Innovation in Cycling Series – Part Two

The 2016 Tour de France is currently providing a perfect illustration of the importance of innovation. With week one of the race behind us, let’s reflect further on how innovation is helping in professional cycle racing, and how, in business, we can learn more from the teams.

If you follow cycling, or if you read (‘Using the Tour de France as a Useful Guide to Improving Innovation: Innovation in Cycling Series – Part One’) then you will know that Sky Pro Cycling are widely regarded as the most innovative team in the Tour. However their breathtaking win by Chris Froome in Stage 8 fully showed why they have rightly earned this reputation, and ably demonstrated many of the elements of successful innovation.

Yet More Aggregation of Marginal Gains

Part One of this blog series referred to Sir David Brailsford and his famous philosophy of aggregation of marginal gains – in his words “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of, that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together”. Let’s further examine how Team Sky used this to win stage 8 of the 2016 Tour de France:

Finding an Edge – and Making It Count

It’s well known that Chris Froome (the Team Sky leader) is one of the best climbers in pro cycling. And popular opinion in pro cycling is that it’s almost impossible to create big gaps on descents – the gaps are always created on climbs – or so popular theory goes. Not on Stage 8.

After the final climb of the day up some ridiculously large Pyrenean mountain, there was 15km of descent to the finish line and Team Sky had done their homework. One of their main sponsors is Jaguar motors and Chris Froome had spent time in Jaguar’s wind tunnel. An experience which enabled him to find a new riding position which was simultaneously very aerodynamically efficient, whilst also enabling him to pedal hard. Something that no-one in pro cycling had previously achieved.

Until stage 8, it was always thought you could be aero-efficient OR pedal hard, however, Team Sky found a way to do both, by fitting higher gear ratios to Froomey’s bike. They kept their plans completely secret, then at the top of the last mountain of the day, Froomey took off like a stabbed rat. It caught all his opponents off guard as he whooshed down the mountainside at a thoroughly impressive 90 km/h, and he won the stage by a big gap, opening a 24 second lead on the other guys.

What Can We Learn From This in the World of Business Innovation?

Just as with pro cycling, innovation in tech startups and enterprises is a tough, competitive situation. Take Eagle Boys for example. They’re a very successful Australian pizza chain, and a client of Mitra Innovation. They knew they needed a best-in-class mobile app to help their business grow, and we helped them build and deliver that in 2015. But Eagle Boys didn’t want to stop innovating at that point.

Eagle Boys understands the concept of “aggregation of marginal gains” – and they understand their customers. So they know that in addition to having really tasty pizzas, delivering fantastic customer service is also an important part of their business. And they know that convenience is very important to their clients.

Enter the Virtual Drive Thru. Now you can order your pizza from Eagle Boys, and they deliver it right to your car as you arrive outside the store. Imagine how helpful this is if you’re a parent with kids in the car. Or if you’ve nipped out to collect your pizza in your PJs. And Eagle Boys only knew this would be a marginal gain because they’ve done their job well – they know their customers (another valuable business lesson).

At Mitra, we’re inspired by the innovations of Team Sky in the Tour de France. But we’re also impressed by Eagle Boys needs to constantly improve. We’re also proud of the part we’ve played in helping to deliver the innovative Virtual Drive Thru for the pizza chain in very short timescales.

Marginal gains are everywhere – but the good news is, you can find them if you look for them. Where are yours?

Derek Bell

Derek Bell | COO & Co-Founder
Mitra Innovation