Cyclo-cross's disruptive innovation that made competition irrelevant.


This weekend several national championships cyclo-cross were organized. We looked at Belgium’s cyclocross championship held in Antwerp. This national championship almost equals a world championship as Belgium has delivered the best athletes within this sport for decades.

What’s even more interesting, a few years ago a Belgian rider – Sven Nys – started dominating the sport by introducing a disruptive innovation that made competition irrelevant. Sounds like a story that relates to the concept of the Blue Ocean (BOS) as developed by authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. Let’s dig a little deeper into the story and try to derive relevant lessons for business practices.

Disruptive innovation: Sven Nys leaps over objects while driving

Red Ocean Strategy in Cyclocross - jump while running

Red Ocean Strategy in Cyclocross - jump while running

When talking about innovation, we often think of technical/technological innovations. These are rather important of course but are often incremental by nature. The innovation Sven Nys introduced years ago that disrupted the sport was not a technical one. It was e.g. not about an improved tire or a lighter bike frame – as those technical innovations were incremental and simultaneously available for all competing riders.

The true disruption happened when Nys introduced a skill: the ability to leap over objects while riding a bike. Other riders overcame the objects by jumping of the biking, lifting the bike by hand while jumping over the object. Speaks for itself that the manner deployed by Nys was faster. This often allowed him to make competition irrelevant during races. Nys created a Blue Ocean. Others were to follow his example soon of course and today one can see many riders leaping while riding. Is the Blue Ocean red again?

Relevance for Business?

We believe this case shows that innovation doesn’t have to come from technology – as you often read in the literature and cases, especially in the areas of BMI (Business Model Innovation). Additionally, the case clearly shows that you should never stop looking for new innovative practices or tools – since others will follow and might even excel the original innovator. Today there might be another rider who can leap over higher objects than Nys can.

Nuance: notes on Sven Nys

The above story is oversimplified. Sven Nys is a phenomenon, he’s way more than “the one able to jump over the obstacles”. During his career he also expanded into mountain biking and is quite good at it. To get an overview of his impressive career, have a look at the Wikipedia page.


Possibly related articles (not automated – suggested by author):

  • Basketball’s Disruptive Innovation
  • Clap skate in speed ice skating – this is in fact a technical innovation but nonetheless quite compelling. Something we just know about in one way or another. Not investigated thoroughly by us.
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4 Responses to Cyclo-cross's disruptive innovation that made competition irrelevant.

  1. Pingback: Scrapping Cars & Recycling Blog » Blog Archive » Don’t Expect Electric Cars to Disrupt Auto … - Everything and anything to do with recycling old vehicles in the 21st century.

  2. Matthew says:

    Hello there tmbot, I have my own website (where I use the alias `cars2scrap’) and I enjoyed this post so much that I have urged my readers to read it. (Please take a look at the latest post on my site for details.) Thanks for taking the time to post it.

    • tmbot says:

      Hi Matthew, thanks for linking to my post on your site – really appreciate it. Things like this is what’s keep me going.

  3. Pingback: When Archives turn Newsworthy: Cyclo-cross’s disruptive innovation… « Whispers through the Web

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