21 May 2009

Leaders, lieutenants and domestiques...

I love bike races, especially stage races.  Ever since I first heard about the Tour de France in my frehsman French class, more years ago than I'd like to admit, I've been fascinated with the sheer endurance it takes to ride 2200 miles in three weeks.   Grinding up endless mountains, then descending on those winding roads at speeds around 70 mph takes a level of athleticism that I can barely imagine.

But what really draws me to the sport is more than the sheer guts of the cyclists (and the amazing scenery), it's how much the success of any rider depends on his team.   Despite appearances, stage racing is not an individual sport.  On the days you see a cyclist breakaway from the peleton (the main group) and ride on his own over a punishing course, gaining time on the competition, the heroics are not individual.  He had the "legs" to do that break because his team had been protecting him, keeping him safe, pushing themselves to provide him a slip-stream so his effort was less on the days before.  Teammates spend themselves helping the leader along in the early miles of the break, giving up their own chances of glory so another rider could win.  

In cycling teams there are leaders, lieutenants and domestiques (this last being a french term for servants, maids....)  The domestiques grab the feed bags available at designated points along the route (you don't race 120 miles with just the water bottle on your bike).  They keep their leader safe at the front of the peleton and work to chase down any challenges  or breakaways.  The lieutenants, also called super-domestiques, are often the ones who work with the leader to build a successful break in a mountain stage - climbing for as long as their legs can take them, making it easier on the leader.  

Stage racing has good lessons for life - you don't look at the one-day goal, you work for the long game; if you can have some fun (a stage win) along the way, great, but don't lose site of the big picture.  And even when one team member seems to get the glory, it only happens because the whole team is strong - good leaders remember that, just as good domestiques remember that the team only wins if they are grabbing those feed bags, and working a strong pace-line.   Life in a big family is a lot like that.   Ups and downs, easy days, hard days, rest days, mountain stages... but we pull together and look at the longer goals, not just who wins today, and the end we achieve the seemingly impossible - climbing our own Alpe d'Huez.

With cable tv and live streaming on the internet, its alot easier to follow cycling than it was 15-20 years ago.  We'll watch a recap of today's Giro d'Italia stage tonight (note to self: some mountain roads in Italy are terrifyingly narrow!).  Then we'll have a few weeks before the Tour starts to debate the merits of this year's Tour de France teams (and comparing the riders of today with the greats of the past).  And then, come July, once again we'll watch in amazement as the miles roll by, showing the physical and mental toughness of these riders, and of the undeniable power sacrificing individual glory for a greater goal.    As a mom, whose role can often feel like a domsetique, it's a good reminder that even the little tasks are not unimportant.

1 comment:

  1. What a GREAT POST, Janet!!! I just love following the strategy involved in stage racing! Isn't it amazing!!! What a lovely way to link it to applications of life in a large family! I think I might try to tease a little of that out as we watch this year!!

    Loved reading your perspective!