Every July, the world’s biggest sporting event takes place across the entire country of France. This iconic bike race is unlike any other sporting event on earth, but the Tour de France offers life lessons we can all learn from and apply to our own lives
The Tour de France is an incredible spectacle. Touring huge swathes of France – and, often, other countries too – this 21-stage cycling race is unlike any other sporting event on earth. Indeed, you might be wondering what this 3-week, 3,350km bike race could teach us about ‘life’. You’d be surprised. The Tour de France is actually a little microcosm of life.
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Tour de France stats
- 21 stages
- 176 riders
- 450 support staff
- 23 mountain passes
- 7,800 hours of Live broadcasting to 190 countries
It’s quite the epic feat, but what does the Tour have to teach about life?
1 Spend your energy wisely
Riders in the Tour de France have to manage their energy levels during each stage and from day to day very wisely. Unless unavoidable, they’ll not spend once ounce of energy on anything that isn’t directly contributing towards their success. Whether that’s literally ensuring the calories get in, or minimising time spent standing up talking to journalists, their eyes are firmly fixed on the prize.
The Tour de France is a vast rolling caravan with over 150 vehicles supporting 176 riders
While we cannot spend our lives focusing on just one aspect of life – work, family, hobby, relationships, sport etc – there is a lesson here: focus on what you want and minimise distractions. We’re all guilty of saying yes to things that we don’t really want to do because we feel we should, and we’re all guilty of giving our phones more attention than they deserve.
Deciding what you really want to achieve today / this month / this year and making cognisant decisions to prioritise that goal is definitely something we can learn.
2 Own your role
A Tour de France team will often compromise a GC (General Classification) contender, a sprint specialist, a couple of hill climbers and a handful of domestiques. Every rider in a team will, each day, have a specific role to play. Whether it’s trying to win the stage, maintain position, mark other riders or chase other teams, everyone’s role is of utmost importance for the team to succeed.
Your role might be in the service of others. Own it and be your best
The life lesson here is obvious in a business context – your role is important whether you’re an intern or the CEO. Own your role and aspire to complete your jobs to the highest quality. Even if you simply make the coffee, your job is important to keep workers fuelled and caffeinated so they can perform their job! We’re told throughout childhood that it’s the effort that matters. Put everything in and the outcome will take care of itself.
The same goes in family life. Whether you’re the head of the family or the youngest sibling, aim to be the best you can. Own your role and each day aspire to give 100% of what you can give that day.
3 We can’t all be winners all the time
Domestiques are the heart and soul of the Tour de France. 95% of the 176 riders who start the race are there in support of someone else. They’re not there to serve themselves, but to help their leader. Even though they’re a world-class rider and capable of winning a stage themselves, they’ll often sacrifice their own chances of glory in service of another. It’s the ultimate team sport.
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The same goes in life. Our own ambitions sometimes need to take a backseat for the good of the team – whether that’s at work or in the family – in order for the majority to be successful and happy. For example, some Saturday’s I’d rather head out for a 5 hour ride because that’s what’s best for me, but the kids need taking to sports matches and the missus has a training session for a more imminent goal. In that case, parking my own ambitions is better for the whole (and in all likelihood I can flex to get my session in too).
4 Resilience matters
There’s only two rest days in the 3-week Tour de France. You might think the riders take this opportunity to sleep, eat and watch Netflix. While this is part of the day, they’re more active than you’d image. Indeed, they’ll still get on their bikes and ride for 1.5 – 3 hours to keep the body going – do nothing and it’ll shut down and be resistant to getting going again tomorrow.
There’s no two ways about it – you’ve got to have resilience to race the Tour de France…and get the most from life
Even through the rest of the year, cyclists have very little downtime. Now more so than ever with races in all corners of the globe, they get very little time off so resilience matters.
All of us in life will have those moments where there’s nothing for it but no toughen up and get it done. Obstacles will always appear and it’s how react to challenges that matters. Resilience is a very useful tool to have in your armoury.
5 Pay attention to nutrition
Granted, the nutrition of a Tour de France rider doesn’t closely resemble the Average Joe’s diet (or at least, it shouldn’t!). They have to pack in upwards of 5,000 calories per day, much of which comes from high-sugar sports nutrition (or at least, it used to until research cottoned onto the benefits of whole-food, healthy nutrition) to fuel riders.
What we can glean from Tour de France riders about their diet is that it matters. They’re using the latest science to inform their decision-making and understand the impact food has on their cycling performance, mental and emotional health and physical wellbeing. Just because they’re riding 3,500km doesn’t mean food shouldn’t be as equally important to you.
Nutrition is a cornerstone of a successful Tour de France. It also forms the bedrock of health, longevity and performance for us normal folk. But it needn’t be complex – supplements like Ultimate Daily Greens making getting your nutrients in easier than ever
Because we are what we eat. Eat a diet high in ultra-processed foods, sugar and artificial chemicals and it’s no surprise health will deteriorate. You only need to look at Blue Zones – where a disproportionate number of centenarians live – to understand the importance of diet on health.
Going a step further than simply wanting to live a healthy life, if you’re even considering being your fittest self and striving to make the most of this wonderful organism that is the human body, then you need to feed it with wholesome, natural and healthy food.
6 Consistency is king
For anyone chasing any sporting goal, you’ll have head this many times before. Ask any pro (at any sport) what they’re ‘secret advice’ to becoming a champ is, I guarantee 90% will say consistency (or at least, something to that effect).
Turning up and putting the work in, day in day out is what builds champions. Even if you’re not aspiring to become a champion, being consistent will deliver the best results.
Consistency is king when it comes to training for, and performing in, the Tour. It’s the same whether you’re trying to be the best parent, employee or member of your 5-a-side football team
Each stage of the Tour de France has a cut-off time before which all riders must cross the finish line. Miss it and you’re out. So, on the micro-level (make sure you manage yourself well enough to ride consistently and finish that stage) to the macro-level (make sure you manage yourself well enough to train day after day for six months to get fit for the race) is a clear example of consistency.
No rider before the Tour de France will have a huge training day followed by a day off. Or a massive week of big rides following by a week wrecked.
From a sporting perspective, the benefits of consistency are clear. In life, slightly less so but still applicable. Working a 10-hour day one day and being knackered the next will result in poor productivity over the long course. As will not getting enough sleep one night and sleeping in the next. A bit like spending your energy wisely, take an aerial view of whatever aspect of life you’re considering and measure out your effort wisely to be able to show up and give your best every day.
7 Trust your instincts
While Tour de France teams will meticulously plan every stage and have a very clear goal of what they want to achieve each day and how it’ll pan out (or so they hope), the top riders are also very good at trusting their gut and riding on instinct.
Planning with your colleagues how to attack a project is important, as is trusting your instinct when you need to go off-piste
Life – or, indeed, a stage of the Tour – rarely goes to plan so being adaptable and listening to your gut is important. Life when a breakaway goes at a crucial point of the race and the original plan needs to be abandoned in order to keep a team in check, we often need to bend and flex with what life throws at us.
Work will sometimes ask if you can complete a project by a certain date or ask if you can achieve something off-piste. Maybe your child is sick at school and you’re not sure whether to leave them with the nurse or drop everything to go pick them up. You might be halfway through an Ironman and you drop your nutrition – do you stop and pick it up, thus ‘wasting’ time?
Listen to your gut and trust your instincts in these circumstances – they’re often right.
8 Adopt a tiny habits mindset
Dave Brailsford, head of then Team Sky and now Ineos Grenadiers, popularised the term marginal gains, and he was clearly onto something.
During the late 2000s, Brailsford and his team approached the Tour very differently. The started to capitalise on tiny gains – each of which often brought a less than 1% gain – to reap compounding major benefits.
Geraint Thomas, seen here riding for Team Sky, was a beneficiary of Dave Brailsford’s marginal gains theory
For example, he implemented:
- Riders slept custom mattresses rather than accepting whatever the hotel was offering
- Use the same pillow every night
- Upgrading their Tour bus: better showers, more leg room, good sound system
- State of the art mechanics’ truck
- Revolutionising hydration bottles
- Utilising cool down sessions on rollers post-stage
- Plus lots more!
None of these was revolutionary in its own right, but together resulted in huge gains – as can be seen from their dominance of the race for nearly a decade.
The tiny habits mindset is useful in everyday life too especially when faced with a busy work, family and social life where large changes are simply impossible.
But by making small changes, such as these below, you could see big benefits:
- Take the stairs instead of the escalator
- Do 5 push ups every time you go to the loo
- Opt for a fruit salad instead of ice cream for pudding
- Instead of meat in every meal, have an all-veg meal twice per week
- Rather than trying to lose three kgs, aim for one
- Instead of going part-time to spend more time with the kids, switch your phone off by 6pm
9 Process over outcome
Take care of the process and the outcome will take care of itself
Tour de France riders cannot focus on an outcome – it’s too large. Even if you’re a GC contender aspiring for a win, there’s a hundred things that need to come together for that outcome to be achieved. Plus a whole heap of variables.
Control the controllables is so important in everyday life.
- You can’t stop something bad happening, but you can control how you react to it
- You can’t control who turns up at the local 10km (and thus, where you place), but you can control how you pace the event
- You can’t control whether your boss gives you a pay rise, but you can control how hard you work
- You can’t finish work early to be with your kids, but you can give the most of yourself when you are with them
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