Leadership Lessons from “Fatboy Express”: The First Race

Bike race


W. Michael Phibbs

Liam “Fatboy Express” has had a great year since he began riding his bicycle. He has not forgotten why he designed his kit (A kit is what the riders call the shift and pants): Fat is an expression of wait and Express was a mindset. Many people had heard his story of determination and were inspired to take up activities that made them healthier and feel better. Some joined Fatboy Express on rides, other took up swimming or fencing, and some simply went for long walks. He did not set out to make an impact on other people’s lives, but he had. A few months ago, he started to enter amateur road bicycle races. Several small shops began to sponsor him, which meant he had enough money for gas to drive to event and register.

Today Fatboy Express was entering the most challenging race of his life; a century ride against people who not only rode competitively but had aspirations for the Olympics and professional teams. For Fatboy this race was as not about winning, it was only about facing his fears and taking on a challenge. The fear of looking silly whilst being crushed by the well trained competition and the challenge of doing something this hard. Before the race, he prepared his lime green Specialized bike. He didn’t have a race crew so he had to make sure everything was right. He donned his white, lime, and black kit and began to head to the starting line. He had number 76 on his back. 76 is the number where they ranked him when he registered. The last number was 82. As he approached he saw a rider wearing lime green and grey kit. His shirt had red letters on the front back with his sponsor’s logo. He had 14 on his back. He looked at the Fatboy Express Logo and simply quipped, “Fat Ass Express is more like it.” A rider next to the biker in grey, and number 23, glanced over his should and also saw Fatboy Express; “Simply- Ass” would be more like it. Fatboy Express just smiled and said, “Good Morning, lovely day for a race.” The others paid no attention.

At 0700 A.M. the race began. The race began very quickly. The peloton stayed together packed on top of one another. If one fell they may all may go down. Fatboy Express was not use to riding so close, so he stayed near the end of the pack. He was amazed that the other riders were having conversations with each other, like this was nothing. Some discussed strategy, others what they had done since their last race. Most said the real race would not really begin for several hours when the sandbaggers had dropped out. At mile three they hit the first hill. Fatboy Express dropped his gears and pulled heavily up with his clipless pedals. He was so used to working on riding hills back home that his hamstrings easily pulled him up the hill. As he went up he noticed something, he was actually passing people. Odd he thought. After the first hill he actually began to move up in the pack. As the went back down a large hill his weight actually propelled him faster still. At the bottom of the hill there was a tight turn, Fatboy still feared tight turns. As he approached the turn he tapped his breaks. Immediately he heard curse words from the riders following him. He tapped his breaks and now the peloton was careening over the place trying to avoid each other. With the simple tap he angered the other riders and lost many spots.

Next was a five mile flat land area. This is where the smaller riders were strongest and the bigger, less aero dynamic riders struggle. Fatboy continued to struggle to keep up. On lap three he was finally dropped from the pack. He felt bad. He had read what it means to be dropped from the pack. You are not good enough to keep up. But still he road on. He now rode at his pace. As he continued, he yelled thanks to the police who were standing on posts. They looked shocked at first, and then began to wave back in support of the struggling rider.

Eventually, something strange started to happen. Others were falling out of the pack. He spotted the number 14 on the lime green and grey shift moving back. As Fatboy Express caught up, he could have ignored the guy, or had his own fun catching the now struggling rider, but he didn’t. “Get behind me and I will pull you, Fatboy Express said. “Thank you was all he heard.” As they continued along Fatboy Express said he would continue to be in front and pull number 14 as long as he needed him to. Then they hit the hill again. Fatboy Express was already tired and the hill looked daunting. All of the sudden he heard, “Lower your gear to get more speed. Pull your arms in the let your upper body work harder, and pull with the hamstrings.” Fatboy Express did as he was told. Next came, “Spin those legs!” Fatboy Express was actually going faster up the hill than ever before. When they crowned the hill number 14 said, “Now get behind me, stick to my rear tire, do everything I do, and stay the hell off the brakes.” They zoomed down the hill. When they hit the turn at the bottom Fatboy Express held on for life. His bike stuck to the road. Wow, what a feeling.

As the two continued to ride, number 14 said, “I’m Phil.” Liam, said “Fatboy Express.” As they rode along Phil told Liam tricks and strategies to stay competitive. Each would now take a turn leading each other. Phil would give pointers to Liam. Liam would block the wind for Phil and help pull him up the hill. As they continued on, other riders were now beginning to be dropped from the pack. Liam encouraged them all to keep going on. He told each one to join their pack. Many had made fun of Fatboy Express before the race, and were astonished by his encouragement and giving. Many more soon followed the pack. As they would catch up to those who were also dropped, Liam would always shout encouragement and invite them into their ever growing pack. Phil began to explain how each had a job to do in the pack. Each had their turn at the front, and Liam’s lead was needed in the windiest areas. He was also the motivational speaker. The pack was coalescing, and they were coalescing around Liam.

Wham, all of the sudden, while going around a corner, Liam’s front tire slid out from under him. Sudden pain ripped up the side of his knee, leg, and shoulder. “I’m done” he thought. But as soon as he hit the ground the others were picking him back up. One sprayed his cuts with water. Another slathered an antiseptic on the cuts, and two more pushed him to get started again. Amazing! He yelled, “Thank you.” A guy wearing all yellow, and the number 3 on his back, said, “You didn’t let us go, we aren’t about to let you go.” With a grin, he said, besides, I need your fat ass to get me up that hill.” They were back off. Liam was still in pain, but he knew it was part of the race.

One lap to go. Phil and the other began to talk strategy. Liam found it fascinating. The group picked the people who were going to pull, when, and for how long. Liam was left out of the discussion; he was confused, but went with the group. Liam pulled when he needed and let the others take over when it was their turn. They eventually caught the main peloton. They began to mix in, Phil continued to give orders. With a half mile to go Phil yelled, “Fatboy Express get your ass in gear and sprint. Go win this thing.” Liam didn’t question. He powered down. Pushing down, pulling up, he took off. He was with the leaders. At 300 feet they were all side by side. At 100 feet Liam was nose to nose with the leaders. Then as suddenly as it began, it was over. Liam was 4th by .25 of a second. He eventually pulled over and pulled off his helmet. As the other members of his group came by he apologized for letting them down. The other riders slowly pulled up, “Let us down? Hell, you kept us together.” “I want to ride with you more” was heard many times.

(Picture downloaded from: suitcaseofcourage.typepad.com)


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