Tour symmetries

“I think he’s trying,” says Eki, “to wear the yellow jersey.” Aren’t we all? But what this year’s Tour seemed to point out more than many others I’ve watched over the years is how you get there is more important to everyone.

It seemed like last year this lesson had begun to sink in. “It’s kind of cool to be the one up front pulling.” was heard to be said by Lance. Being the one up front pulling has rewards that last a lifetime. Just ask Big George.

Cycling has a benefit over many other sports besides its accessibility (anyone can ride). It can have style and it can lend you style. You can be the personification of a style, or your style can be a manifestation of who you are. Or both at various times. The long hours on the road can distill the essence of your being even as it instills new qualities as you explore your limits. It’s much like practicing a musical instrument. It inhabits you even as you illuminate it. (Nietzsche would be proud). This symmetry continues.

This year’s Tour also taught people manners and noblesse oblige. You do not need to wait, but you do not need to attack. There is a middle ground though it can be tough to find for some people. For some it seems to be black and white: “Everyone can attack when it is easy. You win races by attacking when it hurts, you attack when it is hard, when your legs are burning, when everyone else is breathing hard and you are suffering. That is when you attack.” Maybe, in its purest, noblest sense. But in reality people are scared and confused and they attack when an opportunity presents itself. That is human nature. But I love that so many people feel that the Tour isn’t just about raw human emotion, courage, and suffering, but also, and possibly more so about sportsmanship, elegance, and a profound respect for your competitors. And I hope that they act that way in their own lives.

The road humbles us all. The miles pile up and they write a story on our faces and bodies. The windy flats, the climbs, and the “lumpy” rollers. So often it feels like the road attacks us; climbs lurking around each curve like a terrorists bomb; never letting the ride relax into a painless cruise. They explode our lungs and hearts, remind us of our responsibilities, our limitations, and in the end, we seek them out to grind those edges off our lives.

This year Armstrong went out the way he came in: digging deep, enjoying the pain and riding, at times, like a champion. Love him, hate him or whatever, he will leave a chasm in the sport now that he’s done for good (I hope he doesn’t make a fool out of me here, but I think not). Maybe he can do more good just pulling for others now.

The next time you’re on the rivet, crosseyed, and attempting to fly up some hill, or launching your next move, things will be clearer because of this year’s Tour. Courage and defiance. Anger and revenge. Apology and remorse. All were present this year to encourage and teach us. The symmetry continues.

This year celebrated the 100 anniversary of the inclusion of the Pyrannees in the race. The scouts for the Tour famously reported the inclusion of Col du Tourmalet as “parfaitement praticable” (perfectly fair) while the riders found the Mountain climbs so difficult that “Vous êtes des assassins!” – ‘You are assassins’ spat Octave Lapize to onlookers and Tour officials as he struggled over the Col d’Aubisque in the 1910 Tour. It was also that year that a small concession was introduced for the first time by Degrange—la voiture-balai, the infamous broom-wagon to sweep up any riders unable to carry on. Without one, there is no need for the other.

The Tour will end shortly and someone will have won. And life will press on. The intensity of sporting events is that they distill life to simple rules and boundaries. The majesty is that we can carry the lessons with us into our lives and use what we’ve learned to make a difference in a way that truly matters. Riding a bike is a perfect metaphor. Find a balance, pull for others, then seek the yellow jersey.