The Orica GreenEdge team had a bag of mixed success in this year’s Tour de France, with pre-race injury and riders crashing out early. A philosophical Julian Dean ponders the hand of fate and the measure of success.
Some might wonder what the attraction of sport is, or more specifically in our case, what the attraction of the Tour de France is. Why the stress and why the strain when for all the training time and preparation put in by everyone, they may come away empty-handed.
I have often asked myself the same questions many times over the years, firstly as a rider and now as a member of Orica-GreenEDGE management. What keeps us going when things aren’t going good and why do we continue fighting only to come away empty-handed?
As well as within the team, what keeps the fans engaged? Especially when we probably had our worst Grand Tour in terms of results at this year’s Tour. What keeps the fans going, following the team through social media and getting up at all sorts of crazy hours to watch the race live?
The one common dominator in our sport and across all sports through the good and the bad is the extreme emotion it brings along with it. It’s an addictive ingredient and there is not a sport in the world that can draw it out as well as cycling. Particularly the Tour de France. As a team in the 2014 Tour de France we weren’t taken to the heights of the 2013 Tour where we achieved 2 stage wins and 4 days in the leader’s jersey nor to the level of the more recent Giro success. Instead, we felt hollow with the disappointment of near misses and left reminiscing how good the previous 12 months had been.
The difficulties we faced in this year’s Tour were very frustrating, brought in part by Impey not being able to take the start, Matthews writing himself off in a training crash two days before the race started and Gerrans kissing the pavement 50m from the finish of the first stage in Harrogate. So essentially we were off the back before we even started.
When you start any three week tour, teams prepare to deal with adversity and setbacks but when it hits a team to the extent it did for Orica-GreenEdge, before the race had even really begun, it’s difficult to readjust the psyche to accommodate those upsets.
One factor remains key in keeping the team focused on pushing through and trying to overcome and that is the unrelenting commitment made by the team in the buildup to the Tour. There is no way that the riders, mechanics, soignuers and management want to give up everything when so much has gone in to the preparation. Even if things hasn’t gone according to plan in the final phase. No one who has put in that amount of work to prepare for a three week stage race would be willing to give it up before it has even started without at least giving it a damn good go.
Beyond this commitment however, I think what is also important is the profound sense of appreciation of success that difficult times in racing gives us and how those challenging moments actually intensify the affinity that one has for a team.
If nothing else, the success we didn’t experience this year made us appreciate the success of the previous 12 months. For it is absolutely certain that there was no less effort in the preparation and in fact the focus was more on improving on what we did last time. Even though we saw the 2013 Tour as highly successful there were places for improvement and that was what drove our 2014 campaign. As it turned out though we were not blessed with the luck we’d had in other races, which meant things didn’t turn out as we had hoped they would and due to elements largely out of our control. It’s a frustrating and demoralizing experience for all involved but without a doubt it plays a role in evolving the team.
It’s easy to question the benefits of this year’s Tour but from experience I know the benefits are real and invaluable. As with success, lack of success plays an important role in deepening the emotional attachment team members and fans alike have for the team. The roller coaster ride through success and disappointment that teams, athlete and fans get taken on intensify and personalise the connection, committing all those involved even more to the team.
Fundamentally, this is a primary driver for an entity to grow a following and generate continued success after difficulties. Difficulties themselves not only enhance the appreciation for the past successes but they also humanize the riders to where fans are able to feel utter compassion. Compassion is a powerful emotion and plays a massive part in keeping the fans engaged.
It is often said that success breeds success but it can also be said that adversity breeds success. Either way, both are closely entwined and continually strengthen the framework of camaraderie, which in this sport is paramount in the mental and physical battles the riders are forever thrown in to.