6 Success Principles From The Tour de France

Success in the Tour

Photo: Guano

As the 2008 edition of the Tour de France wraps up, it is a good time to reflect on some of the success principles that are evident in the Tour and that can be applied in the rest of our lives.  The Tour de France is a grueling bike race that goes for 21 days (or stages).  The winners (and in to some extent all who compete) follow these success principles.

1. You need to have a good team – The Tour de France, and professional cycling in general, is an individual sport that requires team work.  At the end of each year’s Tour there is only one winner, but the winner needs a strong team to win.  This year’s tour has been dominated by team CSC.  The individual winner is Carlos Sastre from that team.  There are many ways that Sastre’s team helped him win. For example:

  • team members set the pace – especially on the difficult mountain stages, Sastre’s team mates would ride at the front setting the pace for him.
  • team members protect the leader – cyclists generally ride in a group known as the pelaton.  Sastre’s teammates surrounded Satre in the pelaton protecting him in the event of a crash
  • team members help carry the load – throughout the race teammates go back to the team car and bring up water, energy bars and other forms of  sustenance to their team leader.

For success in life and business everyone needs this kind of team.  Who is your team?  If you don’t have one, look for ways to develop a team around you.

2. You need to be prepared for different stages – The 21 stages of the Tour de France are not all the same.  Basically, the stages can be broken down into three categories.  There are flat stages, mountain stages and individual time trials.  Each stage needs a different kind of strategy and mindset.   In a flat stage of the Tour de France, the team leader needs to simply stay with the pack.  They need to make sure no top contendor (ie. anyone with a chance to beat them) gets away.  By finishing with the pelaton the team leader will not lose any time and will continue with his chances to win.

On a mountain stage the team works together to get the team leader over the first mountains, with the knowledge that the team leader may end up all alone on the final climb ready to fight it out with the other top cyclists.  Mountain stages are the most difficult and require the most effort but are were the winners separate themselves from the pack.  On the primary mountain stage of this year’s Tour, Carlos Sastre beat is main competitor by over two minutes.

The final stage type is the individual time trial.  In this stage each individual rides alone against the clock.  There are no teammates and no competitors around to race directly against.  The winner must do well (or excel) during the time trial.

Life has similar stages.  At times you simply need to stay with the pack, rely on your teammates and just keep riding ahead.  At other times you are all alone climbing a mountain.  These times are very difficult, but this is where the biggest rewards are found.  Your team can get you there, but you need to climb the mountain yourself.  Finally, there are times that are just like the individual time trial.  You are all alone.  You have no team, no competitors to mark yourself against, you just need to put your nose down and keep on going.

3.Understand that everybody has a bad day sometime – Over the 21 stages of the Tour it is a common understanding that everyone will have a bad day sometime.  This year was no different.  All of the race favorites had at least one bad day.  Even in his prime, Lance Armstrong had bad days.  The champions are the ones who push through on their bad days and limit their losses.

In life, everyone will have bad days.  In those bad days champions in life, and the Tour, need to maintain a positive attitude, continue to work hard, and rely on our teammates.   We cannot give in to our bad days, let our attitude go negative, or stop working.

4. Persistence Pays Off – Most champions of the Tour exhibit a significant level of persistence.  Lance Armstrong is perhaps the most famous example of this as he persisted through his fight with cancer and subsequent return to cycling.  Sastre also demonstrated persistance having competed in ten prior Tours.  During that time he had 5 top tens including a 3rd and a 4th place finish.

Success does not always happen immediately.  In fact for many it is this kind of persistence which is needed for success.  Too many give up early.  They are satisfied with a ‘top 10 finish’, or give up when they have a significant challenge.  Persistence is a key to success.

5. Ride like you’re wearing yellow – The leader of the Tour de France wears the famous Yellow Jersey to signify their lead.  An interesting thing tends to happen when a rider takes the lead and puts on the Yellow Jersey: they tend to ride better.  Wearing yellow brings out another level in many riders.  This has been seen year after year in the Tour.  This year Sastre entered the final time trial with a minute and a half lead over his top competitors.  Sastre however, is not good at the time trial.  Virtually every expert and commentator figured he would lose the lead.  Spurred on by the Yellow Jersey and the knowledge of the opportunity to win the Tour, Sastre pulled out the performance of his life, droping only 30 seconds of his lead.

Did wearing yellow actually change Sastre’s abilities?  Of course not.  Sastre had the ability to do a good time trial in him all the time.  It took the inspiration from wearing yellow to pull it out of him.  What abilities do you have that you aren’t using?  Live like you are wearing yellow.  Take hold of the things that inspire you and live with that inspiration.

6. Know your goal – When you enter the Tour you need to know your goal.  Each team must set their goals and each individual rider has goals within that.  For some the goal is to win the Tour.  Others aim for a top ten finish, and others simply aim to win an individual stage.    Your goal will determine your strategy.

Once you have determined your overall goal, you then need to set goals for each stage.  Is this a stage you want to attack on, trying to gain time on your competitors? Or is this a stage to defend your current position?  The goal for each stage is set by the team in order to help reach the individual goals within the team.

The same principle is true in other areas of life.  You need to have your overarching goal that you are pursing.  Within the overarching goal you need to break it down into weekly and daily goals.  Knowing what you want to accomplish will set you up for success.


Sastre spoke after his win was sealed, summing up many of these points: “I think the key to our victory was to care for one another. And to take decisions in the right moments, knowing what we wanted and how we wanted it. We believed in ourselves, and that’s how we won the Tour de France.” What is your goal?  Who is your team?  Work towards your goal, know that you will have bad days but persist through the challenges.  Understand that life will take you through different stages but always live like you are wearing yellow.

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One Response to “6 Success Principles From The Tour de France”

  1. TeasasTips says on :

    I like #4–Persistence Pays Off–if I could bottle this one and sell it, I’d be a millionaire! Great post.

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