Tour de France and the Extra 1%

It’s Tour de France time, one of the greatest athletic events of the year in terms of size and scope, and with it comes the all the excitement and buzz and cycling shenanigans that is bound to happen as cyclists race 2000+ miles over 21 days. Nearly 200 athletes have been going toe to toe and cleat to cleat since 1903 to vie for the honor of wearing the yellow jersey.

As a triathlete, I am of course interested in the cycling portion, only because I spend hours in the saddle training for the 112 mile haul before a marathon and after a swim, but these guys can do 100+ miles without breaking a figurative sweat. Plus, they have really huge legs, although I don’t envy them for their upper bodies – there’s a joke that runs in cycling circles that professional cyclists need their wives to carry the groceries in – I’ll take the triathlete physique any day :D

There are many different ways score is calculated in the Tour, points for climbing, sprinting, and team points, etc. It’s a unique mix of individual talent and team cohesion. For team Team Sky (Britain), they were faced with a unique challenge in 2010. Having a team that never won the Tour de France, their coach had quite the job ahead of him, but he came up with the concept of marginal gains, also known as improving everything by 1%. Do some research on Team Sky, and you’ll see some really cool articles how their team started streamlining everything – nutritional plans, daily workouts, the pillows they slept on, and all of the 7 billion tiny details that go into getting a team through 21 days of cycling hell. They focused with laser precision on itty bitty, incremental changes and found great success in the cycling arena a mere three years later.

I even wrote a blog on 1% improvements, inspired by a section in my IRONMAN training book Be Iron Fit. At the time of writing, I had only competed in three half IRONMAN events (70.3 miles). In preparation for my first full IRONMAN at Coeur d’Alene just a mere seven months later, I had the foresight to set my goals high. “If I’m going to break 11 hours (I’m shooting for 10.5) then there will have to be a ton of little improvements in training and racing, and ideally those improvements will spill over into other areas of my life.” I ended up coming in at 11:07 – not too bad if you ask me. I don’t specifically remember each little 1% change I made, but as I prepare for IRONMAN Boulder in just 24 days, 20 hours and 48 minutes, it’s still not too late to think about the 1% improvements. Sleep, final workouts of the highest quality, solid nutrition, and plenty of down time. I think I can handle that!

Back to the topic at hand! In researching the Tour de France, I stumbled upon an excellent blog and article by James Clear, primarily in relation to Team Sky and their 1% improvements:

“Most people love to talk about success (and life in general) as an event. We talk about losing 50 pounds or building a successful business or winning the Tour de France as if they are events. But the truth is that most of the significant things in life aren’t stand-alone events, but rather the sum of all the moments when we chose to do things 1 percent better or 1 percent worse. Aggregating these marginal gains makes a difference.”


 Sky Procycling rider and leader's yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins of Britain cycles during the individual time trial of the 19th stage of the 99th Tour de France cycling race between Bonneval and Chartres, July 21, 2012. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel (FRANCE - Tags: SPORT CYCLING)
Bradley Wiggins crushing it in the 2012 Tour.

Bam! Boy, did he hit the nail on the head. I’ve never been to the Tour, nor do I ever plan on participating, but I can say that duking it out with 140.6 miles of race isn’t just a single event. It takes months and years to get your body’s endurance and muscle capabilities to a realm of competing at that level, and even then, the event itself is only just that – the event. Everything that goes on behind the scenes is what is taking place 99% of the time, the event itself is just your chance to put those tasks to good use.

When the brain fog sets in and you’re tired and hungry and want to quit, it’s all about that extra 1% and what you did with it that will make the difference in the end. Sure, your time may suck or you’re embarrassed about your effort or too many unplanned trips to a porta-potty, but in the end are you going to bail for weak reasons or are you going to grind through and make it to the finish line?

Work promotions aren’t built on a single good decision; lifelong friends aren’t made in an hour; and you won’t marry the woman of your dreams by simply sitting back and hoping for the best. In all areas of life, you should be putting your best foot forward, and then add an extra 1% on top.


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