Life lessons from the Tour de France

Delegated annually to back page sports news, eclipsed by the athleticism and prowess of those who golf, are the daily reports on the Tour de France.

Delegated annually to back page sports news, eclipsed by the athleticism and prowess of those who golf, are the daily reports on the Tour de France.

This annual bike race which finishes tomorrow, covers 3,400 km over three weeks in 20 stages with only two rest days. The peddlers burn up 124,000 calories along the way. Runners may think of it as 20 marathons in 20 days.

Though much of the course is relatively flat, there are agonizingly difficult mountain stages where riders push themselves up to places with exotic yet ominous names such as Mont Ventoux.

The Tour has its own terms such as the peloton, French for platoon, referring to the main cluster of riders, and four jerseys whose colour (yellow, red polka dot, green and white) declare the wearers to be daily leaders in certain race classifications.

But what makes the Tour a unique race is that the winning cyclist usually loses most of the stages. What matters is not the number of victories along the way but how you finish.

There are moments of excruciating adversity; racers reach 110 km/h on some descents and a tumble at such speed can spell disaster. Broken wrists, bruised ambitions and large areas of lost skin.

Such is the life of any pilgrim seeking to traverse life’s terrain both mundane and mountainous; past breathtaking scenery, around treacherous turns, being booed and cheered along the way. What matters is not the colour we wear or victories along the way but our overall performance when we were out of breath and kept pedaling anyway, when we got cut off and crashed and bounced back.

No one savours adversity despite testing the quality of our character, our ability to cope or the measure of our fortitude to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again.

But as the Tour de France suggests, it’s the big picture that counts, the stuff you’re made of as you make your way. Isaiah said it centuries ago: “Think of the rock from which you came, the quarry from which you were cut out.”

What you overcome often determines your outcome. A reporter once asked American contralto Marian Anderson to name the greatest moment in her life.

Choices were numerous. Arturo Toscanini had said, “A voice like hers comes once in a century.” In 1958 she became a delegate to the United Nations. She had given private concerts at the White House and Buckingham Palace.

Which moment did she choose? None of these.

She told the reporter that the greatest moment in her life was the day she went home and told her mother she wouldn’t have to take in washing anymore.

For Marian or her mom, no jersey could match such a moment.

Bob Ripley is senior minister at Metropolitan United Church in London, Ont.

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