“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” - Albert Einstein

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Thoughts from 2008 Tour de France

I started following the Tour de France in 2004 when Lance Armstrong won his 6th tour in a row. It seems like such a simple thing. A bunch of bike riders see who can have the fasted overall time. The best man wins. But it is much more complex than that. I'm still learning the language and the strategy of the race. The winners of the race and the winners of each daily stage get the glory and attention. But they never get to that place by themselves. They can only reach the podium of victory through help from both their team members and their competitors.

Two days I've watched a lone rider break away from the pack within 10 miles of the finish line. He rides strong and fast and develops a commanding lead. He seems to be in position to win the stage for that day. Both times the lone rider was overtaken by riders working in a group. The instance that made the most impression on me was seeing the lone rider be eclipsed by a group of 3 competitors working together. The lone rider had to fight the wind on his own. The 3 competitors took turns in front to break the wind. The cooperated even as they competed to win the day, and they were able to go faster working together than any of them could have on their own. When they got to within 500 meters of the finish they then sprinted to the finish, and may the best man win. The lone rider finished far behind them.

The winning rider also relies on his team for support. The term used to describe the team's role is domestique, meaning "servant". They drop back to the team car and get water and food for the leader. The cars can't drive up through the pack of riders to get to the leaders so the domestiques ride up and back. The domestiques also work to break the wind and provide a "draft" for the leader. Sometimes they sacrifice themselves by breaking away from the pack and forcing other teams to expend energy to chase them. The role of leader and domestique can switch sometimes. For example, in 2005 Lance Armstrong served as a domestique for George Hincapie in some of the classic one day bike races, because they were more important to Hincapie and less important to Armstrong.

No matter who we are or what we accomplish, we should never forget that we didn't get here on our own. There have been "domestiques" all along the way who gave of themselves to make our way easier. On the other hand, we need the grace to stay quietly in the background and rejoice when those we have served get their moment to shine. It's more difficult to acknowledge the role of our opponents and critics in our success. As the writer of Hebrews says, no discipline or hardship is pleasant at the time, but both our character and our success are forged in adversity and struggle. Not many can be world-class bike racers, but all of us can learn from them. May we all have our times to stand on the winner's podium.

1 comment:

Dad said...


Insightful. Pertinent to our strategies for life and for our daily living with others.