Friday, July 15, 2016

A Lesson From France: The Peloton

A Lesson From France:  The Peloton

The closest I get to the Tour de France is my daily encounter with a stationary bike.  I haven’t been on a regular bike in decades.   Nonetheless, I’ve been an avid follower of the Tour for over 20 years.   You may wonder why I would watch a sport that has been rife with scandal.  Despite the scandals, the scenery is always spectacular, and the sprints and breakaways are exciting.  But that’s not why I watch the Tour.  It’s all about the peloton.

The peloton is the main field of the bike race that typically contains a hundred or more closely bunched riders.  In its ideal form, the peloton operates like a well-structured society.  The peloton can move farther and faster than any individual or small group of riders.   As the wind shifts, the peloton changes its shape like a flock of birds.  Within the peloton, individual riders understand their respective roles.  At the head of the peloton, certain riders pace the peloton and cut through the wind.  Inside the peloton, other riders convey drinks and food from the support cars to the riders.

When the peloton hits crosswinds, it faces the greatest danger to its existence.  Crosswinds force the bikers to form a diagonal pattern and bunch even closer together to shelter from the wind.  Teams compete to find a safe haven from the wind.  At some point the pressure in the peloton becomes too great, and the peloton shatters.   Serious accidents are common and scores of riders are left to fend for themselves along the road.  The small number surviving bikers wind up gaining a huge advantage over the rest of the field.

We’re facing gale force crosswinds in our society.  We should be slowing down and attempting to stay together.  However, our leaders seem intent on blowing up the peloton.  A few of us will win and the rest of us will be big losers.  In the Tour all that is at stake is a yellow jersey.  We have a bit more at stake. 

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