Cycling: A Team Sport


The #TourdeFrance is in full swing, and they are just completing the final mountain stages on their way to the finish line in Paris. The Tour de France is a cruelling 23-day race in and around France. This year the race covers 2,068 miles or as they say in France, 3,328 kilometers.

The physical ability of these individuals is truly extraordinary. Some of the grades on the mountain stages would challenge any of us just to walk up let alone race on a bicycle. On Tuesday, a rider leading his team’s superstar up a super steep mountain grade, literally broke his chain through the power of his pedal stroke.

The Tour de France is the granddaddy of all cycling events in its 109th year. A single individual will be crowned the winner of the Tour de France but in modern cycling, no individual can win the race alone. They require a team of expert cyclists with very specialized skills. Domestique is the designation given to these supporting cyclists.

Their primary job of the domestique is to create a slipstream for others to follow in. Those in the slipstream use significantly less energy than they can use later in the race. Using the energy of several riders to create that slipstream throughout the race allows the team to go much faster while conserving the energy of the team leader to kick it at the end of the race.

Depending on the terrain of that day’s course, different riders will be called upon to support the team leader. Some have power for the mountains, some have the speed for the flats and others take the lead on treacherous downhills. In addition to that all-important slipstream, support riders often protect the leader from crashes with other riders, they may go back and get water or food. While there are support vehicles that carry spare wheels and bicycles, domestiques have been known to give up their bikes to keep the leader on the road.

You do what you have to do. If that premier mountain power climber is having a bad day, others will be asked to step up. Few domestiques have the luxury of being so specialized they are asked to do whatever it takes to support the team leader.

We could all learn from the teamwork of the Tour de France. Daily, each rider is given a plan, but stuff happens and they remain flexible to do what they have to do for the team to succeed. As it is in our businesses, specialization brings efficiency but flexibility often wins the day.