As an amateur bicyclist for 35+ years, I’ve developed an interest (borderline addiction) to the Tour de France. For me, it started about 10 years ago. At first I was attracted to the great story of Lance Armstrong surviving cancer and continuing to ride. He went on to win 7 straight tours from 1999 to 2005. During those years I started monitoring websites that would give updates every 5 minutes on the progress of the day’s events. Around 2003, the cable channel Versus began broadcasting all the stages in the U.S. on a daily basis; last year when Lance attempted a comeback and I finally had cable TV in my home — my addiction to the action was fully enabled.
While Lance Armstrong is the name most people recognize with the tour, it’s the team that enables Lance or Andy Schleck or Alberto Contador to win the overall race. A team consists of nine riders and each man has his own specialty or purpose. I’ve become fascinated by the strategy involved, and necessity and willingness of the individuals to work together as a team. Is there an opportunity to learn teamwork from a somewhat obscure sport and apply it to business? Have you ever watched a stage of Le Tour de France?
I’m willing to stipulate that watching a stage of the tour de France is a little like watching golf or bowling on TV. Not much happens for long stretches of time but you keep watching for those moments when suddenly something does happen. Here is a short primer on the Tour de France, and perhaps you will see how it teaches us lessons in Teamwork.
The Tour de France (Wikipedia) is a bicycle race consisting of 21 race days or stages. It typically covers over 2000 miles. Each year the race alternates between a clockwise and counter-clockwise circuit of France, and since 1975 it has ended in Paris on the Champs-Élysées. The stages are described by their characteristics: flat, undulating or mountainous. Most stages are races in which all the riders start together, but there are also 2 or 3 time-trials where each rider starts individually and races against the clock.
The overall winner of the tour each year is typically the rider who is best in time trials and mountain stages. On the flatter stages, a rider specialist called a sprinter is frequently the winner. In all cases, with the exception of the time trials, teamwork plays a large part in a single rider being able to win a stage or the overall event. Teamwork is critical. It’s similar to a business where lots of people do individual tasks necessary for success. The president of the company plans strategy, the sales department books orders, manufacturing produces the product, engineering creates the design, etc.
So what is the strategy of teamwork in professional cycling? Typically a team has one leader or the rider who has the best chance of winning the overall tour. The other riders on the team are assigned the job of helping him win the tour. How do they help? They ride in front of him to break the wind allowing him to conserve energy. They ride next to him to assist if he has trouble such as a flat tire or mechanical problem with bike ? they will give him their bike and allow him to ride on saving seconds while they wait for a support car. They will go back to their support cars and collect water bottles for all the other team members … again, this allows the leaders to conserve energy. If the leader crashes and loses time, they will work hard to pull (or lead) the leader back into the pack.
On the flat stages when the sprinters typically dominate, the team’s main sprinter is the rider who can accelerate at the finish line and beat the entire pack of riders. Sprinters are rarely good mountain stage racers but they provide stage wins for the team. But even the sprinter is led to the finish line by his teammates. A successful sprint might have 4 or 5 riders in a line (called a train) and each rider rides as fast as he can for as long as he can (pulling the other riders along). As the rider in the lead tires, he peals off and lets the next man take his turn. The last man in the train is the sprint specialist and sprints to the finish line hopefully for the win. Mark Cavendish of team HTC-Columbia is today’s premier sprinter. He’s already won three stages of this year’s Tour.
The Tour de France is both an individual and team sport. The team aspect is a good reminder that each of us has a role to fulfill in our business teams and/or family life. Accepting responsibility for your role on the team and performing that role in a high standard enables the team to win. The team benefits by your actions, and you individually benefit through the success of the team.
If every rider in the Tour de France rode selfishly and only for his own self interests, he may occasionally have some success but would most likely burn himself out and fail to complete the tour. If you only act in your own self-interest you’ll find yourself isolated, suffering from burnout, and failing to enjoy the victories that are possible through a well-functioning team.
To learn more on this subject continue to explore the SpeakingGump.com website or consider having Steve Weber speak at your next company or association meeting. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that!
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