This isn’t a question I asked Fred Wright, a man who looks like he’s on the brink of both those things, but it is the question he ended up asking himself, as we sat and pondered one of the biggest question we all ask ourselves;
What does success look like for me?
Will we look back when we’re grey and old and count the accolades we achieved, or how many days we felt truly happy?
Watching Fred contemplate the Sophie’s choice of winning a monument or a lifetime of joy, I smile and inwardly chuckle. I feel like Fred already knows the answer, and like when you toss a coin feigning to yourself that you don’t mind which side it lands on, while your subconscious hopes for heads, he knows he’s already made the choice to count his happy days.
Of course Fred wants to win. He’s exceptionally competitive and has gone over the day he came second to Mads Pedersen at the biggest bike race of the year with a fine tooth comb, hundreds of times, desperately trying to figure out why he didn’t end up on the top of the podium. But he also acknowledges that there is perhaps a difference between how he feels about winning and those who’s lives depend on it. He postulates how he might not be arrogant enough, or confident enough in himself, that his personality type will mean he won’t ever be the greatest cyclist, but he’ll probably have a long career.
Above everything else, Fred’s motivation is enjoyment. He shrugs and says he’s always fairly chilled on the outcome. His eyes light up and he shifts in his seat as he says “it’s cheesy but when you say Alp d’Huez I actually get goosebumps!” He recalls the majesty of the mountain, the fanatical fans, and the shock and awe of hearing ‘Fred’ cheered from the throng. For a brief moment he transports us back to that day when he rode at the back of the bunch and got to live out his wildest dreams. Fred laughs as he says he knows he probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much if he was one of the guys actually trying to win or compete in GC, and that, strangely, was something to be grateful for.
And here we find ourselves back at that question again;
What does success look like for me?
What did it look like for Fred? Win or lose on that day, did it really matter?
Ultimately the reason I contacted Fred was not because he had a handful of top ten finishes at the Tour de France, is on exceptional form and undoubtedly a star of the future. I contacted him because I grew accustomed to seeing his relaxed, joyful persona on screen every day in post-stage interviews. I wanted to know who he was and how his mind worked. I was impressed by what he’d done, but how he did it impressed me more.
Fred told me what was behind his positivity, and that’s what will stay with me, not how he felt when he attacked and finally got in the break.
For Fred it’s all about never giving up. Having a crack, throwing your hat in the ring no matter what and just giving it a go. Every day brings a new opportunity to try something. Winning or losing doesn’t really matter as long as you’ve put yourself in the best position you possibly can to deliver.
We’re often so afraid of failing we never even try. The next time you hold yourself back, think of Fred Wright being caught 3.5km from the line at the steep uphill finish in Lausanne. He said he knew the catch was inevitable, but just in case, he figured he’d go for it anyway. No one would call that failing, they’d call it heroic.
Fred highlighted the challenges that come with life on the road as he found himself in another hotel on his way to the Commonwealth Games when we spoke. Living out of a suitcase, always being “on” and the ever-present pressure to perform. But all this was swept aside quickly as he emphasized, he has the best job in the world. Clearly laying it down that “the day he stopped loving it, would be the day he stopped”.
The warm glow of someone living a fulfilled life oozes out of every one of Fred’s pores, and you can’t help but feel excited for what the future holds for him. Personally, I think there are a lot of wins in his future, but, whether he ever gets to hold his arms aloft, cobble in his hands, post-Paris Roubaix victory salute or not, I feel safe in the knowledge that his feet will always remain firmly on the ground.
And he’ll keep on inspiring us above all else, to keep counting those happy days.