Thoughts

How the Tour de France shows me how I want to live

Scene from the Tour de France
Scene from the Tour de France

I love July because the Tour de France is on. Excited to stay up late once again and follow this journey.

This is a personal essay I wrote about the Tour de France last year and what it means to me:

You know when you care so much about something that you want to tell everyone about it but you’re afraid that people won’t see it the way you do, so you don’t share it because that would let you down?

I sort of feel like that now. It feels like it would be a waste of time to try to express this, that it would be better to keep it to myself and nurture it than to have people trample it with their lack of interest or understanding.

But I feel too strongly about this to not give it a go and try to find the words to communicate something that means something to me. It’s in my bones and won’t let me go, this need to write this down. My whole being feels like it’s been taken over by this need to write and I have no say in the matter. The least it could do is tell me what to write.

Well, my job is to write and I just hope the words that come out can express what I want to say.

What do I want to say? I want to say something about the Tour de France. And right there my fear is that people will think, ‘Tour de France? I have no interest in that. You can’t possibly say anything that will mean anything to me about the Tour de France. I’m tuning out right now.’

I totally get that. I totally see why people think watching a three-week cycling event is boring. I know it’s bizarre that I like staying up till 2am for those three weeks and taking afternoon naps just so I can stay awake for the end of each day’s stage. But the Tour de France does something to my soul that has me jumping out of my skin in wonder and excitement.

I feel like my job is to show people what the Tour de France means to me and I hope they will be moved in the same I’m moved by the event. It speaks to me in the same way that movies, songs, and books speak to me. It lights me up. And, most amazingly, it shows me how I want to live.

I’m only a recent fan of this sport, so with my limited knowledge, here’s a bit of background.

The Tour de France is a team sport. Each team has nine riders, and each team generally has a leader who has a good chance of winning the Tour de France. Everyone else in the team does what they can to help the leader get as high in the placings as he can. At the end of the three weeks there is an overall Tour de France ‘yellow jersey’ winner based on the fastest time to complete the entire race.

There is also a stage winner for each day of racing and team members will work to get one of their riders a stage win. They usually know who they’re riding for on a given stage and it will depend on what kind of stage it is. So if it’s a stage that suits the sprinters, teams will try to get their best sprinter a win.

Besides the overall Tour de France winner and the stage winners, there are some other titles riders can race for. Two of the most well-known are the polka dot jersey for the best climber (won by a rider who is good at riding up mountains) and the green jersey for the best sprinter (won by a rider who is good at riding on flat roads).

There are two things the Tour de France shows me about how I want to live.

The first thing it shows me is that I want to be part of a team.

tour
Michael Matthews (far left) going for a stage win

In one of the stages this year, Team Orica Bike-Exchange was looking for their sprinter Matthews to win a sprint stage. So Matthews and two of his teammates, Durbridge and Impey, got in a breakaway from the main group which is called the peloton. A bunch of other sprinters were in this breakaway group including Sagan who is a well-known green jersey winner.

Orica Bike-Exchange had a plan and executed it perfectly. Durbridge led the breakaway group and his job was to make sure the peloton wouldn’t catch them. He used all his effort to keep the pace of the breakaway group up. Then when he was spent and it was clear that they wouldn’t be caught, he dropped off and away the breakaway group went.

Then Impey made multiple attacks, increasing his speed at the front of the group so that Sagan had to expend energy to stay with Impey. Then it came down to the race for the line and everyone was going all out. Matthews didn’t have to expend as much energy as Sagan so he was fresher and crossed the line in front of him and won the stage.

This is a beautiful display of teamwork: one team, multiple roles, one goal. It’s brilliant. It moves me.

Not only did Matthews win but Orica Bike-Exchange won. The excitement on the face of Durbridge was the same as the excitement on Matthews.’ They did it together.

Richie Porte recovering from a crash
Richie Porte recovering from a crash

Another stage that moved me came on a rainy day when there were crashes left, right, and centre. Porte was the team leader for BMC and he was looking to move up in the rankings. He was in a good position near the front of the peloton with two of his team mates a few riders in front of him.

As they descended a tricky hill, Porte was suddenly held up by a crash. When his leading team mate turned his head and realised Porte was no longer behind him, he swung off to the side of the road and put his hand out to the team mate behind him as if to say, ‘What’s going on? Where’s Porte?’

Porte’s team mates dropped back to Porte to help pace him so he could catch up to the Peloton. After the chaos and confusion of the crashes, Team BMC’s organisation brought Porte back near the front of the peloton. Without his team mates, Porte may not have been able re-join them.

It’s amazing how a guy can be going full pelt at the front of the peloton and then they look around and when they realise their man isn’t behind them, they abandon their post and slow down to help their team mate. It’s clear a display of sacrifice, of selflessness, of working for someone else.

It’s beautiful. It’s teamwork in action with those multiple roles that are clearly defined and a clearly defined goal that everyone is united in working towards. I love it! I can’t fully describe but it does something magical to the inside of me.

The Tour de France shows me I want do something with my life where I’m part of a team. I want to be part of something bigger than myself. I want to work together for a clearly defined unified goal. And I want us to have clearly defined roles where there is no comparing because we know each role is important to the functioning of the team and the achieving of the goal.

In the Tour de France, the sprinters aren’t wishing to be climbers; they’re just doing the best job they can as a sprinter because they know it will help the team. And even though everyone is working for the leader, the leader also works for the team because if he wins, the team wins. Everyone honours the team when they give their best, and no-one’s effort is wasted.

I saw this in action when Team Astana led the peloton and kept the pace up so that riders from other teams would be left behind and  the energy levels of the contenders for the yellow jersey would be depleted. One by one, the Astana team members dropped off the front of the peloton when they had given it everything, until only their leader Afu was left.

Afu needed to attack and try to get away from the peloton to climb up in the overall standings. He couldn’t let the work his team mates just did for him go to waste, so he honoured them by giving it his best shot to get to the finish line before the rest of the peloton. Every one of Astana’s team member’s efforts mattered and contributed to their overall goal.

I want to be part of a team like that.

The second thing the Tour de France shows me about how I want to live is that I want to give my all.

The riders put absolutely everything into cycling. I don’t think we appreciate just how much how they give when we watch them on TV. All we see is the glamour and grunt from the broadcast, but behind the scenes they have spent years training, competing, working hard to be able to perform at the highest level of cycling. They put their time, energy, body . . . their whole lives into the sport.

It’s a sacrifice to work this hard and put their bodies through so much strain. I’m sure most people would rather sleep in and spend the day relaxing on a couch than get up day after day and ride a bike for hours with a hurting body. It might be fun for the first few days but by the tenth day I think most of us would be longing for rest and wishing we didn’t have to race.

But these guys make the sacrifice and do what they need to do to last three weeks on the road and the years of cycling they’re committed to.

They have to be incredibly fit, incredibly disciplined, and incredibly focused to do be able compete at their level. They need to be mentally strong to put in the effort and endure the physical pain. Not everyone is willing to put in this effort and endure the pain, and I think it’s quite special what they do.

They give their all. It’s hard work but they choose to do it. They willingly put themselves through this test of endurance and give themselves to the challenge. I know it’s a bike race and it seems trivial, but these guys are doing something with their lives and I admire and respect them so much for it.

They aren’t lazy. They aren’t wasting their time or the body they’ve been given. They are using what they have and they get to achieve an amazing feat of human ability.

I can look at those riders and think I could never do what they do, but the truth is if I put in the hard work and sacrificed my comfort and time to train, there’s a good chance I’d be able to do more than I ever thought I could. I might not be able to compete in a Tour de France, but I could ride more days in a row, more kilometres in a day, and more hills with steep gradients  than I thought was possible.

I haven’t got a desire to put my all into becoming an elite cyclist, but I do want to put my all into something. I want to test my limits. I want to see how far I can go. I want to push myself and get to the other side of something.

We’ve been given these bodies, minds, talents, and time; I want to use mine. I don’t want to waste them. I want to get everything I can out of them.

When I look at the Tour de France riders and the effort they put in, it makes me want to put in all my effort too. I want to live with the drive, passion, and determination they have. I want to give my all every day to something I believe in, something I love, something that makes me come alive.

If I can combine giving my all with working in a team for a united goal we believe in, then that is the ultimate way I want to live.

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