With more ways than ever to measure metrics—core temperature, HRV, oxygen saturation, sweat rate, heart rate and, of course, speed—some athletes feel like they just can’t train without data feedback. “If you can measure it, you can improve it,” the saying goes.
“Data is part of the game,” Fabian Cancellara said on Wednesday at the Tudor Boutique in New York City, where he led a ride for the cycling community. But only part. Whether you’re an amateur, a pro, or, as Cancellara is now, the leader of the Tudor Pro Cycling Team, cycling is still, when it comes down to it, all about the rider.
That’s what Cancellara is aiming to develop in the pro team cyclists—to focus “on how they cross the finish line as much as when.” It’s easy to geek out on bike tech that keeps getting better, but at the end of the day, “you ride the bike as a human,” he says.
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On the team, he’s helping cultivate a person’s performance and well-being and also help riders cultivate those for themselves. “Sometimes I call someone on the team and say ‘hey, how are you?’” he says, and the rider responds with data from his last session. Cancellara gently refocuses things. “I didn’t ask about the bike. I asked about how are you?,” he says.
Of course the goal is for the team to win bike races—in its first season last year as Tudor Pro Cycling, the team won 18 races and placed on the podium 30 times. But Cancellara wants to keep riders’ well-being front and center at the same time, no matter what they’re facing.
Cancellara has had his ups and downs, from crashes like the one in the Olympic men’s road race in 2012, to major podium victories including two Olympic golds and winning numerous road classics including Paris-Roubaix. You learn a lot from not winning, he says, and “when you’re on the podium at the top, honestly, you’re lonely. And there’s a lot of pressure, but it’s part of the learning process.”
Today, to manage his own mental wellness, and likely to help keep the team’s going as well, “I ride my bike,” he says. “It’s simple, but sometimes it gives me a certain adrenaline; it gives me goosebumps; it gives me a certain kind of happiness and freedom. Even riding in the rain has something. That’s why I push people to ride the bike.”
When you’re a pro, “the feeling of seeing a paycheck at the end of the month doesn’t last long,” he says. “It’s more what’s inside that counts. Performance isn’t just about wearing a jersey. It’s more than that.”
Cancellara says he’s always been one to do things a little differently, so he’s spending more time asking questions of the way things have always been done, wondering if there’s a different way, and listening. Right now, he’s still in the center of the effort with his staff, and he hopes that the riders will soon eclipse him in the spotlight as they work together to keep the wins coming. “Without a team, you don’t perform and you don’t win,” he says. “It’s about communication, and at the end of the day, it’s about how we are all humans.”
Marty Munson, currently the health director of Men’s Health, has been a health editor at properties including Marie Claire, Prevention, Shape and RealAge. She’s also certified as a swim and triathlon coach.