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The Ultimate Team Sport – What a Dragon Boater Can Learn from a Cyclist

February 23, 2009

Many of you know my love for bikes. I have been on a bike since about the age of 6.  I have ridden and owned all types of bikes – mountain bikes, triathlon bikes, BMX/Freestyle Bikes, single speed, road bikes, the list goes on.

This love has drawn me to professional cycling.  Although I do not have the skills, lungs, legs or desire to race anywhere near such an elite level, the professional cycling tour is absolutely amazing and has taught me many life lessons.

I have taken both positive and negative lessons from cycling.  On the negative side, I have learned that it doesn’t pay to cheat or do drugs because you’ll likely get caught (besides, my head is big enough as it is).  I’ve learned that it takes dedication outside of race day to be successful – merely thinking you are competitive on race day because you try hard is not enough (see my disaster story trying to ride the Livestrong Century with no training).

One of the best lessons I’ve learned from cycling is how to be a true teammate.  Another example of that lesson was displayed last weekend.  Perhaps the best rider in the history of the sport, Lance Armstrong, was a domestique for Levi Leipheimer at the recently completed Amgen Tour of California.  For those not familiar with cycling jargon, a domestique is a rider that races solely for the benefit of his team and leader frequently sacrificing his own race placement for the good of the team.  Lance did not try to win the race for himself.  He was merely a role player in the U.S.’s most prestigious cycling event.

Despite Lance’s seven Tour de France victories, he did everything he could to get his teammate Levi Leipheimer the overall win – sacrificing his own comeback to be the ultimate teammate.  From helping control the peloton to neutralizing the many attacks throughout the eight stages of the tour.   Such actions are virtually unheard of in any major sport.  What did Leipheimer say after winning the race?

“It will be a different role for me now,” Leipheimer said. “We have such a strong team, and I need to pay these guys back.

“I’ll ride for Alberto at Paris-Nice, Lance at the Giro and then get to July and the Tour de France, and we’ll have the best team there and I’ll ride for the strongest rider, Lance or Alberto. Now we have to wait and see.”

The level of sacrifice these riders make for their team during these multi-day races is truly unparalleled.  If the team leader’s bike malfunctions, a domestique will give his bike to the team leader so the team leader can continue racing.  Watch the end of almost any stage race and you will see riders that are leading the pack after 100+ miles only to slow down and move to the side 100 meters away from the finish.  For the casual viewer it seems ridiculous.  However, what that rider did was perhaps one of the noblest moves in modern sport.

What was he doing?  He was setting up his team’s best sprinter – shuttling that rider to the front of the pack, breaking wind for him and catapulting his teammate to the front of the pack in hopes of a stage win.  A truly selfless act.

There are many more examples of sacrifice throughout the peloton that probably blow right over my head.

What can a dragon boat paddler (or any athlete, for that matter) take away from this?  The lesson is simple, yet very hard to implement.   Put aside your ego and do what is truly the best for your team.  Every paddler has his/her role.  Play your role to the best of your ability- even if your role is to sacrifice your own personal goals to get your team to the final race.

Every role is important.  Play your part.

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