Can you believe it! A Brit has won the Tour de France. For the first time in ninety-nine runnings of the greatest cycle race in the world, a British guy has won. This may be the greatest British victory in France since Agincourt!
How did it happen? The BBC website ran an article this evening entitled “Bradley Wiggins: ten reasons for his Tour de France win” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18922103). The article gave as the first reason, Team Work. And what did their incredible team work produce? Not merely Wiggins as the overall winner, but Chris Froome in second place and Mark Cavendish as winner, for the fourth year in a row of the final sprint stage on the Champs Elysee in Paris as the race came to an end.
Fifteen years ago British cycling chose to focus on track cycling in the velodrome, because road cycling was so riddled with drugs. The focus paid off as Great Britain dominated the cycling at the Beijing Olympics four years ago and are considered to be the nation to beat at the London Olympics starting next week.
As road racing cleaned up its act so the British formed a new team, Team Sky, with the intention of taking on the best in the world. Bradley Wiggins worked hard to help his team mate Mark Cavendish to become the 2011 World Road Race Champion. This time around Cavendish returned the favor to help his team mate win overall in France.
The Tour de France is not just a road race. It is probably the greatest cycle race of all, the Wimbledon or the Soccer World Cup for cyclists! Over twenty stages totalling more than 2,000 miles, the cyclists race to see who can gain the overall win, and wear the Maillot Jaune, or the Yellow Jersey.
Some of the stages are mountain stages, with multiple climbs, favoring stamina and strength over speed; some are time trials calloing for speed over medium courses against the clock; and some are just long and fairly flat road races requiring endurance. The one who completes everything in the shortest aggregate time is the overall winner, regardless of how many individual stages he has won.
Team Sky committed to training together. Each member had a role to play, that was tuned toward enabling the best all-rounder, to win. During training, Wiggins would climb as much as two and a half miles of altitude per day in the mountains of Tenerife, while at other times, his team mates would practice the policy of protection, to guard their favorite against accident and to ensure that other racers did not get the chance to break away and build up unassailable leads.
The attitude and team spirit paid off with an incredible achievement. Not only did the team win, but they won the hearts of others as during one stage Wiggins deliberately slowed the pace right down when Cadel Evans, the 2011 champion from Australia, had his tires sabotaged, so that he would not suffer from an extended time difference.
Last Saturday we went a few miles down the road to Pierrelatte to watch the tour come through. As with my experience waiting on the streets of Paris for a glimpse of Lance Armstrong coming in to win in 2002, we waited long on the dusty street before a mass of cyclists came toward us and sped around the corner in front of us. Even so we got to see Wiggins, already wearing the yellow jersey as race leader, pass by, protected in the middle of his team. Team work was winning on that day, as it has done throughout the race.
The Apostle Paul speaks of running to win the prize. He says: ‘Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize’. (I Cor 9:24) and he talks of pressing on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of him (Phil 3:12).
In these instances he is speaking to individuals. On other occasions he looks at the body of believers as a team. He tells us to honor one another above ourselves (Rom 12:10), and to encourage one another and build each other up (I Thess 5:11). It will take this kind of sacrificial love to achieve the Kingdom’s purpose. The world is looking for teams and communities who live out the second commandment, and God is looking for hearts and minds that are turned toward him and toward the building of Kingdom purpose through team work.
And to all our friends in Virginia, we look forward to welcoming some of the best of British cyclists when the 2015 World Road Race Championships are hosted by Richmond!