Le Tour de France gained a fan in me this year. If you had asked me about it in previous years, I could have only given you very basic information. But this year, I’ve found much joy in following the various stages, learning more of the ins and outs of this intense race and anxiously awaiting the impending attacks from teams fighting for the top general classification (GC) spot.
And with the joy and excitement from the past 23 days of following this race comes some sadness that it has come to a close. So, to help me cope, I share with you some lessons I took away from watching the 2023 Tour de France.
Community is truly a beautiful thing:
Thanks to the Netflix documentary on the Tour, I went in with basic knowledge that this sport is actually a team sport. Seeing the ways in which these men played various roles supporting one common goal was, quite frankly, beautiful. A much-coveted position within the Tour is to have the yellow jersey on your team. The yellow jersey is the top spot in the general classification, or the rider who has taken the least time to complete all the stages. What will happen throughout the various stages is that teammates will protect, push and guide their team leader, the one striving for the GC spot, to successful finishes. Seeing teammates take on the brunt force of pace setting, headwinds and providing fuel throughout the stage races is nothing short of awe-inspiring to watch. There were genuine moments when a teammate would clearly be pushing themselves to exasperation, the team leader would break free, thanks to the conserved energy they were able to maintain through their protection, and the cameras would follow the surging team leader. But if you looked closely, you could see the teammate in the back, rightfully so struggling, but still pushing through to finish the race so they can continue to protect and guide their team leader in stages to come. I’m not sure what it is, but watching such a clear example of sacrificing oneself for the greater good gets me every time. As any GC leader will say, they would not be able to have that spot without their teammates’ help along the way.
The sun will rise again:
This year there were two riders in top contention for the GC spot, Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar. The race was within just over a minute until Stage 17, a mountain Stage, when Tadej had, as he said, a ride from hell and the worst day on his bike that he could recall. He went down a total of 7 minutes from Jonas in that stage and his hopes of taking the overall GC spot were squashed. A few days later another mountain stage occurred in Stage 20. Tadej went from having his worst day on the bike that he could remember and losing all hope of winning the top GC spot to then winning Stage 20, without a rest day in between those two stages. Three days between his worst day on the bike to an overall stage victory. Yes, Tadej is an incredible athlete with an equally incredible team surrounding him. But, this also serves as a reminder that if we keep putting one foot in front of the other, there is a very strong chance that things are going to get better.
Shame will tell you that you are the only one, but that is not the truth:
Tadej had a tough day with Stage 17. A usually outgoing, vibrant young man, his interviews that day were heavy and distraught. Tadej said that the following day he had many riders come up and talk to him and he had much appreciation for that. Tadej never directly said this, but I’m guessing shame may have had a pretty good grip on him after Stage 17. He had a very tough race on the biggest stage and lost his goal of taking back the GC victory in the Tour. But, what I’m guessing most riders went up and told him is that they had been there, too. Perhaps not on as big of a stage as Tadej had been on, but there is likely not a rider out there who doesn’t know what it feels like to get up on that bike and have things feel heavy, wrong and out of sync. Even as just a spectator, I can relate to different encounters in my life where things just didn’t click like they needed to. When shame slips in and tries to convince you that you are alone, know that there is a much greater chance that there are others who have been in very similar shoes as you are.
It’s OK if our definition of success changes:
Still running with Tadej, his goal in Stage 17 went from winning the GC standings to just trying to stay on the podium for the GC. While our goals may not have to switch as quickly as Tadej’s did, it’s still OK if we have to alter what our initial thoughts of success looked like. What Tadej did after Stage 17 was unbelievable. That stage could have knocked many people out, but Tadej kept going. Sure, his initial goal of winning the GC didn’t happen, but he altered his goal to maintain a podium spot on the GC and accomplished that as well as an individual stage win. I hope he feels proud of the Tour he raced as he should, and I hope you feel proud of what you are able to accomplish even if it doesn’t align with your initial goals.
Find your lane and discover the beauty of leaning into your gifts:
There are several different roles within the Tour de France teams. Two of these roles are sprinters and climbers. The stages vary from mountain stages, hilly stages and flat stages. If you are a sprinter, the hilly and flat stages are likely a time for you to shine. And if you are a climber, the mountain stages are the ones calling your name. A goal of any rider is to finish the tour, so even if a stage isn’t your specialty area, you still have to finish it to make it to the final stage in Paris. Yes, it is good to push ourselves and to develop areas that we may see as our weaknesses. But, it is equally good to recognize your areas of strength and pour into those areas and develop them. It was a lot of fun watching the various different stages and seeing riders who didn’t have the spotlight the day before take over and get their chance to shine. And then the next day often highlighted other riders. Even the top two contenders for the GC, Jonas and Tadej, are two very different riders. Yes, both are incredible athletes and extremely competitive racers. But, they approach these stages differently and cycling itself differently. Much of the success of each of them is likely realizing their own approach and leaning into that and embracing it. Much is life. It may not be your time all the time to shine and get to show your strengths, but I hope you know and value your strengths enough that when times do come to show them, you are able to take those opportunities.
Your limit is likely further than you realize:
I still can’t get over how intense this race is. These men have raced for 21 days and covered over 2,100 miles. They have climbed incredibly steep gradients and raced on their bikes for sometimes 5-6 hours at a time. And the race takes 23 days to complete because there are only two rest days provided. All of this riding and only two rest days. And you want to know what those riders do on their rest days? Ride. Yes, these are professional athletes who train for this exact thing. But, I find it to be a captivating reminder that our bodies and minds are often capable of much more than we give them credit for. Yes, rest is valuable, and yes, taking baby steps is valuable. But, overall belief in yourself should be of much more abundance.
Smaller victories deserve their celebration, too:
Winning the GC is an incredible feat and deserves much celebration and accolades. I had a lot of fun following the competition between Jonas and Tadej. But, it was also fun watching and celebrating the individual stage victories. When Tadej won Stage 20, he posted on social media that he realized his celebration may have been a bit over the top, but I disagree. One, because he should absolutely be celebrating given where he was just a few days earlier. But, two, how much greater would life be if we allowed ourselves to feel full joy during the smaller victories that occur along the way to our big victories?
I’m sad that the Tour has come to an end, but I am already looking forward to continuing to follow some of the riders I grew to enjoy watching and am excited for the Tour next year. As a person who has enjoyed sports all of my life, I find that there are many lessons we can take from them, and this Tour provided several great reminders and lessons.
Kylie Larson, MA, LPC