Chris Horner didn’t win the race of his life in 2013, he won it 25 years ago

Posted on | February 18, 2014 | 17 Comments

Chris Horner may not be a name you recognize, but mention his name to a cycling fan and you’re sure to hear a gasp. Chris is a very special athlete.

This past September, Chris Horner won the “Veulta a Espana” or Tour of Spain, one of the three biggest races in the cycling world. It’s right up there with the Tour de France and arguably an even more challenging race course.

Last month my work colleagues and I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride with Chris and then host him for a corporate speaking engagement. Throughout the day Chris regaled us with stories about becoming a professional athlete and what it’s like to compete at the highest levels. Interesting stories, but there was one in particular that gives us a glimpse into what it really takes to become a champion.

Long before Chris was a world champion, he was a poor teenager barely scraping by. He worked construction, live in his sister’s basement, and sacrificed jut about everything to fund his cycling dreams.
One day, he struck gold by getting an invitation to visit one of the greatest cycling coaches ever. Nothing formal, just a cookout at the coach’s house where Chris could meet the coach and his #1 protégé, Greg LeMond, who at the time had just become the first American to ever with the Tour de France.

Chris was ecstatic. The chance of a lifetime to meet the world’s greatest coach and the world’s greatest cyclist?!?! This was his to be the turning point in his day to day struggles.

Soon after Chris arrived and before he’d even bit into his hamburger, the world famous coach approached him, glanced him over, and said, “You’ll never make it in this sport, kid.”

Coach had never seen Chris race. For whatever reason that was simply the coach’s first impression.

Now, let me ask you, how would you feel if, as a teenager, your life’s dream was instantly crushed by the leading authority in the field? I now how I’d feel: like garbage. Can there be a harder kick to one’s ego?

Most of us would have left the party with our tail between our legs and gone into something safe like college, and even the super confident would be a little discouraged. But not Chris.

In his words:
“As soon as that coach spoke those words, I threw down my plate of food and walked out. I was ANGRY, very angry. I spent the whole drive home telling my girlfriend what an idiot that coach was and how I was going to prove him wrong.”

And prove him wrong he did.
Within a few years Chris earned a professional racing contract, and he has spent more time at the pinnacle of his field than most of us spend in mid-level management.

And that Vuelta a Espana that Chris won a few months ago? He was a just a month shy of his 42nd birthday at the time he won it, making him by six years the oldest cyclist to ever win a Grand Tour.

Chris used that anger as fuel. Not for a minute did he doubt himself. And after more than two decades racing, he crushes pro racers, many of whom weren’t even born at the time he had that run-in with Greg LeMond’s coach.

The question, kind reader, is how convinced are YOU that the company you represent or the passion you pursue is the BEST match for you? When you get rejected by a key prospect, when a “person of authority” questions your dreams.. How do you respond?

If the doubt you hear from others prompts you to doubt yourself, there’s one promise I’ll make: You are not going to become the best.

Which of life’s paths are you convinced you can perform better than anyone? Is it to become a champion athlete? A leading CEO? The world’s best parent? An impactful volunteer?

I once heard that if you have a dream so big that just thinking about it makes your heart beat stronger, that’s a “seed of greatness”. It was planted there for a reason, and it’s your responsibility to develop it into something earth-shattering.

Whatever that seed is, when you feel its excitement growing within you, pounce! Embrace it, nurture it, and think of a young, half-starved Chris Horner taking a stand that fueled him to become a world champion.

Thank you, Chris, for a ride and a story I’ll remember always.



17 Responses to “Chris Horner didn’t win the race of his life in 2013, he won it 25 years ago”

  1. Matthew Twitty
    February 19th, 2014 @ 6:56 am

    Very inspirational! The Chris Horner story makes me want to go the extra mile for my customers and my company… and on the weekends an extra 50 miles on my bike!

  2. Bill Thomasson
    February 19th, 2014 @ 9:43 am

    Great inspirational story Ben! Thanks for sharing. I trust all is well for you and the girls in Happy Valley.

  3. Ken Bachman
    February 19th, 2014 @ 10:24 am

    Great story, Ben! Great story.

  4. Dennis Sheehan
    February 19th, 2014 @ 10:26 am


    All four of the guys in that photo look like they could be pro racers. Nice!

    PS: I think Chris Horner should have eaten as much food as he could, and then left the cookout. :-)

  5. bill post
    February 20th, 2014 @ 12:59 am

    Hi Ben, Received this from your Uncle John. We were classmates in High School and I became good friends with your grandparents, Jack and Virginia. Enjoyed your story about potato farms and glaciers becuz I’ve been living in AK for the past 40 yr. Truly a special place – glad you got up there to enjoy a taste of it.

  6. Jim Aden
    February 20th, 2014 @ 9:17 am

    Thanks Ben for a remarkable story! I’ve been there, similar situation but different in some ways. Didn’t stop me either.

    And you guys looks great!


  7. Ben Lawrence
    February 20th, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

    Jim, Well, you’ve piqued my interest now. Sounds like the perfect story for our next Five Finger run. Looking forward to it. Thank you for being a consistent reader and commenter!

  8. Ben Lawrence
    February 20th, 2014 @ 1:45 pm

    Hello Bill Post! YOU have become the hottest topic when Uncle John and I catch up. He and I are both living vicariously through your incredible cross-country X 2 adventure. So many questions for you, and I would be honored to hear your story. Cheering for you as you fight those head winds, stave off hunger, climb the Rockies, and sleep under the stars. Onward!

  9. Ben Lawrence
    February 20th, 2014 @ 1:47 pm

    Dennis, It became all too obvious on the hill climbs which of us was the pro rider, and it sure as heck wasn’t I. Watching Chris Horner accelerate UPhill was akin to opening up the throttle on a motorcycle. Now imagine if he’d been on a Shiv!

  10. Ben Lawrence
    February 20th, 2014 @ 1:48 pm

    Thanks, Ken! You once told me you pass these blogs along to your kids. That’s high praise indeed. I appreciate your comments.

  11. Ben Lawrence
    February 20th, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

    All is well, Bill, though I got some dirty looks from the girls (including Jess) when I told them I had to leave the snowiest winter on record for an important business meeting in San Diego. They’re on to me..

  12. Ben Lawrence
    February 20th, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

    Matt, I hope your winter riding is going better than mine. Beyond the Horner ride, it’s been a slog through the season of indoor cycling classes. Go the extra mile! I like that.

  13. Ben Lawrence
    February 21st, 2014 @ 9:51 am

    A blog reader sent this story to me via email. He was gracious enough to allow me to re-post it here for all of us.

    “Had a similar experience in high school. My head coach was going to their annual meeting where they share film with college coaches on their players. When he got back and met with me, he handed some B.S. Division III coaches who wanted to talk to me. I walked out pretty pissed that, after a week in California, this was the best he could muster.

    I decided to be my own best salesman. This is back in the day before the Internet made everything easy. I sent out about 30 video tapes (remember VHS) and personalized letters to those schools I had an interest in and was able to land several recruiting trips and eventually a scholarship at a D-II school in Pennsylvania.

    It was a good lesson for me at an early stage in life on how to push through towards a goal. I cannot tell you how many people I’ve met that simply take a person of authority’s words as Gospel and let their dream go by the wayside.
    From there I developed my own motto…”Do it Different…Do it Better.”

  14. Joel Blunk
    February 27th, 2014 @ 12:03 am

    Thanks for the story and the inspiration, Ben. Good to see you the other day – even through a glass dimly.

  15. Simon Drew
    March 7th, 2014 @ 11:05 am

    Ben, thank you for a very inspirational story.

    I’m not quite an international athlete, but had a confrontation some years ago that made me determined to prove people wrong.

    After serving in the army for nearly 10 years I decided to settle in Germany. Having run the back office of a 5 star general I was mid-20′s and chomping at the bit. The world was my oyster and I was going to become a successful businessman.

    At the first interview I managed to get invited to, the HR director told me I would never get a job in this country as I don’t have the relevant degrees, apprenticeship or equivalent qualifications.

    What? I had spent the 2 years prior to this at the Ministry of Defence, organizing meetings for the royal family and foreign dignitaries. Yet I was considered unemployable.

    Well, to cut a long story short, after working as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, shifting frozen doughnuts in a warehouse, throwing people out of nightclubs and discos, I promised myself to prove this guy wrong.

    15 years later I have been through self-employment, ups and downs, but today I consider myself extremely fortunate. I have the pleasure of working for a fantastic company and working with, and learning from great colleagues like yourself on a day to day basis.

    Life is too short – if you want it, go and get it!


  16. Ben Lawrence
    March 20th, 2014 @ 5:36 am

    Believe it or not, I’m just now returning from that trip. Greetings from China! Looking forward to a return to Happy Valley.

  17. Ben Lawrence
    March 20th, 2014 @ 5:41 am

    The goofball who told you you’d never make it must have been asleep for the first 15 seconds he met you. I’ve read it takes a human 15 seconds to form a first (and lasting) opinion of another, and no one surpasses your 15 second imprint. And every second thereafter just gets better :)
    I can imagine you selling vacuums, packing donuts, and tossing drunks all the while knowing those experiences were only stepping stones. Love the story and am so pleased that you shared it!

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    Ben Lawrence Ben's expertise is helping organizations reach their full potential through an empathetic, value-first, challenger-based focus on their customers.  Data analysts want to choke him but entrepreneurial, sales driven, profitable, customer-centric organizations (or those who aspire to become one) love him.

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