Monday, July 13, 2009

Tour de France: Is the Race You're In, The Race You're In?

Okay, I'm completely mad for the Tour de France, and not just because of @lancearmstrong's great posts on Twitter and how fun it is to follow him and other cyclists up close and personal, but for another reason completely. I love the philosophical side of it -- leave it to the French to make an athletic tour de force strangely existential.

I'm particularly intrigued with the strange zen side of this amazing race. It feels like an endless ordeal ... nearly a month of very intense, day-long rides with the first rest day finally arriving yesterday after nine days straight of demanding rides on straightaways at first and then straight up mountains.

So I asked today on Twitter -- is the race you're in, the race you're in? And what I mean is, consider what each rider does every day, that is, a long grueling race -- "the race he is in" for that day alone -- and then pull back and consider how one mistake on one day can make or break the whole entire month-long race. Certainly one injury or one fall on one day can kill your month if you are not careful.

On a daily basis, you have to think (je pense, donc je suis) about pacing yourself regardless of the mob around you; equally you must commit to cooperating with your team; you also need to stay strong and fit; and of course, you must avoid injury. You must do all these things to stay in the race for the month.

You can do something impulsive and stupid in the immediate moment, during today's race, which can make you lose the whole race later. Something you do in Day Two can later come back to haunt you on Day Last.

Lance Armstrong's team "Astana" gives you the perfect example of this. They are similar to President Lincoln's cabinet, his brilliant "Team of Rivals" where the President crossed party lines and pulled together a team of the strongest politicians, a team that was far more difficult to manage, than a team of his friends might have been.

On Astana you have amazing riders who have spent a lot of time racing AGAINST one another and now must race together as a team. In the first few days of the race, people were amazed to see the Astana team working so well together, despite Lance's fame, fans and strength, he was able to step back and let the team shine.

Of course, you know in bike racing, the head guy literally keeps the headwind from exhausting the rest of the teammates who ride behind him. (See "slipstream" on Wikipedia.) They each switch on and off as lead rider, so other team members can rest and pace themselves. They were all being wonderfully restrained and working as a team.

Then it happened. Lance moved ahead of his team one day and Lance's fellow Astana teammate, Alberto Contador, had the chance to pull ahead a day or so later in the mountains, leaving the team behind and he went for it. So there's been lots of discussion about one rider risking the team's good will by showing off his stuff, as this piece in USA Today suggests, and there are questions about whether Astana can hang together as a team until the end of the race.

So in a larger context, consider your life and let's pretend each day is just one "stage" as they call each race in the Tour de France. Do you pace yourself, avoid injury, avoid pissing off others in today's race, so the big long race of your life reflects this? Or do you trip yourself up with impatience, bad behavior, broken promises in one short day of racing, which might come back to haunt you when you need the support of your team to go the long haul? Just something to think about.

*Photo Credit: By Christophe Ena, AP from USA TODAY