Zen and the art of pro-team management

Matt White: The fortnight between grand Tours

     As we transitioned from the Tour to the Giro, Summer to Autumn, first wave of COVID to second, I sat down with Mitchelton Scott DS Matt White to chat about what has gone before, and what is coming next. 

     I wanted to know what Matt’s reflections on the Tour were, and what actions, if any, he’d take based on these. He told me he was very happy, the four days in yellow were great for the team, but now he’s moving onto the next race. He explained, “I’ve got to finish up some reports, but after that I probably won’t think about it.”    

    As someone who is over analytical about anything and everything, I struggled with this. I just couldn’t comprehend going through something as huge as the Tour and being so relaxed about it. For example, last week I had to deliver a presentation to a large audience at work. I stressed for the entire week before about how it would go, and for the entire week after about how it had gone. 

 And I knew, like me, many others would pour over the past and continue dining out on this year’s Tour for a long time. It was undoubtedly one of the most memorable ever. In decades to come old, weather beaten cyclists will tell their grandkids that racing was far better in their day, regaling the tale of the 2020 final days’ time trial where the young whipper-snapper Pogačar stole the yellow jersey from the tight grip of Roglič and the Jumbo-Visma train. 

     It won’t just be the racing that stands tall in people’s minds. The enduring images of riders in masks on the start line and podiums, alongside the haunting images of a Champs-Élysées empty of fans, will play out as either one of the weirdest Tours of all times, or, the marker of a new beginning, as sport and the world changed forever, depending on which way this pandemic goes. 

     Matt though, was in the process of rapidly putting it all to bed, and moving onto the next goal, the Giro. So, what about that, was there any stress there? Clearly not from how our conversation went;

Me: “So are you feeling much pressure going into the Giro?” 

MW: “Oh we’re one of the favourites for sure.” 

Me: “Definitely, so how about you, does that impact you personally?”

MW: “Nah, not at all. It’s not the first time. We came here in 2018 and had a ripper of a race. Then last year with Simon, he was a little off par. But you know, this is my 13th or 14th Giro in a row.”

Me: “So you don’t feel more pressure as time goes on, to win?”

MW: “No, I actually like it.”

     I may spend the rest of my life trying to be as zen as that. 

    I tried desperately to lull myself into a false sense of security over the last few months, telling myself I didn’t need live sport. Then once it all started, I realised how stupid that was. We all need sport. It entertains us. It provides us with a space for belonging. It allows us to escape everyday life. It gives us a place to express our emotions through the experiences of others. There are a million different reasons why we need sport. 

     It wasn’t however until this chat that I realised just how much I needed it, and why. 

     I need sport because it teaches me things. 

     Listening to White, a man who looked as if he was having a week of downtime between Buddhist retreats, I realised;

  1. Nothing is permanent 

The Tour will be followed by the Giro, which will be followed by the Vuelta, which will be followed by something else. 

The wheel keeps on turning, no matter what happens or how you feel, you have to just keep going. 

A devastating loss can be just around the corner of a career high. Just as much as the best win of your life can be swiftly followed by a crushing loss. 

2. Pressure is something you choose to feel

It will come as no surprise to anyone that Matt White has a higher pressure threshold than most people. He’s been in the pro peloton, after all, for decades. And despite an incredibly stressful job, what do we see him doing the most at races? Smiling. 

Surprising or not, that is something that needs to be acknowledged and learned from. He may be flying to Italy on Wednesday, with one of the favourites to win one of the biggest races in the world under his wing. But the way he was talking to me was like he was heading down the road to buy a bag of chips. He’s 100% looking forward to it, no fear at all. He’s running towards the pressure, rather than away from it. 

White knows he’s in a good position, saying that “everything has gone well in Simon’s [Yates] preparation.” 

He’s been recon-ing stages since last December. He’s prepared. He’s ready. 

     So, I end this with a prayer to the COVID gods, if you’re out there, please listen, please, oh please do not take away sport again. We all need it in our lives, for so many different reasons. 

It’s part of who we are, and helps teach us who we want to be. 

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