As we approach the final stage of what has been an exciting year at the Tour de France, there are many life lessons that can be learned from these extraordinary athletes. I've sat up and watched each stage into the early hours of the morning marveling at the physical endurance, mental toughness and team tactics of cyclists putting everything on the line for a podium finish on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
Amidst the phenomenal efforts by these professional cyclists at the top of their sport have been suspicion of doping, horrific crashes, over zealous fans and controversial tactics. While it would be tempting to allow these distractions to overshadow the achievements of this event, they do provide some challenging insights worth considering.
1. Suspicion of Doping - It is a tragedy that the actions of drug cheats in any sport robs spectators and sporting heroes of the joy of simply enjoying a victory, without being suspected of cheating. Chris Froome hit out at reporters who questioned his amazing acceleration on Mont Ventoux saying, "To compare me with Lance is wrong - Lance cheated, but I'm not cheating. End of story." If only it was that simple! The reality is we do not live in isolation of other people's actions. It is naive to think that we can live our lives, our way, without consequence to the lives of others. Maybe if we took more notice of the classroom discipline method of punishing the whole class for the behaviour of one student society would be less individualistic and hold a greater value for community accountability.
2. Horrific Crashes - When you ride at high speeds within inches of the rider in front of you, accidents are inevitable. Pushing limits and taking risks are a necessary part of the equation of winning. No cyclists who have played it safe have ever won the Tour de France, just as no person who has lived a risk free life has ever accomplished anything of significance. To see cyclists get back on their bikes and continue to race with injuries is inspiring and challenges us to never give up, no matter how hard we fall.
3. Over Zealous Fans - Throughout the Tour I have been frustrated and at times angry at the way spectators have been in the face of the competitors. They have ran alongside them screaming and yelling, put obstacles in their way, risking their own safety and the safety of the riders. Yet, despite the obvious aggravation by some competitors, they have remained focused on their goal and have not allowed themselves to be distracted. The paradox is that I admire the raw passion of the crowd, even when it is idiotic, and I respect the determination of the riders that is unshaken by the crowd. Passionate people inspire greatness not only in the Tour de France, but in every arena of life!
4. Controversial Tactics - The desire and pressure to win can drive teams to adopt questionable tactics that can seriously damage the reputation of riders and the sport. Riding across the line of another cyclist in a sprint or taking on food after the exclusion zone on a hill climb may win short term gains, but diminishes the value of the advantage at best or results in penalties at worst. Either way, when the character of a rider or team takes a hit, the focus on their competence becomes blurred. Many successful sporting stars, executives or politicians are remembered for all the wrong reasons because they allowed winning at all costs to compromise their integrity.
Beyond the insights gained from these distractions, the real appeal of the Tour de France is the pinnacle of human achievement that pushes through pain barriers over three weeks of grueling riding through the stunning countryside of France. Vive le Tour!