The greatest cycling event in the world is underway at this moment. The Tour de France runs every July and is a grueling day-in, day-out push to cover as many as 220 km (132 miles) in a single day across flat parts of France and a whopping 140 km (84 miles) in the Pyrenees and Alps. The race covers over 3,000 km (1800 miles) in three weeks.
It is a spectacle of sponsors, team cars, riders, fans, and police and press motorcycles. Helicopters hover over the peloton of riders as they cross the countryside. It is a rolling circus.
Growing up in France, it was a part of every summer, on every television, every day. When it came near our home in Brittany, my parents made sure we found a place along the route, a competition in itself. It was and is so much more to me than a bike race.
I learned a great deal about life and work from watching ‘Le Tour’. First, to even remain in the competition and not get ‘dropped from The Tour’ requires an enormous, consistent level of effort. It only takes one bad day and falling behind the pack to be cut from the race.
Le Tour is also unique and quite remarkable for its sense of fair play. If a rider falls through no fault of their own, like when Lance Armstrong’s handlebar was ‘hooked’ by a fan’s plastic bag, the riders in the lead slow down to allow the unfortunate rider to regain their place.The event is an enormous team effort.
Though there are ‘marquee’ riders like Bernard Hinault (my favorite) and Greg LeMond, they won because they had a strong team that ‘protected’ them in the very close quarters of the peloton and ‘pulled’ them along each kilometer, taking turns acting as a psychological ‘rabbit’ and windbreak. No one can win Le Tour without a great team.
Family matters, even in the midst of brutal competition. Last year on the leg closest to my hometown of Saint-Nazaire, a local rider was allowed to break free of the pack (without being chased down by others) and ride ahead far enough that he could stop and chat with his family and friends before rejoining the pack as it caught up (if you don’t believe it, check here).
While jerseys, shoes, helmets and the bikes themselves employ amazing technology, the winning difference comes from training, preparation, suffering ‘through the pain’ and an unbelievable amount of endurance. Rain or shine, injuries or health, it goes on.
There are many ways to ‘win’ other than finishing first. There are awards for sprints, mountain climbs, for being the best young rider, and even the “prix de la combativité (prize of the combative one) for not winning but pushing other riders with aggressive ‘attacks’. While the lowest time matters enormously, there are many ways to be recognized for areas of greatness. A rider may put all of their energy into winning just one stage (one day’s ride) only to drop out the next day, satisfied.
The Tour de France is a remarkable tradition that gave me great family memories, heros to look up to, and a reinforcement of so many things that make a career and life successful. So much more than a race, it is easy to love Le Tour. It is part of me and will continue to be a meaningful event in my life no matter where I live. Vive Le Tour!