Determination, Success, and the Tour de France

Every year at the beginning of July, France is host to the most legendary race of the year. Over 180 professional cyclists from around the world start a 21-day race that will cover more than 2,200 miles and climb over dozens of mountains.  The Tour de France tests these cyclists both physically and mentally, awarding the holy yellow jersey to the fastest overall rider.  This year’s tour, apart from being the most entertaining tour I’ve ever seen, showed me how dependent success is on determination.  I’ll give a quick recap below.

This year’s Tour de France ended yesterday on the Champs-Élysées, putting a close to the epic race which was determined the day before on the individual time trial.  Amongst the favored winners for this year were Cadel Evans of Australia and Andy Schleck of Luxemburg.

On Thursday, July 21, with four stages to go and Thomas Voeckler wearing yellow, Andy Schleck attacked in the mountains.  He would win the Queen stage that day, and only miss yellow by a few seconds.  The next day, again in the mountains, Andy would perform well and wear the yellow jersey, with a margin of almost a minute on Cadel Evans.

With Andy in yellow, the tour would enter the final determining stage on Saturday, the individual time trial (TT).  This stage is different than all other stages, because riders pedal solo against the clock, without team members to draft.  Cadel needed to make up one minute of time on Andy to win the tour, to be the first ever Australian to wear yellow on the podium in Paris.  All Andy needed to do was maintain his minute lead.  Andy, riding last, had a huge advantage, too, because he knew exactly how his time compared to Cadel.

Cadel would win Saturdays stage, beating Andy’s overall time by 94 seconds.  Cadel out raced Andy on the individual TT by over two minutes.  He rode like a champion.  He rode with determination.  You could see his passion and commitment to win in his face.  He wanted the yellow jersey more than anything.  He left everything on the road that day, determined to win, determined to bury his body and forget everything he’s ever done to focus solely on winning.  Meanwhile, Andy rode with excuses.  You could tell by looking at his face, at his pedal strokes.  Throughout the tour he complained about descents being too technical, ultimately upset that the tour wasn’t being determined in the mountains.  Though I haven’t heard what Andy had to say about Saturday’s individual TT, I could tell what he was thinking by his riding.  He was thinking about how lame the individual TT was, how a tour should never be determined by a TT.  He was making excuses to himself, reminding himself that he trained to his strengths in the mountains, instead of to his weakness on the TT bike.

Determination is all it takes to succeed.  Often we focus on what we’ve done instead of what we need to do.  We can’t make excuses.  Excuses haven’t gotten us to where we are today.  Whether you’re racing on the bike or trying to start your own company, you need to focus everything you have on what’s in front of you, on what you need to do to win.  Forget how you’ve trained or what jobs you’ve had previously — those don’t matter anymore.  All that matters is your determination to do whatever it takes to win.  Cadel is the first Australian to ever win the Tour de France because he was determined to win on Saturday.  Instead of making excuses and distracting himself from his goal, he focussed, performed, and won.  Congratulations, Cadel.  I was originally rooting for Andy, but you deserve the glory that will rest on your shoulders for the rest of your life.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a wonderful commencement speech from Bill Cosby.  I can’t tell you how much this speech has inspired me. I strongly recommend that you listen to the entire speech. It’s a beautiful story and analysis of you.

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Photo credit: here and here