life lessons from the tour de france


I’m not a cyclist, but my husband and daughter are. I have some cycling knowledge, based on hundreds of hours of watching the Tour de France over the last 30 years. It’s one of our family summer activities, spending our evenings (and mornings when the girls would get up at 5:00 am to watch live) with Phil, Paul and Bob.

This summer Steve and I are settling in for our six hour TDF marathons, and I always snooze off, waking up for the finish. Steve is all about the strategy, I am about the scenery. We both enjoy the commentary.

Last week during the Team Time Trial, I heard something that stuck. I believe it was Christian Vande Velde (a retired racer, new to the commentary desk) talking about Tejay van Garderen. Tejay was leading Team BMC, and his team was protecting him, trying to gain every precious second on Team Sky (which included Chris Froome, who was/is wearing the yellow jersey). This is what I heard  (paraphrasing):

“It’s not so much how he leads, but how he manages himself when he drops back. He knows how to use the others to help calm and collect himself, and plan for the future. That’s his real talent, how he uses his time when he’s on the back wheel, and that’s what makes him so strong.”

His strength was seen in his calm and consistent rhythm. This was also true for, and noticed, on the mountain stages. He could be counted on to manage himself.

In the Tour there are 22 teams of 9 riders each. In the one day Team Time Trial, each team rides about 20 miles, and time is based on the 5th rider. What’s tricky is that by the time the team time trial starts, not every team has 9 riders left. The big climbs are still to come. It takes smarts as well as strength.

Steve rides several times a week with the same group of great friends. We talked about how you can use the time when you’ve dropped back to organize your brain and your body. How that time can be used to hydrate, to regulate your breathing, to appreciate the nature around you, and sustain you for what is ahead.

I wonder how that applies to my own life. I am a fan of downtime for sure. Look at my comfy chair in the corner of my living room for evidence. But am I using my “drop back” time in a way that strengthens me for my work ahead? What do I need to collect myself (nature, reading, writing, breathing, exercise, conversation, silence, friends, creating, wine)? How can I use my strength to help propel others? And am I giving others a chance to both lead and rest?

I don’t think this means DO MORE. I think it means paying attention to the moments between the doing…that place between slow and go. Paying attention to what we need to organize and collect our brains and our bodies. I think it means valuing our drop back time as much as the push time, rather than referring to our days as lazy or slow. I suspect it means not to waste it on bad TV, crummy wine, cheap cheese, or unhealthy relationships. It probably means I should have my coffee on the patio more often, and step away from the computer. Also, cleaning out my desk drawer might be helpful.

I have no idea if Christian Vande Velde intended me to take a little life lesson from his statement. It’s what I heard and remembered, and what I will try to use this week.

I googled “riding in a peloton” and found this piece. Am I crazy to think these ten secrets apply to real life?

1. Relax
2. Stay up front
3. Hide your suffering
4. Work smart
5. Watch for erratic riders
6. Look ahead
7. Make allies
8. Get fueled early
9. Sprint smart
10. Don’t be a wheelsuck

By the way, Team BMC did go on to win the Time Trial over Team Sky, by one second.

Photo by Kim Tackett. Fourth of July Bike Races, Davis CA 2010.


  1. I’m biased :-) – – I live in what can feel like the land of Tour de France. Austin, Texas – – but I left this post and am sharing.

    • Kim

      Thanks Carla. Speaking of auto correct, I read your comment as ‘I live in the land of Tour de Lance.’ Heh.

  2. Insightful. I love the title. Sometimes we’re so busy or alternately so tired that we don’t take time to reflect. Thanks for the reminder to consider the importance of both racing and being at rest.

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