The Tour de France is big business. This year’s Tour is the competition’s 102nd edition, and as of 2013, according to the French newspaper Le Monde, the Tour was viewed by 1 to 3.5 billion people in 190 countries (article in French). One of the French teams’ sponsors told Le Monde that in 2011, for an investment of €8.3 million, it received the equivalent of €63 million of publicity. To the uninitiated, cycling may seem like an individual sport. After all, when a big race like the Tour de France concludes, one victorious rider’s name and photo is all over the front pages.
Dig deeper, though, and you quickly find that competitive cycling is very much a team effort. Riders work as teams, and team members strategize, strive, and sacrifice for the benefit of the whole. Peaks and valleys, challenges and obstacles, stiff competition, the hope for victory: we think the Tour de France is an elegant metaphor for global business, and that the concepts cycling teams use also makes sense for our own work.
Peloton: Race Smarter
The peloton is the main group of cyclists in a race. When riders cluster together, they face much less wind resistance. Part of smart racing is conserving energy until the right moment, then striking when it counts, and riding in a group helps competitors do this. The strategy and tactics involved are complex, but the basic idea is this: it’s smart to ride economically, and winning racers ride smart.
In bicycle racing, energy is currency. Wasting it early means you may run out before the finish line. Smart riders share the drag with their teammates, spot openings, and work together for the benefit of all.
Domestiques: Provide Support to Build Winners
In 2014, Vincenzo Nibali won the Tour de France for the Astana team. Though cycling fans around the world can name him, fewer can probably name Nibali’s teammates. See, all Tour teams have nine riders. The Alberto Contadors and the Bradley Wigginses are the team leaders, and they couldn’t do it without the support of the other eight riders.
In French, domestiques literally means “servants,” and in cycling, the domestiques distribute water and food from the team’s support cars. But they do more than that: they set the pace, they chase opponents breaking away, they cycle ahead of team leaders in difficult sections. If the team leader has mechanical problems, a domestique may even give up his or her bicycle so the leader can go on.
Vincenzo Nibali could not have gotten anywhere near the yellow jersey without his eight teammates — and he knows it. When he won, the whole team won, and winning teams know very well that every member is invaluable.
Autobus: Set the Right Pace
Autobus is a pack of riders bringing up the rear in the grueling mountain stages. They’re playing a long game: their goal is to finish within the daily time limit so they can continue supporting their teammates. They moderate their energy expenditure so they still have reserves to draw on later in the race. Their contribution is not flashy, but it is invaluable.
Soigneur: Don’t Neglect the Basics
According to bikeradar.com, the soigneur — literally, “carer” — is a staffer who “looks after the riders, performing duties such as giving massages, handing up water bottles, seeing that riders get to their hotels and so on.” Crucial duties, even if the soigneurs are out of the spotlight.
Chapeau: Remember Gratitude
“Hat,” as in “a tip of.” Saying “chapeau,” for example at the end of a hard day’s ride, is a sporting way to acknowledge someone’s accomplishment or effort. It’s a gesture of respect — a crucial element of any civilized competition, n’est-ce pas?
In business, as in the Tour, even if the leader is the one in the spotlight, the group wins or loses together. Successful global teams must rely on tried-and-true principles of trusting, valuing, and rewarding leaders and supporting team members alike.