Smart, who had an engineering background with Red Bull and was also a big cycling fan. At the time, he was already involved with a couple of brands in the bicycle frame industry and was rapidly becoming renowned as one of the top aerodynamicists. I had a beer with Simon and we got along like a couple of old mates.

We started working with Simon and before we knew it, we had the Smart ENVE System. It is about having the courage to believe in what you think is ground breaking and pursuing that thought. This courage sets you apart from others and is essential in being a leader. It was watching the Melbourne Grand Prix at 5am that I had the light bulb moment of gaining better aerodynamics via Formula 1 race engineering. It is about trusting your instincts. I went after the Brawn GP to work on wheel dynamics and a successful partnership was borne out of that. It was fun!

After working for ENVE and spending a couple of years – ironically – working in the bicycle industry in Melbourne, I was approached by Jim Pfeil and Kevin Quan and asked me to join their quest to create the world’s fastest bicycle wheel. I immediately responded with yes! Initially we didn’t have a brand name and tossed around some ideas. It was my partner Sean who approached me and suggested to call the brand Knight, my dad’s surname. Taking on this name was sentimental for me. My dad passed away when I was young. He introduced me to cycling, sharing his love and passion for the bike with me from a very young age.

Knight Composite 65 Custom Wheels
Knight Composite 65 Custom Wheels

I was asked to be the company’s CEO by our investors. This proposition took a little longer to agree to. Heading up a new company is a huge risk, especially as a parent with the responsibilities of two children. It takes a lot of courage and faith to move out of a regular job with a regular paycheque to owning your own manufacturing company. Unyielding hard work, devilishly long hours and very little sleep – it’s hardly a glamorous role and certainly not one for the faint hearted.

However, this risk has paid off with Knight Composites comprising of an amazing team of people creating fantastic results. Each person is 100% committed to our brand and products. The whole team works incredibly hard, but we all love what we do. Like any cycling team, to make it to the top you have to be prepared to sweat and work with your teammates; you’re in the race together. I’m incredibly proud of what we do, who we are, where we are going and how much fun we will have in getting there. Being the team leader – or CEO – is just the small print.

Knight Composite wheels are used extensively by  triathletes and cyclists.
Knight Composite wheels are used extensively by triathletes and cyclists.

Some key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership include:

  1. Dedication; a large quantity is needed.
  2. Courage; you have to have faith in your own ideas and courage to see them through.
  3. Face-to-face conversations and relationships; building trust, confidence and integrity across all your professional relationships is necessary to build a successful career.
  4. Confidence; it is important to believe in yourself and see any program of work through to the end.
  5. Humility; it is important to understand the perspective of others and what it is like in their shoes. I am lucky that I have worked at the global level with different cultures so I find it easier to get on with a diversity of people at multiple levels. I always love to help people, getting them where they need to be. I thrive on other people getting a kick out of what we do.
  6. Creativity; be creative in how you make things happen, identify the gaps and see the synergies.
  7. Build strong partnerships; each partner will bring something to the table. I have amazing staff here in Bend and you need to trust and empower your staff. I am not full of my own self-importance.

Face-to-face communication, whether on Skype or flying to meetings, is the best way to communicate. This is incredibly important in Europe and Asia, where discussions around a table are still far more respected than emails and phone calls. This human side to a working relationship is incredibly important, something that emails and phone calls cannot replace. Cycling is a business, but most of us are in this industry because we love it! There’s nothing better than getting to know your business partners in and out of the conference room by putting a ride together after work or going for a swift one down to the local pub! That’s the difference between business travel being a chore and actually becoming an opportunity to experience other ways of life. It was a lot easier to travel when I was young and single. It’s difficult to leave your kids when you have an important job to do but I have never missed Molly and Cam’s birthdays yet!. It is really hard to keep a work life balance of being a good mum and employee. Most of the time I think I am pretty good at this, but it does require hard work. 

I attribute a lot of my success to my mum. She taught me dedication and instilled a sense of just keep going; basically resilience and strength. I am fortunate to have amazing people in my life that I can count on. They provide a great support network and will be honest with me, calling me out when required. In essence, it’s actually easier to run a global company when you are experienced in living and/or working in a number of countries and across different time zones. I think you have to be prepared to put in the hard yards and make the effort to travel to other countries to really understand the mechanics of global business.

Azjer Airgas Pro Team with Knight Composite wheels at an international Pro Race.
Azjer Airgas Pro Team with Knight Composite wheels at an international Pro Race.

I don’t subscribe to the view that you can be a rounded leader by only ever working from one desk in one city – for example, how can you possibly head up global sales or global marketing if you only have a one-sided geographical and cultural perception of how industry and commerce work in other countries if you don’t actually live it? You can’t be parochial about business matters and equally you have to learn to empathise with the people you’re working with. I have such phenomenal friendships with past business partners because I spend time getting to know them.

My health and wellbeing is central to functioning across multiple time zones. I don’t do yoga because I can’t spend more than ten minutes in a group setting without laughing. My back yard comprises of 350miles of off-road trails. I don’t ride as much as I would like to, but I often choose to ride and run on my own, avoiding groups, so I can think and plan accordingly. My personal time is pretty haphazard anyhow and I can’t stick to a daily regime. The only constant in my life is school pick up and drop off. If I need to clear my head, I take a break and go for a run or ride.

I am totally dedicated to what I do. I am a research junkie. I am a tech geek. I am not a TV watcher as I don’t really have time for TV. This time researching keeps me ahead of the game and my competitors. I am lucky to have a lot of common sense and find the time to talk to a lot of people. I look at what other companies are doing. It is mind blowing as to what is out there. I love my job. I do have a sincere passion for what I do but I also care about what everyone is doing.

For those who want to create their own business or product within the cycling industry, my advice is to reach out to knowledgeable people even if you don’t know them. Ask people to help you. For the most part, 90% of people in the cycling industry are in it because they love it and they are happy to help you. Across any industry, there will be handfuls of people who don’t care and will not give you the time of day. You will quickly learn who they are. Don’t be afraid to reach out. LinkedIn has been an amazing tool for me that I use daily; ultimately you need to learn how to communicate yourself to the greater professional world. Don’t be afraid to be politely pushy.

To learn more about Beverly and Knight Composites, please click on the links below:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/beverlylucas

Knight Composites: http://knightcomposites.com

Beverly looks after her health and wellbeing through a number of sporting activities including skiing.
Beverly looks after her health and wellbeing through a number of sporting activities including skiing.

Album Rescue Series: Ultravox ‘Ultravox!’

Some people know about my two-part life but most don’t. The two halves are cycling and music which are similar to oil and water; its very rare that the two mix. In early 2015 bicycle company Swift Carbon, who named their top of the range racing bicycle Ultravox, invited me to the launch of their new carbon fiber racing bikes. It was an interesting event held in a posh, spotless, boutique style bicycle shop in St Kilda, an über hip and trendy suburb of Melbourne. At this launch I met South African company owner Mark Blewett and I asked him why he hadn’t named these bicycles something more cycling orientated e.g. Mistral or Sirocco (both hot winds that blow across the Mediterranean from the North African desert). It turned out that Mark was a big fan of 80s synth-pop and in particular the UK band Ultravox, what he didn’t know was there were two very different versions of this band.

The lessor known but more adventurous Ultravox (version one) ran from 1974 to 1979 and then the more commercially successful Midge Ure fronted version two ran from 1980 onwards. Most people are familiar with version two due to mega hits like Vienna and Dancing With Tears In My Eyes. For me this is a problem as the latter more commercial and insipid work throws a long shadow over version one.

It’s the version one February 1977 debut album, Ultravox! that I am rescuing here. The exclamation mark is a sign of their origins. When the band formed in 1974 the Krautrock band Neu! was a heavy influence. Originally the band went by the name Tiger Lilly and drew their influences from The Velvet Underground, Roxy Music, Bowie, Steve Harley and The New York Dolls. Though not really a performing unit at this stage, other than the odd pub gig, they did write a lot of material some of which makes it onto this album. This album was recorded cheaply at Island Record’s studio in Hammersmith, west London in only 17 days. Production work was undertaken by up and coming producer Steve Lillywhite, who would later find fame with U2, Simple Minds, and Roxy Music’s Brian Eno.

On the 2003 compilation release, The Best Of Ultravox, there isn’t a single track from this debut album. I would argue that Ultravox were at their most vital, and did their best work, on this debut album. But why is this piece of excellent music largely ignored? Anyone expecting this album to be similar to the Midge Ure fronted Ultravox (version two) of the Vienna era is in for something of a shock. The Ultravox of the late 1970s were a much stranger, much more interesting and engaging outfit. The music on this album is as idiosyncratic as anything that made it onto vinyl during that era. The list of influences is long: Neu!, Berlin-era Bowie and Eno-era Roxy Music are perhaps the most obvious on this record. Forming in 1974 and signing to Chris Blackwell’s Island label in 1977 put the band into a liminal state, a bit too late for punk rock and a bit too early for the New Romantics. Their sound on this record is a combination of post punk, glam rock, electronica, new wave, classical and reggae, which is probably Chris Blackwell’s influence. Gary Numan, who was heavily influenced by Ultravox, said that they were “conventional but with another layer on top”. There’s a real sense of this music not belonging, it’s disconnected, doesn’t fit and not of its time. Looking back at it through a 38 year long telescope it all starts to make sense, it’s all about perspective. In the same way that cheap electric guitars defined the sound of the 1960s, cheap synthesizers defined the sound of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ultravox were suspended in 1977 between the bold influences of Bowie and Roxy on one hand and a vision of new wave and early 1980s synth-pop on the other. Ultravox was a band out of sync with the times.

I first discovered this album when a schoolmate stole it from a local record shop and offered it to me for £5. As a 15 year old I was probably the only person in my whole school that the music thief could possibly sell this record too. In retrospect my schoolmate was probably thirty years ahead of the time by stealing music when everyone else was still paying for it. Some would call him a thief; I would call him a visionary. What initially attracted me to this album was the fabulous high quality gatefold cover. The five members of the band dressed predominantly in black PVC against a black brick wall with a vivid bright red neon sign spelling out Ultravox! This photograph is a pre-computer one, so there is no Photo Shop manipulation here. The huge neon sign was real and I’m guessing it’s languishing in a north London garage somewhere awaiting a TV makeover show when some heavily tattooed guy called Rick will bring it back to its former glory. When the gatefold opened staring out were Stevie Shears (guitar), Warren Cann (drums/vocals), Billy Currie (violin/keyboards) and Chris Cross (bass/vocals). The back cover is a backlight picture of John Foxx in a TV studio dressed in a black suite with his shirt collar and cuffs burnt off. It’s a powerful image, a kind of digital Jesus Christ like figure? The cover artwork and design is credited to Dennis Leigh, which I didn’t realize at the time is John Foxx’s real name. This was a piece of luxury design and packaging, Art Into Pop strikes again.

Ultravox1
The five members of Ultravox dressed in black PVC.

The music press of the day, yes we actually had a music press back in the late 1970s, did not treat this album kindly upon its release. Ultravox!‘s sales were disappointing, and neither the album nor the associated single Dangerous Rhythm managed to enter the UK charts. The band’s debut as Ultravox was after they had signed to Island Records and had made this album. The press found this problematic, as it seemed to contravene some un-written punk rock rule of the day. The band walked directly into the lion’s den by playing their first show as Ultravox at the Nashville Room, 171 North End Road, London, W6. At the time the Nashville Room was the home of the booming pub rock scene (101ers, Duck Deluxe, Dr Feelgood, Kilburn and The Highroads, etc.) and not somewhere a contrived alternative art school band complete with violin, synthesizer and newly signed record contract should be playing. The gig very quickly turned into a ‘hyped’ event, rammed to the rafters with self important gonzo music journalists determined to pull the band apart. In the 19th century, Charles Sanders Pierce defined the theory of semiotics as the “quasi-necessary, or formal doctrine of signs” and its quite feasible that one of the issues at the Nashville Room that night was one of semiotics. The red neon sign, from the album cover, caused the most offence when it was used as the backdrop on the stage. I wasn’t there but I’ll speculate it looked very impressive. However the journalists who were viewing this through the lens of punk rock interpreted it as a sign of arrogance. It’s very rare for a debut album to be damaged because the band had a strong visual image, which they wished to communicate to their audience. All high school media studies students would see this as a classic case of what Umberto Eco terms aberrant decoding.

What about the music on this album? There aren’t any bad tracks, it sounds much bigger than its environment. The joint production work between the technically savvy Lillywhite and the cerebral Eno is sonically top notch. I would propose that one of the issues the music press had with this album is that it did not adhere to the strict three minute, three chord, shouty aesthetics of punk that was popular at the time, it was all together a much more complex piece of work. During the 1970’s the music press wielded their immense power quite irresponsibly and to a large extent it was them that inflicted unwarranted damage on Ultravox! the album and the band. The sound of this album is unique and was just too different for most listeners at the time, which is possibly why it alienated the band from their potential following. At times the lyrics are a little overblown and art school pretentious e.g. track eight (The Wild, The Beautiful and The Dammed) “I’ll send you truckloads of flowers. From all the world that you stole from me. I’ll spin a coin in a madhouse. While I watch you drowning“. For me though this is all part of the fun.

The first track (Satday [sic] Night In The City Of The Dead) possesses the same no-nonsense attitude that The Clash would display. It also captures the edgy noir mood that pervades the entire album. Track two Life At Rainbow’s End is an upbeat future gazing tune about living the good life. This fascination with Futurism is the core theme of this album and it is most prominent on track four’s I Want To Be A Machine. Relations within the band were occasionally on a tenuous footing during this time as Foxx declared that he intended to live his life devoid of all emotions, a sentiment expressed explicitly here. This track excels because it culminates in a startling reverb laden violin-fest. Track five’s Wide Boys bares its influences openly when it kicks off with a Bowie-ish Rebel Rebel Mick Ronson sound-a-like guitar riff before settling down into a Spiders From Mars’ groove. On track six’s Dangerous Rhythm John Foxx starts aping Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry but set against a catchy Island Records house style reggae beat. The anthemic track eight, The Wild The Beautiful And The Damned, with its experimental and avant-garde themes draws heavily on Bowie’s 1977 Low album, which was only released one month before Ultravox! The album closes with track nine’s haunting My Sex, a spares piano driven composition with bare disarming vocals overlaid with electronic heart beat and eerie distancing synth strings.

Ultravox! back cover featuring John Foxx.
Ultravox! back cover featuring John Foxx (AKA Dennis Leigh).

After this debut album two more albums followed, Ha!-Ha!-Ha! (1977) and Systems Of Romance (1978) neither of which sold well nor were particularly exciting. With three poorly selling albums under their belt Island Records pulled the plug and dropped the band in 1979. Despite being dropped by the record company the band undertook an un-successful self-financed USA tour the same year. By this point the writing was well and truly on the wall for Ultravox version one. Guitar player Stevie Shears was fired after the USA tour and John Foxx’s professional relationship with Billie Currie was well and truly broken. With the extra strain of financial bankruptcy facing the band, John Foxx left to pursue a solo career. Ultravox version one was well and truly terminated by the end of 1979.

When I’m out on my bicycle and ride over a bridge in a river valley its virtually impossible to comprehend the structure’s engineering elegance and architectural beauty. As you ride along all you can see is the road ahead and it’s not until you put some distance between you and the structure that you can you look back and admire its beauty and elegance. Maybe this visual metaphor holds true when considering this album? Ultravox! was an album bridging the gorge between punk and new romantics/synth pop. At the time we couldn’t see this because we were right on top of it but in retrospect its becomes fairly obvious of the form and function that this album takes. Dave Thompson, writing for AllMusic, opinioned, “It was Ultravox! who first showed the kind of dangerous rhythms that keyboards could create. The quintet certainly had their antecedents – Hawkwind, Roxy Music and Kraftwerk to name but a few, but still it was the group’s 1977 eponymous debut’s grandeur, wrapped in the ravaged moods and lyrical themes of collapse and decay that transported ’70s rock from the bloated pastures of the past to the futuristic dystopias predicted by punk”. This CD makes me grateful and proud that when I was young, my youth was not wasted, in fact it was rocked by this album.

Bridie O’Donnell Embodies the Multidimensional Modern Women

Dr Bridie O’Donnell is a Medical Doctor and Educator at Epworth Health Check and Breast Care Physician at Epworth Breast Service. While most people polarise themselves into either the arts or science, Bridie is the embodiment of the multidimensional modern women, displaying great breadth and depth across multiple landscapes through her various roles that include: team manager and rider for Total Rush Hyster women’s cycling team; broadcaster; SisuGirls Podcast creator/presenter and Ambassador for Disability Sport and Recreation.

Bridie discusses her unshakeable desire to be exceptional with Dalton Koss HQ.

In May, 2015, during the 2015 Mersey Valley Tour in Tasmania, Cycling Australia delivered a fantastic development opportunity that allowed 13-16 year old young women to have access to professional cycle racing teams. Part of the program saw two young women sitting in the team car with our team director. The program organiser also asked me to talk to the young women on a panel one evening after racing. This wonderful opportunity to chat with these young women prompted a discussion on whether I am a role model. I used to think that to be a good leader and/or role model you needed to have a high level of achievement, for example, be an Olympic or world champion. My thinking on this has changed. I have come to realise that being a good leader/role model is about the choices you make and the learning taken from these decisions.

I am a good role model due to the choices and pathways I have taken. I didn’t choose the easiest paths; there were many negative and hard moments. I became an athlete late in life and I often took guidance from the wrong people in my haste to progress quickly. In both medicine and sports, I do my best to model how to do things, and communicate how to do things. I have high standards of organisation and communication and I know I find it difficult to work with people who are not organised or are poor communicators. I am incredibly clear about what I expect from people in advance. I am consultative, and it is important for me to understand other people’s values. For example, as Team Manager I meet with all the riders pre-race to chat about our tactics and who will be doing what. I also lead by example. I am the hardest riding member of the team. I am modelling for them: honesty, clear communication and commitment to the team not as an individual rider within a team. I can be a workaholic when it comes to team commitment and I am willing to work hard and do what others are not willing to do. As I started my professional cycling career later in life, I have always considered myself to have lower levels of physical talent. I found this out the hard way when I was a professional cyclist in Europe. However, I always move on from disappointment. I always make an effort to understand and take into account expectations from those around me as it can affect team performance, whether it is in sport or medicine.

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Dr Bridie O’Donnell is team manager and rider for Total Rush Hyster women’s cycling team.

My experiences in medicine have created a personal foundation for clear communication. Over the years I have noticed that a high proportion of doctors are poor communicators. This is due to the traditional modes of medical education and student selection processes. Of course there are numerous specialist skills but they often exclude being a good listener, empathetic and approaching the patient’s problem from a holistic viewpoint, i.e. what else is happening in the patient’s life that is influencing their current health problem. I see it as my duty to teach mindful listening for influencing behaviour change. To create an appropriate strategy for any patient it requires listening time to develop a holistic approach to address their needs. Generally, doctors are time poor, over worked and resentful, and this influences how they view their patients. This creates poor behavioural models in senior doctors that continue to manifest across generations of medical practitioners.

Personally, there were few opportunities and accessibility to great medical mentors. My behaviour and approach to patients and colleagues has been developed from observations of how not to behave. I try my best to be kind and to pause before I verbalise my frustration with a patient on their unhealthy choices. It is incredibly important that I listen to my patients so I can understand their values. This allows me to assist them in finding different paths to create behaviour change. It is about asking the questions, “Is this important to you?” and “What would have to change for this to become a higher priority / likelihood?”

It is important to acknowledge how lucky we are. I am very fortunate. My parents were educated and employed. They were interested in education. At a young age I said to my parents that I wanted to be a doctor and they supported me. It is a fortunate position to be in and I was very lucky. I went to university, received a top education and probably will never be unemployed. When I took time off medical work to become a full time athlete I didn’t have the disposable income that I was used to. I quickly realised that material things did not make me happy. 

Key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership are:

  1. Action: Always model good behaviour, act on your personal values and what they stand for. In sport there is general hypocrisy, deceit and not honouring the things you promised to do. On a hilly stage of the 2015 Mersey Valley Tour it was my job to get my team leader to the bottom of a major climb in the best position. I was physically and mentally exhausted, but it was important that I acted on what I promised. I dug deep, pushed out the mental blockages and got on with my promise. Acting on this promise provided me with ammunition to prove to my team that I followed up on my deal and highlighted the importance of making a race plan.
  1. Kindness, thankfulness and gratitude are all required in leadership. Kindness will always be taken on board by the recipient and will influence their acts and attitudes in your relationship with them. However, it is important to be kind and express gratitude when it is deserved and not as a means to win friends.
  1. Listening and Empathy: If you do not listen and try to understand someone’s perspective you will never get that person on board. Understanding a person’s motivation and perspective is essential for any successful teamwork.
  1. Honesty: You have to be honest and upfront with yourself and to the people around you.
  1. Being Tall: metaphorically and physically. Feeling tall comes with confidence and age. Now that I am 41, I find men still tell me what to do, even those with little or no experience in my field. I just smile and say ‘thanks,’ but let them know that I have a plan. I don’t need people to like me anymore. I am better at negotiation and doing what is best for me. Men are usually more assertive as women are taught to be softer in their approach. I don’t care about this anymore and I stand tall for myself. 
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Dr Bridie O’Donnell’s knowledge and wisdom across multiple landscapes combined with her passion for living a full life makes her a powerful agent of change.

My biggest challenge was leaving my secure and stable situation in Australia to start a professional cycling career in Europe. Over time I have come to realise that this experience taught me a lot of things. I was stripped of my ability to freely communicate. I was living in Italy and riding for Italian professional teams who spoke little to no English. My Italian was poor and my inability to communicate was stifling, isolating, lonely, disempowering and terrifying. My Intel was at base level with limited ability to ask the important questions such as, “When will I get paid?” and “Where do I go after the race?” I could only connect to others one on one or in small groups. I was living with younger women of different maturity levels and I missed my family. My ego also raised its head; I was grown up, a doctor and I was being patronised by those who were supposed to guide and coach me in this journey. It was also difficult to acknowledge to myself that I signed up for this, placing my strengths on the line. This European experience has become relative to everything else that I have done in my life.

After four years in Europe and year in the USA, I came back to Australia to work in medicine. It was easy in comparison! They paid me to show up….I received good feedback… patients loved that I had energy. What is not to like when I get paid, thanked and appreciated for my work in something I enjoy. It was a breath of fresh air.

It has been a relief that I didn’t need to go down a traditional medical career path. When you do something slightly different from the traditional path it surprises others. It is risky. Medical practitioners are often very risk averse and frequently scared of ‘failing’ when it comes to their ego. We need to fail more to test and push ourselves. It is similar with people in long-term relationships not asking themselves if this is as good as it can be? Could I do a better job as a partner? It is absolutely important to ask ourselves whether we are doing the best job to be our best in our personal and professional life. We all have scope to be our best and decent self and not go down the path of being mean and deceitful. 

I am a big fan of change and taking control of my destiny. I don’t fear anymore. I was married, got divorced and I don’t have any major regrets; it was a hard but the best decision. Life is a natural progression; the more skillful you appear, the more maturity you have, the more senior you are. They say courage is ‘feeling the fear but doing it anyway,’ and it’s true: I feel fear a lot of the time but I go ahead and try things anyway. The fear of looking foolish, making a mistake or humiliating yourself can be controlling but it is important to embrace risk. Change is the only way to becoming the best you can be.

What am I successful at? Time management, communication, making mistakes and the ability for self-reflection. As I mature I am being kinder to myself. I even like myself. Being a perfectionist it is not sustainable on a daily level and it is ok to be mediocre some days. It is about how you manage feelings of disappointment, frustration and mediocrity that makes you a successful leader. It is important to acknowledge how you feel, let it sit and watch it. It is about managing whatever you are going through. Having a good coach and/or mentor with realistic goals is really important. You need the right coach when you are an athlete and it is the same for mentors in a business context. We don’t always know what we need from a mentor/coach until we have a bad experience.

Each year in August every professional road cyclist worries about whether they have a contract for the next season. This worry is linked to your sense of self worth and ability as a bike rider. You receive feedback about variables that you cannot control. I see a lot of athletes that end up in crappy teams because they do not want to compromise on their values. People do not know when to quit and when they should compromise. There is a myth in the sports industry that hard work is rewarded. I learnt the hard way that very few people reward you for your hard work. Rather, I witnessed on a number of occasions that selfish behaviours are acceptable and rewarded. Having a small taste of being a high profile person is exhausting and can be quite corrupting if you are young. However, this comes back to being kind and behaving as a role model, but simultaneously being straight forward and honest.

I do something everyday to maintain my mental and physical health and wellbeing. Most of the time it’s riding which makes me feel well, or less tired or just gives me greater mental space. If I don’t do it, I feel subhuman. Part of it is the solitude and my need for time out. It is quite tiring to be a good behaviour change Doctor, a mindful listener and assist patients making decisions, so in order to be at my best I need my time out. At those times, I don’t want to talk or engage with others. I prefer to ride and train on my own rather than engage with bad conversationalists. I enjoy watching great TV series or doing Sudoku; it is not overly intellectual but I am being entertained. I am a big fan of film and watch a lot of movies. Boredom is underrated. Seeking constant stimulation, such as being plugged into social media, is unhealthy. Doing routine work such as cleaning and listening to radio is a great way to disconnect.

Instead of following the pack, it is important to find a sporting club that supports your needs. As a female cyclist it is important for me to be a member of a club that places female cycling at the forefront and that advocates and promotes women events. Currently, I’m coincidentally only working with women in medicine, which is a big change from my former life as an elite athlete where all positions of authority are held by men. I enjoy working with women. Too often I see older men giving unsolicited advice that is laced with discriminatory behaviour to women younger then them. It is fortuitous to work with hard working and smart women. Your working environment needs to be invigorating and supportive and how this plays out will vary with age, your role and where you want to be in the future.

To learn more about Bridie and the organisations she supports, please click on the links below:

 Dr Bridie O’Donnell: www.bridie.com.au

Disability Sport and Recreation: http://www.dsr.org.au

Sisu Girls http://www.sisugirls.org

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Steve Jennings is Creating New Value Through Entrepreneurship

Steve Jennings lives in Malmö in the south of Sweden. He’s the Entrepreneur in Residence at Lund University Open Innovation Center, Sweden. This is the oldest university in Scandinavia. In addition to this role, Steve advises CEOs and company leadership teams inside and outside of Sweden. He mentors students enrolled on the Masters of Entrepreneurship program at Lund University, and is a keynote speaker at international conferences. More often than not, Steve is usually hands-on involved with at least one new start-up venture.

Steve talks to Dalton Koss HQ about his leadership journey, describing how his passion and excitement for creative entrepreneurship has evolved through his life journey.

“I create moments that give me a lot of freedom; physically, emotionally and creatively. The only way for me to remain relevant is to consistently help other people and companies to create value. For this to happen, I need to be out and about in the world, travelling, meeting and talking with a wide range of different and highly diverse people. It is a way of thinking, and a way of being as a person.” – Steve Jennings 2015.

I grew up in Hull in the 1960s and 70s during the golden age of pop culture and the massive explosion in consumer goods. I vividly remember the street where I grew up. No one owned a car, but then with the arrival of mass consumerism, every neighbour began to own a car. It was a time of opportunities; we began to believe that anything was possible. We even landed men on the moon. The late 60s and early 70s laid the foundation for how in many respects we define the world today. Pop culture, music, fashion and the arts saw a burst of creative entrepreneurship during this time period.

I was incredibly lucky to grow up in a home with parents who loved all genres of music. This privileged exposure to music helped to lay down my blueprint for understanding the creative process. I wasn’t academically inclined. Even though I got through school, I never felt comfortable. I always wanted to be outside playing, exploring, I had an abundance of energy, and we’d probably call it ADHD, today. I realised at quite a young age that I didn’t function well in a formal environment with a repetitive structure.

From around the age of 9, adult issues really impacted me, e.g. Martin Luther King, The Vietnam War, the hunger in Biafra. Absorbing these adult images, words and thoughts created a different worldview for me. When I was growing up I was quite lonely in some respects because the things I was interested in didn’t interest most of my friends at school. I wanted to be out discovering the world. And as soon as I got a bicycle, I was out the door. It was a revelation for me. The bike facilitated the journey of finding myself. I was getting out of Hull and riding further and further afield, exploring, experiencing and learning. This way of being has carried me forwards during my adult life.

This image captured in 1964, shows Steve out exploring on his first bicycle at the young age of 3 in Hull, UK.
This image captured in 1964, shows Steve out exploring on his first bicycle at the young age of 3 in Hull, UK.

After finishing school, I began the process of studying to be an engineer. When I was 19, I was given an opportunity to become a professional racing cyclist on a Pro team based in the Netherlands. So I left Hull and headed over to the Netherlands with a one-way ticket. This was my step from being a boy to quickly becoming an adult. I had to figure out how to bootstrap my life so that I could race my bike and support myself. This meant taking on part time jobs so I could continue to compete in bike races. And this is when I realised I could stand on my own two feet with no instant connectivity to my parents, our family home, and my friends. This experience is what set me up for my life journey.

Steve winning a race during his time as a professional cyclist in Continental Europe.
Steve winning a race during his early years as as a cyclist.

After my pro-cycling career ended in 1984, I started to work for Lloyds TSB. Between 1984 -1990, I fell out of love with cycling for a number of reasons. I didn’t own any bikes during this period. I felt I needed to go on a new journey that resulted in me becoming a yuppie, in the world of finance and insurance. I channelled all of the energy from my cycling days into business and making money. It became something of an obsession. I was trying to prove myself. This need to prove myself is something that I’ve had to do a lot in my life, especially when the odds are stacked against me. I found myself in a highly competitive business environment where I could earn a lot of money based on my work ethic. I did this for 6 years and during this period of my life I didn’t take very good care of my body. It was an unhealthy and unsustainable lifestyle. I ended up returning to the bike in the early 1990s to reverse the impact of these 6 years of abuse.

I eventually left Lloyds TSB and started a business, the Maxim sports nutrition brand, and it turned into quite a successful company. In 1990, I was introduced to a sports nutrition technology that wasn’t commercially available. I quickly saw an opportunity to start a company, build a brand and get into the food industry. I had never started a company before Maxim. This was before the days of the internet, and I had to build the company using resources from the Chamber of Commerce and the local library. Once I laid out what I wanted to do, I received a lot of support. And I quickly built a network of advisors and mentors that enabled me to make sense of how to get a food company off the ground. Within 1 year, Maxim went from an idea to a product. And became the official energy food for the British team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. The business took off and I travelled all over the world as I set about building Maxim and establishing the brand by attending global sporting events and expos.

This was when I realised that riding my bike had created an internal toughness. Building your own company is similar in many respects to sport. There is no such thing as an overnight success. I drew on my cycling experiences to grow the business. I learnt early on to take criticism and to try and ignore self-doubt. Surrounding myself with supportive and good people helped me. Over the years, I’ve had lots of self-doubt, and at times I’ve felt as if I was on the edge of a black hole looking down at a bottomless pit.

After I sold the Maxim business, I moved into the world of technology and the internet. Innovating in the food industry is something that I really love to do. In 2002, I was presented with an opportunity to help start a new ‘good for you’ nutrition business with PepsiCo in the USA (products such as Quaker and Tropicana are owned by PepsiCo). I took all my entrepreneurial experiences to this big global food company, and once I established myself within the organisation, I felt relaxed and had the confidence to be who I am, which is not a suit wearing corporate guy.

Whilst we where living in the USA, my father passed away. He was my cycling coach, and the person who always encouraged me to stride out on new adventures. My dad gave me many of words of advice and encouragement, but what stood out for me was that you shouldn’t be afraid. If you are a good person and you do good in the world, no harm will come to you. His passing at a relatively young age was a big wake up call for me. I reappraised what I was doing with my life. It made me realise that I wanted to make the world a better place. Following his passing, I immersed myself in philanthropy, microfinance and trying to understand how NGOs function. The inefficiencies and seepage of resource from NGOs is shocking, so I started to look at new and disruptive innovation opportunities within the NGO and Corporate Social Responsibility space. This lead to me founding a youth empowerment initiative called The zyOzy Foundation.

The 5 key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership are: 

  1. Resilience: you need to be extremely resilient and capable of bouncing back from one set back after the other.
  1. Belief: you need to believe in yourself, in your idea and most important in the people you choose to have around you. You need to believe that you made the right choices based on the information that you had at any given moment in time.
  1. Love: you have to be willing to give the best of yourself to others and not expect to get anything back in return. If something does come back to you then that’s great, but you can’t only think about ‘what’s in it for me’. The real magic happens when you give the best of yourself, share everything you know and do it unconditionally.
  1. Humility and Humble: This is how I was raised by my parents. When I built Maxim, and it took off, I didn’t feel worthy of what was happening. I struggled with the PR, media hype and the press. It made me feel very uncomfortable inside. It took me quite sometime to learn how to balance being humble and having humility with the confidence required to be a leader of a business and the spokesperson for a global brand.
  1. Privacy: It is important to acknowledge that people have a right to privacy and are not always available. The human condition necessitates the need for private moments of deep reflection.

A key challenge in anyone’s leadership journey is fear. I regularly meet people across all age groups who have really good ideas. One of their challenges is fear, that is, they are afraid and unsure about how to make the first step. The fear that holds back entrepreneurs especially those in the 40 to 50 year age bracket is that of not being able to provide for their family. This juxtaposes the need for freedom to do what makes them happy. When you conquer fear it is liberating. When you put everything on the line and you try your best to make something happen, that’s what defines you as an entrepreneur and a person. My kids know me for being someone who’s not afraid of trying new things and wanting to help others.

The foundation of my success comes from the bicycle and cycling. I am now 54 and I feel very comfortable with whom I’m becoming as I grow older. This comes from the journeys and experiences I’ve had on my bicycle. Exploring new worlds allows you to meet diverse people, opening up opportunities to share knowledge about the way you think and what you do. As a young kid, I always had a lot of confidence in completely new environments, and used to relish the opportunity to listen to conversations about subjects and topics that I knew very little about. It is these new conversations that provide new data and create new insights. I’ve always used simple tools – paper, pens, post it notes to capture new thoughts, ideas and learning’s. I like to interpret and analyse these comments and quotes, and then map this data to try and find things that connect conversations that can range from biotechnology to sustainable fabrics to urban farming to packaging design. From these insights I connect new people, create new moments and start new conversations that in turn creates new value. For me it’s about a way of thinking. But there is always the risk that these new conversations can turn out very different to the way you envisaged. And sometimes that’s not such a bad thing. I liken it to free form jazz.

The bicycle taught Steve resilience and built his internal toughness. To this day, Steve's bike journeys continue to be filled with excitement due to new potential opportunities to discover, explore and meet new people.
The bicycle taught Steve resilience and built his internal toughness. To this day, Steve’s bike journeys in Sweden continue to be filled with excitement due to new potential opportunities to discover, explore and meet new people. It also contributes to Steve’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.

I approach my physical health and mental wellbeing from a holistic perspective. I ride my bike, meditate and run in the sand at my local beach. These activities keep me grounded while maintaining my physical health and mental wellbeing. I like getting lost in my thoughts when I’m out exploring the forests here in Sweden on my bicycle. I like having the opportunity to meditate in the outdoors, this is becoming increasingly important for me. I place a lot of importance on the food I choose to eat and its origins. Nutrition is becoming more important as I become older. I tend to compromise on my sleep so I need to look after other aspects of my life. I also drink a lot of water.

My sense of curiosity is what keeps me ahead of the game. What is around the corner? How does that work? What is under that rock? The human creative process truly fascinates me. For me, science is an art form and art is science. Humans have a need to express themselves creatively. We do it naturally as children and it is part of our DNA. I like to meet and have in depth conversations with people who create art (music, literature, painting, poetry, dance, sculpting). I feel very comfortable in the company of highly creative people and left-field thinkers. If I had a little bit more confidence and self-awareness as I was growing up I would probably have pursued something where the creative arts meets the worlds of fashion and music.

Entrepreneurship is an art form, a way to express yourself. I’m not really that interested in business; it actually leaves me cold. It is creating art and going out on the edge and discovering new revelations that interests me. I just happen to be doing this most of the time in a business context.

I need my private space. Privacy is important to me, especially in an era of the always connected society. Our privacy is rapidly being eroded and that is something that gives me concerns for the future.

There’s beauty to be found in most aspects of everyday life. Life is the most beautiful thing. Beauty is everywhere. Everyone with a little bit of help, encouragement and luck has the capacity to unlock his or her own potential. I truly believe we are becoming overly dependent on technology. I’m deeply passionate about developing solutions, tools and safe spaces that enable people to reveal their vulnerabilities, share their ideas and thoughts, and realise their potential. We don’t create enough opportunities for people to seek out others who can help them in times of need. We’re going to see a lot of growth in the creation of safe spaces, where people are able to share their emotional intelligence. People are feeling more isolation and loneliness, and this is when we are supposedly more connected as humans than ever before. This change in our social fabric has occurred very quickly. The internet isn’t the answer to everything, but it is an enabler for new kinds of solutions that would previously have been impossible to bring to life.

Steve's creative entrepreneurship is inspired by outdoor journeys, meeting new people and engaging in diverse conversations.
Steve’s creative entrepreneurship is inspired by outdoor journeys, meeting new people and engaging in diverse conversations.

Creativity tends to happen in very diverse and unusual places. For anyone wanting to connect with other creative entrepreneurs, I suggest joining a Fab Lab, which provides a physical hacking space to create new ideas. Attend events such as weekend hack-a-thons, find out about what’s happening in your local start-up scene, make contact with start-up incubators, and find out what’s going on at your local university campus.

Art is the set of wings to carry you out of your own entanglement.” – Joseph Campbell

For more information about Steve’s work in creative entrepreneurship and what inspires him, please follow these links:

About Me

https://about.me/stevejennings

Crowd Expedition talks to Steve Jennings at the Crowdsourcing Week Europe 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXKd-5Q9GV4  

Steve Jennings talking about trust, privacy and data at Oredev 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnCO_f4Zaus

Why I Love De Ronde van Vlaanderen

Seven years ago almost to the day, I was sitting in the bar of the De Kalvaar Hotel on the outskirts of Ninove eating fritz and mayonnaise while trying to make sense of Het Nieuwsblad’s coverage of the forthcoming Ronde van Vlaanderen. In Flanders this bike race, to be held this year on Sunday 5th April, is the sporting event of the year. It’s F1 Grand Prix, the Australian Open and the AFL Grand Final all rolled into one. The whole of Belgium and especially the area known as Flanders (Vlaanderen) will go completely cycling crazy. Roads will be closed, fairs (kermesse) set up on village greens and the whole of Belgium will come to a stop and/or be glued to their TVs. Such is the power of De Ronde.

When in Belgium....
When in Belgium….

I’d made the 1,000km round trip from Liverpool in the UK to Belgium with my son Roldy. Bikes, wheels and cycling kit all piled high in the back of a very inappropriate, low slung, drug dealer styled Mercedes coupé. On the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk, we sat next to a heavily pierced conceptual artist from Oudenaarde who had spent a weekend on Tyneside getting a Celtic design tattooed on her shin. When I mentioned our trip to De Ronde, she rolled her eyes. “People think the Flemish are obsessed with cycling,” she said, “but obsession is not the right word. It is more like a neurosis.”

Likening a national interest in bicycle racing to mental illness may seem an exaggeration, but anybody who has spent time in Flanders in the week leading up to the Ronde will regard it as a typical Flemish understatement. I’ve been a regular visitor to mainland Europe to watch bicycle races for the last 25 years. In my late teens I’d harboured thoughts of being a professional bike rider before reality got a grip. The previous year I had travelled to Belgium to watch the midweek semi classic race Ghent-Wevelgem. On the slopes of the Kemmelberg near Ypres, I stood next to a beautiful young woman who, as the riders pedaled past, held up her 10-month-old baby son wrapped in a Lion of Flanders flag and whispered into his ear their names, Nelissen, Vanderaerden, van Petegem, Tafi softly, devoutly, like somebody reciting the catechism. It was a touching cathartic experience.

Het Nieuwsblad carried a profile of my Flandrian cycling hero Johan ‘The Lion of Flanders’ Museeuw. As a small boy I had, belatedly, learned to read by studying Cycling Weekly (The Comic), which my Dad came home from work with every Thursday evening. This had left me with the vague feeling that I might master a foreign tongue simply by staring at Gazzetta dello Sport or Marca. To a large extent this policy had worked with L’Equipe, though it had skewed my vocabulary to such an extent that while capable of a relatively fluent discourse on Bernard Hinault’s latest medical crisis, I couldn’t buy a train ticket without pointing and making chuff-chuff noises. Het Nieuwsblad had always proved a good deal less penetrable than L’Equipe. This is because it is written in Flemish, a language that seems to include far more vowels than are strictly necessary. In fact, looking at Het Nieuwsblad’s piece that evening, I became convinced that at some point the Flemish publishers had bought up a job lot of As, Es and Us and told the printers they weren’t getting any more consonants until they’d used them all up.

As my mind wandered in this witless fashion, the owner of the bar, a kindly middle-aged lady who wore a green floral pinny and a look of unfathomable disappointment, arrived with another glass of Leffe beer that I hadn’t ordered. “It is from the Germans,” she said in excellent English, indicating a fifty something couple sitting on a nearby table. When I looked across, the man raised his glass and the woman smiled. I smiled back and, taking this as an invitation, the Germans came over. Having established that they were not disturbing my peace, they began to ask me about the Tour of Flanders. Was Museeuw as strong as everyone said, the man asked? Because, his wife added, there were rumors of a knee injury. What of Andre Tchmil? And how would the weather affect Fabio Baldato?

The church at the top of the Kapelmuur made from the traditional pink bricks found across Flanders.
The church at the top of the Kapelmuur made from the traditional pink bricks found across Flanders.

The Germans asked their questions and when I answered they listened very attentively, nodding in approval at my obvious cycling wisdom. It was all very flattering, like being the subject of a SBS TV special. In such circumstances it is difficult not to become pompous, and after a while I eased back in my chair and began speaking more slowly, with orotund flourishes, until I began to sound rather as the Yorkshire cricket broadcaster Don Mosey used to when delivering his close of play summary on Test Match Special.

Before they left, the German couple asked if they might have their photo taken with me. The bar owner took the snap and the Germans sat on either side of me, putting their arms quickly and bashfully around my shoulders as she called for us to smile. “Super,” the man said, shaking my hand. “We will see you at the race on Sunday also I’m sure?” yes I said “on the Kaplemuur, just before the cobble section where the Walloons and Flandarians stand on opposite sides of the road shouting insults at each other”. After they had gone, the bar owner came over to pick up the empty glasses. “That’s funny,” she said with a dry chuckle. I asked what was funny. “Those Germans,” the lady said, nodding in the direction of the door. “You see, they thought you were Tom Steels”. Steels is a classic Flandarian having won Omloop Het Volk, and Gent-Wevelgem, was Belgium national champion four times and with 9 Tour De France stage wins; quite a palmares. All those races won astride a Colnago C40 while rocking the cubes of glory of the Mapei team. I asked who she wanted to win De Ronde. “I don’t really care,” she said. “As long as they are Flemish. And if not a Fleming, then someone like a Fleming.” She meant gritty, tough, stoic and down-to-earth. The sort of man who might travel the world making millions of Euros from bicycle racing but still take his family holidays at De Panne or Oostduinkerke. “As Museeuw says,” the bar owner said, pointing at the newspaper, “you don’t have to be Flemish to be a Flandrian.”

DKHQ Partner Tim Dalton attacking the cobbles in full Mapei on a Colnago.
DKHQ Partner Tim Dalton attacking the cobbles in full Mapei on a Colnago.

This lady has a point, my good friend and ex-footballer, Damo, is known by all as the ‘Flandrian Fox’. He is a proper dyed in the wool Flandrian, despite hailing from Wolverhampton in the UK. Fast, smooth and stealthy on a bike he glides over the cobbles looking all schmick and purposeful. My other good friend, the Pink Flea, who sometimes lives in Oodenaarde is originally from Liverpool. He came here in the 1980’s to escape Thatcherite Britain and swap unemployment for the pro peloton, Belgium mix and the rough and tumble of continental bike racing. Both are official honoree Flandrians, one even has the T-shirt to prove it. After the De Ronde I always meet up with these characters in a bar called The Black Hole. It’s a shit hole that the European law banning smoking seems to have bypassed. In a bid to keep us captive and buying more beer, the hostess, who is in her late 50’s and looks it, normally takes most of her clothes off, with her husband’s full approval, to sing terrible Euro-pop karaoke on top of the bar. As if fully assimilated into Belgium life we stay and drink more Leffe beers and try to critique and analyze the race, without batting an eye at the barmaid.

DKHQ Partner Tim Dalton with his cousin Craig Dalton at De Kalvaar before heading out to test out the cobbles.
DKHQ Partner Tim Dalton with his cousin Craig Dalton at De Kalvaar before heading out to test out the cobbles.

But De Ronde van Vlaanderen is not just about the professional riders hammering it over the 264km cobbled course. This is a two day event and on the Saturday the weekend warriors get their turn with a choice of three courses; 100km, 160km or the full 264km hit. During De Ronde weekend every hotel is full, every couch has an occupant. One year at the De Kalvaar, my cycling cousin Craig turned up from San Francisco in the USA and had to share a bed with my new Australian girlfriend and I. Not knowing any different, and being too polite, she went along with this, thinking it was normal European behavior, which it kind of is for De Ronde. That year was exceptional weather. I briefed my cousin and girlfriend about the cold, rain, possible sleet and inevitable cobbles. Bring gloves, overshoes, Gortex in fact bring all the cold, wet weather cycling gear you own. We all rode the sportive in glorious 22-degree sunshine, a first for me.

Dalton Koss Partner Dr Rebecca Koss attacking the Kapelmuur.
DKHQ Partner Dr Rebecca Koss attacking the Kapelmuur.

The first year I rode the sportive there was snow all the way along the drive from Dunkirk to Ninove. The day of the sportive the rain was coming down at 45 degrees and it was barley above freezing. I turned and looked at my son and he said “proper Belgium weather” with a sly grin. Luckily we arranged to meet up with two out of work professional bike riders and their girlfriends. They towed us round at an incredible pace and never mentioned the weather once. These are the type of people the Flandarians love, hard case bike riders fully integrated into the Belgium lifestyle. After the ride they introduced me to strong black coffee with caramel stroopwafles, left to soften on the top of the coffee cup. They both now ride for top UCI World Tour teams. That’s what the Ronde van Vlaanderen is, its character building.

This year I’ll be glued to the TV set in the Melbourne suburbs dreaming of cobbles, beer, Euro-pop, rain, cold and the fanatical Belgium cycling fans. I once witnessed some stropping young guys rolling a huge beer barrel up the 325 meters of a 17% gradient over the cobbles to the top of the Molenberg, now that’s dedication. I’ll be there in spirit if not in body. I may even don my retro Mapei team kit, jump on the Colnago and ride up and down the Beach Road doing my best Tom Steels impression.

The church at the top of the Kapelmuur. Unfortunately, this cobbled 17% gradient climb is no longer part of the one day classic.
DKHQ Partner Dr Rebecca Koss reaches the church at the top of the Kapelmuur in one hit. Unfortunately, this cobbled gradient climb is no longer part of the one day classic.

The Beach Road

You’ve probably never heard of the 27 kilometers of road stretching from Brighton, a wealthy southeast suburb on the outskirts of Melbourne, to Mordialloc along the edge of Port Philip Bay. Officially this is ‘State Route 33’ but known by all and sundry as ‘The Beach Road’. It’s hardly in the same mythological league as Alpe d’Huez, or the Ventoux but hosting 7,000 riders every Saturday, according to the 2013 Victorian Road Census, must make this one of the great cycling routes by sheer numbers alone? Add in the number of riders on Sundays, weekday commuters and the evening/early morning lycra warriors and the rider numbers are colossal. You get all types along this hallowed stretch of tarmac, mainly amateur ‘choppers’, but also families, tri-athletes, ex-pros now in retirement and the infamous ‘Hellkrew’ riders, considered so dangerous they elicit the attention of Melbourne’s law enforcement community. All shapes, sizes, styles and tastes are catered for on The Beach Road, very metro-sexual and very Melbourne. It’s so easy to dismiss 90% of these riders as ‘new agers’, converts from golf so that they can ride 27kms on their $20,000 Italian bikes head to toe in the latest designer threads and to sip their low fat, soya, lattes at the “Moordi” coffee shack. If you believe my 80 year Yorkshire father, Karl, who’s ridden a bike since his 12th birthday all over the world and at every discipline known, there are only two types of people in this world “those that ride bikes, and those that don’t”. Thanks Dad it a useful thought, then the Beach Road is definitely inhabited by “the right people”.

I arrived here in Melbourne 18 months ago, January 2013. Straight from the middle of a Liverpool winter into a 40-degree Melbourne summer – BOOM! One of my old Scouse cycling mates arrived at the same time for a ‘work project’, at a carbon composite company that has a factory within Melbourne’s outer suburbs. He’s a real hard-case ex-pro bike rider who now lives in Oodenaarde, Belgium. He stayed on there after a successful European racing career; some places are hard to leave. The bike was an escape mechanism from 1980’s Thatcherite unemployment in Liverpool, transforming into a life of pave, Belgium mix and the rough and tumble of the pro peloton. For our first ride along the Beach Road we meet at 09:30, Euro style, at the cycling mecca of Café Racer in trendy, Bo-Ho St. Kilda. But there’s a problem, where are the 7,000 cyclists? The roads are deserted, no wheels to sit on, no one to show us where to go. Even at 09:30 the temperature is approaching the mid to high 20s, not a good sign. We push on down the Beach Road, through Elwood by the kite surfers, Brighton Beach and all the tourists looking for the brightly painted beach huts, to Black Rock with the famous brick tower clock in the middle of the round-a-bout. Past the bike shop run by two ex-world and Olympic champions Kathy Watt and Steve McGlede, on over the ‘bonks’, which the locals consider hills to Moordi. It’s a great feeling to be free of overshoes, leggings and gloves; the roads are pretty good here too. In a tad under an hour we’ve covered the famous Beach Road in its entirety. Coffee at Moordi, no thanks we’ll leave that to ‘The Choppers’, we push on up to Frankston, another 16kms up the road and then another 11kms over Mt Eliza and drop down to the seaside town of Mornington for our coffee. A 30-minute stop and we hit the road back for the 50km return to our start at Café Racer. Now we understand where everyone is as the temperature hits 40 degrees. This ride home isn’t going to be fun for two middle-aged blokes straight from a Northern European winter. We buy, beg and even contemplate stealing water on our return ride, we’d drink form puddles but there aren’t any. Now we know where all those thousands of cyclist are, they ride at 6am; they get four solid hours in and are home by the pool or on the beach by the time the heat kicks in. It’s a mistake you only make once, lesson learnt.

In a classic case of neo-liberalism state intervention there is no parking on the Beach Road up to 10am on a weekend. This allows enough space along this four lane, with bike lane in places, route. Enough room for the masses to chop, weave, undertake, surge, slow, baulk and fan out three or four abreast. This certainly isn’t Europe. From the age of 11 I was out on club runs with the Hull Thursday Road Club riding around East Yorkshire in neat symmetrical pairs, doing a turn at the front and then swinging to the back at the command of my dad’s whistle. Everything was very regimented, organized, very British, as one would expected by a cycling club run by working class, ex-national service squaddies. Just because these cyclists can afford $20,000 dollar top spec bikes doesn’t mean they know how to ride them. Money can’t buy knowledge or skill though there are plenty of people trying to sell it along the Beach Road. Search the Internet and you will find a cruel satirical web site called “Pro Kit Wankers”, lots of these riders could feature on this web site.

There are some unwritten Beach Road rules, which go thus: –

  1. Always ride in your big ring, over geared is always best, never go over 54rpm and it makes for a slow and knee cracking start at traffic lights.
  2. Its shorts, always shorts not matter what the weather conditions. If its cold, not often, then its shorts but with hefty overshoes.
  3. Wheel choice on this parcour is crucial. It has to be 80mm deep section carbon with flashy graphics. Lots of shwooshing on the Beach Road.
  4. Always stand up and get the center of gravity as high as possible when coming to a stop at a junction, a little weaving/wobble is also good here.
  5. Why sit neatly on a wheel when you can leave gaps and weave about all over the place?
  6. Never ride tempo when you can surge and brake, surge and brake.
  7. Ride on the left out the way of traffic – NO! Ride as far right as possible, into the second lane is best.
  8. Half way to the Moordi coffee stop always have a gel or two as the cake at the stop might not be enough to keep the bonk at bay.
  9. Taking turns at the front is overrated; the pros have got it all wrong. Always sit on the front guy and let him get slower and slower until you can jump him and then sit on the front until you get jumped.
  10. Crash helmets are the law in Australia; as everyone knows riding around with a polystyrene hat makes you a safer rider/target.

Sometimes the inverse of European rules apply, well it is a land down under. For example in Europe if you don’t do your through-and-off turn some gnarly Belgium will threaten you or put you in a ditch. Here you can’t join in a through-and-off session unless you have, and are wearing, their club jersey. Here sitting on the back in the ‘armchair’ is the default.

All satire aside the Beach Road is probably one of the world’s great cycling routes. My Dad is probably right; if you ride a bike then you are a cyclist. No room for my elitist Euro snobbery here in Australia. Bike sales, cycling clothing and accessories make for a boom cycling industry here. No old shabby steel bikes, and cycle jumble sale clothing. In Melbourne the bike shops are spotless, modern boutiques and there are lots of them. The bikes and clothing match the salaries and house prices. This isn’t Hull or Liverpool it’s the Beach Road, Melbourne, Australia.

The Herald Sun Tour

This article was written by Tim Dalton for the cycling magazine Conquista (http://conquista.cc)

Think of early season professional cycling and most people think of Tour Down Under, which is held each year in mid January in and around the city of Adelaide. But there is another race which passes through some equally stunning countryside and has a much more rightful claim to be Australia’s longest running professional bike race, the Herald Sun Tour. Melbourne was recently voted the world’s most polite city and is regularly voted the world’s number one city in which to live. That’s not to say that Melbourne doesn’t have rivals, namely Sydney and Adelaide. Back in 1996 Melbourne secured, some would say stole, the Australian Formula One Grand Prix from Adelaide. One gets the feeling that Adelaide didn’t take this too well and was out for retribution. In some people’s eyes at least, mainly lazy journalists, is the view that Adelaide is simply Melbourne’s smaller cousin. The state of South Australia is a major investor in the Tour Down Under, the only UCI World Tour race in Australia. Granted the Tour Down Under is the better-known event, but the Herald Sun Tour is a gem of a race, the shrinking violet, the bridesmaid and not the bride. Rated by the UCI as a 2.1 stage race, the Herald Sun Tour is a third tier competitive event, open to UCI Continental and national teams.

The race started back in 1952 and was won in true Aussie style by Keith Rowley, a sheep farmer from the rural town of Maffra. Keith beat his brother Max by 49 seconds to win with a time of 42hr 57min 55sec. At the back of the peloton, 19-year-old Roy Underwood, the youngest rider in the field, spent five of the six days arriving at the finishing towns in the dark. His father made a £50 bet with him that he would not finish. The Saturday stage saw a search party sent out to find him. After finishing the last day’s stage, his father handed him ten crisp £5 notes. The race’s total prize money was only £1,500 sponsored by the local newspaper.

It is not unusual for newspapers to support cycling events with many European bike races connected to news media. A bike race is a great way to stimulate newspaper sales, think Tour de France, Giro de Italia, Het Volk, etc. The original Sun Tour was no different. Originally named the Sun Tour after the Sun News Pictorial, it changed its name to The Herald Sun Tour in 1990 when Melbourne’s local daily news paper, The Morning Herald, merged with the Sun News Pictorial. The race is owned and backed by the Herald Sun newspaper, Australia’s largest daily newspaper and part of the global News Limited Group. Rupert Murdoch’s interest in cycling keeps cropping up.

The first Sun Tour in 1952 was the first professional stage race held in Victoria since the 1934 Centenary Thousand Classic. An estimated 500,000 people throughout Victoria saw the ‘Sun Tour’, as it was known then, pass along local roads. Of the 56 starters, only 18 finished the six-day event throughout Victoria. Sixty editions on and the Herald Sun Tour is now cemented as a significant event within the state of Victoria and its cycling heritage. With significant support from key sponsors, including caravan manufacture Jayco and the Victorian State Government, this iconic event now demands daily electronic and print news coverage as the stars of today and tomorrow go head to head in the battle for supremacy in Australia’s oldest stage race.

The Herald Sun Tour became a part of the State Government hallmark events calendar in 2005, with an injection of State funding to support its growth and development.  A major revamp including a new business plan, management team and enhanced world ranking has laid the foundation for strong growth with a dramatic increase in the number of riders and entourage, global media coverage (200 countries in 2007) and local coverage via TV and radio. The 2012 Tour de France champion, six-time world and Olympic champion Sir Bradley Wiggins won the tour in 2009, further highlighting the quality of riders required to win this prestigious event.  After this win he stated “If I was going to pick a tour to win other than the Tour de France, the Jayco Herald Sun Tour is the one“. The race took a year off in 2010, during which Melbourne and Geelong hosted the UCI World Road Cycling Championships.

Australia in January and February is becoming a mecca for professional continental cyclists. The attractions include a huge country with fabulous vistas, empty well surfaced roads and superb weather conditions making it a warm place to skip the northern hemisphere winter. Spectacular sunny beaches also help with the tan when not out on bike. The three major Australian summer cycling events are a good measure of warm weather training. Starting with the Tour Down Under (late January), it is followed closely by the newly established Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Classic and the Herald Sun Tour as the finale in early February. These three events make for a great racing itinerary before returning to Europe for the Classics.

Continental Pro and former Irish National Champion, Matthew Brammier after the prologue TT.
Continental Pro and former Irish National Road Champion, Matthew Brammier from team MTN Qhubeka after the prologue TT.

To avoid the northern hemisphere winter, a large peloton of professional cyclists descend upon the old gold rush city of Bendigo, 150km north of Melbourne at the geographical center of the state of Victoria. Every morning large bunches of professional cyclists head into the hills around Bendigo with almost everyone ending up at The Old Green Bean Café for post ride coffee and analysis. John Herety’s JTL Condor team has made this town their center of operations for the last few years. Julien ‘Ju-Ju’ Bérard of Ag2r La Mondiale arrived in early December 2014, quietly stacking in the miles while taking in a kangaroo or two along the way (according to Twitter and Instagram). Think of Bendigo as an Aussie Girona if you will.

Tim Dalton and John Herety of JTL Condor at the Tour's prologue in Melbourne City Centre.
Tim Dalton and John Herety of JLT Condor at the Tour’s prologue in Melbourne City Centre.

In the 2015 edition of the Herald Sun Tour, Bendigo confirms its status as cycling central Australia by hosting a finish (Stage 2) and start (Stage 3). Victoria might not have the mega climbs of the Alps or Pyrenees but the rolling terrain; grippy roads and warm 30 plus Celsius degree summer heat can take its toll. The 2015 edition started on Melbourne’s Southbank Promenade with a lung-bursting 2.1km prologue, an event that attracted over 25,000 spectators in 2014 and an even larger crowd in 2015.

The evening prologue along the south bank of the Yarra River in central Melbourne from Federation Square to Queens Bridge Square is a photographer’s delight. The world’s most livable city is bathed in fading summer light with the CBD and river making a stunning backdrop. The 2.1km parcour is tough, with some early technical turns to negotiate followed by just over 1km of ‘full gas’ along the south bank. This is a prologue that’s built for spectators with the course meters from the front door step of Melbourne’s most trendy bars. The Tour then moves to regional Victoria for the longest stage, a 152km hike from Mount Macedon, past Hanging Rock, before finishing in Bendigo.

Stage two was a shorter 120km route from Bendigo Velodrome, through the beautiful Heathcote-Graytown National Park and across the Goulburn River into Nagambie. The 148km stage three route showcases the Nagambie Lakes as riders loop around the Mitchelton Winery, where the stage began, before heading back to Nagambie. The final 122km stage of Arthur’s Seat is where the race is traditionally won and lost. The climb of Arthur’s Seat may only be 304 meters in height but it’s climbed from sea level, three times. The crowds rival anything seen in Europe with every meter packed with screaming Aussie tifosi. This climb is the highest point on the Mornington Peninsula and provides spectacular views from the top. On a clear day the view from the summit of this extinct prehistoric volcano extends as far as the Melbourne city skyline, the You Yangs and Mount Macedon. Melbourne’s hard-core club cyclists ride from the city, watch the race and then ride home in a gigantic, seething chain gang, a round trip of some 180kms, down the Nepean Highway.

This race is a good barometer of early season form judging it by past winners. From the Herald Sun Tour’s start in 1952 up until Malcolm Elliot’s 1985 win, all winners were home grown Aussies. It took a Yorkshire man to break the Aussies’ 33-year stranglehold on the race. Past winners include hard case British Cycling Technical Director Shane Sutton OBE (1983), ably assisted by Tour de France stage winner Neil Stevens. Flying Dutch man Adri van der Poel won in 1988 with a massive attack on Mount Hotham and German breakaway specialist Udo Bolts took out the winnings in 1990. As mentioned earlier, Sir Bradley Wiggins won this event in 2009. The son of Australian track cyclist Gary Wiggins, the locals claimed this as a home win. Even my next-door neighbor, Saturday morning riding partner and local bike shop owner, Terry Hammond, has won this race twice (1978 & 1982) and finished second and third a few times.

Former Herald Sun Tour winner Terry Hammond at his shop Terry Hammond Cycles with a very cool Colnago C59 frame.
Former Herald Sun Tour winner Terry Hammond at his shop Terry Hammond Cycles with a very cool Colnago C59 frame.

Terry takes great delight in reminding me that he was the 1983 National Australian Road Race Champion and that as a European professional cyclist, won many races. According to Terry the winner of the Herald Sun Tour is “a sprinter that can also climb”. Evidence of this manifests itself in the form of Barry Waddell who won a record 5 straight Herald Sun Tours from 1964 to 1968. Though best known as a road cyclist, Waddell also won 17 National track titles and the Australian National Road Race Championships in 1964 and 1968.

The 2015 version of the race has attracted a fantastic field. Newly registered continental Team MTN Qhubeka are here with Aussie star Matt ‘The Boss’ Goss. Desperate to validate their wildcard entry to the 2015 Tour de France they are hungry for early season results. Team sprinter of MTN Qhubeka, Tyler Farrar, confirms that the Herald Sun Tour is far from being an exotic training race. With vital UCI points on offer for this 2.1 event everyone is racing hard for the win. With only small teams of five riders controlling the race over this deceptively lumpy course, it is extremely difficult. Farrar was keen to point out that himself and many others are here direct from a cold Northern hemisphere winter with little more than ‘base’ miles in their legs.

The local Australian contingent is coming to the end of their racing season and are race fit. They also have the added incentive of prime time TV coverage, are eager to impresses potential continental teams of their ability and revel in getting one over the hot-shot European pros. DraPac Professional cycling are here with newly appointed sports director, ex-UK professional cyclist Tom Southam in the team car. After this race many of the riders will depart for Europe for the shock of spring weather and the Classics. Orica Green Edge always takes this race very seriously having won last year with Simon Clarke. The stages may be short, but with lumpy roads and hot weather, it is a hard race to win.

Anyone wanting to escape the harsh northern winters could do a lot worse than de-camp to Australia for a month or so. Ride your bike; take in the Tour Down Under, Cadel Evans’ Great Ocean Road Classic and the Herald Sun Tour. The countryside is classic storybook pretty; it is dappled in light, dotted with quaint villages and bustling towns. The stunning views from the Victorian hills and big blue skies take your breath away. There is no shortage fine gastronomy here, with acre after acre of vineyards and orchards over gentle rolling hills and fields full of the prettiest cattle and sheep. Stood at the side of the road waiting for the race to pass, I have been serenaded by Galahs, Cockatoos, Rainbow Lorakeets and Rosellas. One day I even met a field full of fluffy headed alpacas.

JLT Condor rider Felix English ready to give it Bigpowa on the course.
JLT Condor rider Felix English ready to give it Bigpowa on the course.

A month long of Australian cycling events attracts all types of international visitors, making the 27 hour long-haul international flight bearable. This year my good friend and ex-international rider Terri Riley and her husband Brian did just that to take in all these races and more. Arriving in Australia in early November 2014 they spent the first few weeks riding the 3,064km from Adelaide to Sydney via Melbourne camping every night. I bumped into them on the climb of Mount Buninyong at the Australian National Road Race championship, then at the Tour Down Under, the Great Ocean Road Classic and finally at the Sun Herald Tour before they headed back to the UK.

This reminds me of my adventure a number of years ago with my son where we loaded a beaten up old car with bikes and drove from Liverpool to Province in the south of France for the Dauphine Libré race. Our expectations where pretty low having attended the Tour de France a number of times. In actual fact the Dauphine proved to be a superb race with stunning countryside and easy access to the star riders. The lack of security staff, fencing, barriers and throngs of spectators actually provided a much better experience than the Tour de France. In a similar way the Herald Sun Tour provides a much better experience of Australian stage racing than the Tour Down Under. The Herald Sun Tour offers fantastic countryside, a low-key atmosphere but with easy access to the riders and some great racing. As they say biggest isn’t always best.

So how did the Aussie cyclists stake up to the Continental Pros for the 2015 Herald Sun Tour I hear you ask? Well the results run like this:

Prologue – Melbourne 2.1km

1st Cameron Meyer (DPC) 2:35.53

2nd Caleb Ewan (OGE) 2:36.42

3rd Breton Jones (DPC) 2:36.85

Stage 1 – Mt Macedon to Bendigo 146.2km

1st Cameron Myer (OGE) 3:29:47

2nd Joseph Cooper (ART) +0

3rd Patrick Bevin (ART) +10

Stage 2 – Bendigo to Nagambie 117.9km

1st Caleb Ewan (OGE) 2:38:51

2nd Steele Von Hoff (AUS) +0

3rd Samuel Witmitz (BFL) +0

Stage 3 – Mitchelton Wines to Nagambie 146.7km

1st Caleb Ewan (OGE) 3:25:17

2nd Tyler Farrar (MTN) +0

3rd Steele Von Hoff (AUS) +0

Stage 4 – Arthur’s Seat 122km

1st Patrick Bevin (ART) 2:54:38

2nd Cameron Myer (OGE) +0

3rd Simon Clarke (OGE) +0

Overall

1st Cameron Myer (OGE) 12:30:55

2nd Patrick Bevin (ART) +11

3rd Joseph Cooper (ART) +19

So why not pack your bike bag and make your way down here to crack open a bottle of local wine, throw a shrimp on the barbie and enjoy the racing?