The winner of the 2008 Tour de France was the Spanish rider, Carlos Sastre. After three weeks and nearly 90 hours of racing he beat second-place Cadel Evans by just under one minute. Sastre didn’t gain the race-lead in steady increments over the three weeks, nor did he do it as a result of having a better sprint finish or even by making a break on a flat part of the course.

Instead, Sastre’s victory was grounded in his decisive break along the hardest section of the 3,500 km Tour. The 13km, 1 in 10 climb to the ski resort of L’Alpe d’Huez comes at the end of a 200km stage that has already included two gruelling climbs. As Sastre said about his two-minute victory over main group of riders, or peloton, “I suffered a lot on the way to the summit, but I had to take the risk of attacking from the beginning of the Alpe d’Huez.”

In the business world when you are faced with more difficult trading conditions, the sensible choice can often seem to be to hunker down, cut costs and bide your time in your own particular peloton. Then, as the economy picks up, you will be well placed to attack and grow.

However, there is an alternative approach. As your competitors focus on ‘making it through’ the downturn, you have the opportunity to drive for longer-term growth. Several studies have shown that it is those companies that are able and willing to continue to invest in marketing, R&D, acquisitions and their people during economic downturns, that perform best in the subsequent economy.

Learn to love the climbs. At the bottom of L’Alpe d’Huez Carlos Sastre climbed out of his saddle, cranked through the gears and rode through the pain to the summit and ultimate victory in Paris. As we emerge from the recession what are the big climbs in your markets that you can focus on to gain a clear competitive advantage?

© Stuart Cross 2011. All rights reserved.