[Viewpoint]Life lessons in the Tour de France

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[Viewpoint]Life lessons in the Tour de France

Tour de France, the world’s most prestigious and largest bicycle road race, started out this year on July 5 and is now in its final stage. This is the 95th race since the tour began in 1903 (it was suspended for 10 years during the world wars) and, like the others, it holds truths about the nature and meaning of victorious lives and of lives less fortunate.

Tour de France, or tour of France, might sound romantic, but the true race is anything but. To many of those who compete, it is known by three different words: Hell on Wheels.

It’s not for the faint of heart.

This year’s Tour de France began at Brest, a town on the tip of the Bretagne Peninsula in northwest France. It seems to encompass almost all of the country as it bends counterclockwise through plains and mountains. If all goes as planned, it will end before screaming throngs at a climactic finish on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on July 27.

Behind the winner are some 3,500 kilometers.

Truly, Hell on Wheels.

The tour is divided into 21 stages. About a dozen are on mostly level ground. Cyclists like these stages. It’s smooth going.

They will longingly remember these when approaching nine other stages in the rough mountain roads of the Pyrenees and the Alps.

The most daunting stage is at Alpe d’Huez, a 1,850-meter- (6,070 feet-) high peak in the French Alps. That’s where Hell on Wheels faces Hamburger Hill.

Who can face such a challenge and survive, or even prosper?

To tour fans, one name naturally comes to mind:

Lance Armstrong.

No one better exemplifies how life’s metaphor is embedded in the tour than Armstrong.

At age 25, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer, a disease with a fatality rate of 49 percent. With that, Armstrong could have folded his tent. Who could have blamed him?

But Armstrong didn’t fold his tent. Despite his condition, he returned to Tour de France the next year to miraculously win the race. That was 1999.

And he wasn’t finished.

Armstrong went on to win a record-breaking seven consecutive races. It took an indomitable will to beat back Hell on Wheels that many times. Armstrong pushed on against all odds. It was almost superhuman. Somehow, Armstrong found the power of hope as he fought to overcome his deadly cancer.

He didn’t do it in a mad rush. And he didn’t do it all at once. It took planning and care. Reason is as important in the Tour than mere physical ability. Armstrong had both.

The winner of Tour de France is determined based on the total score of all the stages. Therefore, you don’t have to win every stage to win the race. Even if you did not finish first in a certain stage, you can make up in others to win.

Armstrong often yielded first place in flat sections of the race. He did well, or course, but he was waiting for his main chance.

That came in the mountains.

He would never fail to make up for whatever time deficit he incurred during the flat-land courses with his gritty performance when the ground leapt up and ground down lesser men.

To be sure, Armstrong possesses great physical blessings. No doubt he has the cardio-respiratory capacity of a human Secretariat.

But even given that, there’s no doubt that Armstrong’s secret to victory was an unyielding spirit and determination.

In that sense, the Tour de France is not much different than life. It’s very foolish and hasty to conclude that your life is over just because it doesn’t go exactly as you had planned while young.

If you have only half, or even a fraction, of Lance Armstrong’s determination, you could always make up ground and come back. Everyone can be the winner in his own life.

In fact, someone might excel early in his life, but end up a mediocre middle-aged man. It would be far better to suffer a failure when you are young but learn from the setback to fully blossom in the middle and later stages of life.

The most important thing in the Tour de France is not to lose one’s pace. In any kind of race, you will see someone doing his best at the beginning and seemingly getting ahead. However, if one recklessly pursues the lead, he will lose his pace and end up dropping out in the middle.

That’s why it’s so important to calmly keep your pace. You cannot finish if you’ve spent all your energy. If you stick to your own pace and keep on running, the opportunity to come in first will arrive.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Jin-hong
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