I’ve been following the Tour de France, primarily because of the return to the epic race of Lance Armstrong, 7-time winner and cancer survivor. He’s currently in 2nd place. Not bad for a 37-year-old geezer. (The oldest winner so far was 36-year-old Firmin Lambot in 1922.)
This 96th Tour is comprised of 21 stages over 23 days and covers about 3,500 kilometers, or 2,200 miles. It’s like pedaling north-to-south across the U.S. balanced on the spine of a Harry Potter book. The longest stage is 139 miles and eight of them are in the mountains. The best time at the end of each day earns the Maillot Jaune or Yellow Jersey.
Women have never been allowed in the Tour because its founder, Henri Desgrange, felt the grueling physical demands were too much for female cyclists. There is a women’s Tour held in August called the Grande Boucle Feminine Internationale that’s about one-third as long.
Many people don’t realize that although there is an individual winner, the Tour is a team sport. Each team starts with nine riders who work together doing whatever it takes to get their man on the winner’s podium in Paris. There are 20 teams in this year’s Tour.
Armstrong rides for team Astana but not in the lead role. After teammate Alberto Contador decisively won the mountainous 15th stage, Armstrong said, “As far as I’m concerned, I’m happy to be a domestique (support rider). … This is a team sport. I think now is the time for me to put my chances aside and focus on the team.”
Domestiques haul water and food from team cars; protect their teammates from the opposing teams and help fix mechanical problems, including giving up their wheels or whole bikes if needed.
It is team tactics which so often win or lose races – and the lieutenants and the dog soldiers who expend their energy blocking chasing moves when they have riders up the road in a position to win. It is they who ride out into the wind so their aces can get an easier ride tucked inside their wheel. Rare indeed is the major victory that cannot be credited in large part to the groundwork laid by the domestiques. – Roger St Pierre
Life is a lot like the Tour; it burns huge amounts of calories; unfurls in various stages; spans a variegated terrain and requires team effort to succeed.
If you had to name your Team, the one group with which you most identify, would it be family, friends, schoolmates, work associates, church members, ministry partners? When was the last time you served them as a domestique?
If you can’t recall, do something tactical and supporting for a teammate by the time the Tour de France concludes on Sunday.