Seven years ago my husband introduced me to le Tour de France. My husband loves sports. Loves them like he and I both love ice cream with unbridled passion and desire. The man has been known to participate in three fantasy football leagues at once- a feat that amazes and sometime bewilders me- but to each their own joys and release. Me, I like sports. I have been known to yell at the TV when a bad call (in my humble estimation) has been made. The Olympics, both summer and winter, are a highly anticipated pleasure for me. Watching the Lithuanian National Basketball team play several games during the last Summer Olympics, while in Lithuania visiting family was a thrill! Who knew that my 84 old farm woman cousin would be as up on the team as my city slicker 45 year old, business man cousin- but that is an other story. I cheered when my 15 year-old brother got himself 2 goals a hockey game this past season. But, I don’t love Sports the way that I love ice cream or dance. I did not get up at 6:30 am on a Saturday to watch a bike race and could not understand why my night owl husband was doing so.
Needless to say my interest was peaked. So I found myself getting up and watching the Tour with my husband. I asked a million questions about how the race worked. “How is it that a rider can maintain the lead position, but finish in the peloton 3 minutes behind the stage winner?” “What is the appeal of being a domestique?” “So I am I right in understanding that each stage is a race in itself?” As my husband answered my questions, the structure and flow of the race, the honor of finishing the Tour de France, the importance of each member of a team fulfilling their role and their supporting each other became incredibly clear. Yes, the race has a declared winner, the person with lowest overall time across three weeks of cycling on flat lands, over mountains, in time trials, through all sorts of weather and over varied road conditions. The Tour Winner does not get to the podium, or the end of any stage of the race alone. A team of people supports him; each with a specific and special role and each of those roles are celebrated. Each individual win is celebrated, with an eye towards the final goal. There are races within the race: each stage win, the fastest sprinter, the most aggressive rider of the day, the King of the Mountains, the Best Young Rider, the Best Team.
When there is a crash in the race, more supporting members come out for the rider, doctors, mechanics, teammates to help ride him back into the pack, and the fans watching. They all pull for the rider to get back in the saddle and continue on the ride. There are always crashes. A moment’s inattention to the road, or hazardous conditions, or seemingly without a reason, crashes occur. At times the crashes are spectacular, taking your breath away as you watch someone skid along the road, or flip over the handle bars and guard rail on the mountain side or cause a chain reaction involving multiple riders. The riders hurt at the end of each day’s ride, and even more so when involved in a crash. Crashes are cause for concern, some times the result is the rider has to drop out of the race for the year. But rarely are the crashes fatal. More often the riders are able to pick themselves up, right the bike, or get a replacement bike and complete the days ride. That amazes me. I think this is a powerful metaphor for life, life as our own personal “Tour de insert your name”.
Yes it is nice, even desirable to be declared the winner or get a place on the podium. But there is at least as much honor in finishing the race, through rain and sun, along empty stretches of road, over grueling mountains and between lines of cheering people. It is even more honorable to get up after a crash, mop up the cuts, finish the race and attend to the bruises. It is important to accept the support and gifts that others offer and to be humbled and grateful for those. It is important to work hard for yourself and others, but also for the greatest good of all. Don’t work at such an expense that you make enemies out of those you may need in the future. Keep your eyes and self aware of the end goal, but be very present in each stage of the route. Pace yourself. Don’t cheat the cost is high to you and others. When someone has a win congratulate them and keep working for your own wins.
Yes, I was hooked on the Tour de France after the first summer of watching and enjoyed it again this July.