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Finding Heart in Others Around Us

Updated: Nov 7, 2020

What real-life story or experience has inspired you recently?

I've been finding a lot of inspiration from UCI WorldTeam Team Jumbo-Visma @jumbovisma_road, which I painted below during the Tour de France.

Over the last couple of years, the team has been having a lot of success in major cycling races called Grand Tours, like Tour de France. However, it's the reason for their success that I admire. Rather than being solely focused on winning the race at all costs, the team has a lot of heart, and looks at the big picture of who they are as a team and what they want to accomplish in the long run. They have qualities that I admire in a peaceful, successful team, culture, or society. Just like the other pro cycling teams (and parallels we can see with the world around us), they come from different countries and cultures, and speak different first languages. Yet, they have found a way despite language barriers to be strong communicators with each other.

(My watercolor from Tour de France with Primoz Roglic, Sepp Kuss, and Tom Dumoulin from Jumbo Visma, with Tadej Pogacar from UCI, Ineos, EFI, and Richie Porte from Trek-Segafredo in the background. They all had incredible stories during the Tour de France.)

Here's a quote from one of my favorite cyclists, @SeppKuss, on Jumbo-Visma. He's been gaining worldwide attention as the top American climber of his generation (that means his ability to ride up mountains strongly as we’re talking about bikes here, not rock climbing), a top climber in general, and these days, the most prominent pro cyclist from the United States.

He won the Tour of Utah in 2018, then won one of the toughest Vuelta stage races in 2019. That's a big deal and not expected for a rookie. What he says about the team is why Sepp and this team inspires me:

"“Ever since I first joined the team, I could see all the little details they were paying attention to,” Kuss said. “They were slowly building up and putting a lot of confidence in each rider they signed. It wasn’t all about two or three marquee guys to carry the whole team. They saw something in everyone and wanted to improve everybody. With this really great culture and the results of last year, we were able to retain the top riders, and now a lot of good riders are coming to the team to make us so well rounded. We don’t have the budget of Ineos or other teams to hire a bunch of those super-high salary riders, but our team built from the ground up with all these guys and myself." ("An Unexpected climb to Tour de France debut for Sepp Kuss," by John Livingston @jlivi2, regional sports editor, The Durango Herald, August 28, 2020.)

I have seen Kuss’ teammates in interviews and in their social media accounts make other positive comments about each other. For instance, they talk about how their amazing team captain from the Tour de France and Vuelta, Primoz Roglic (who won the Vuelta last year and narrowly missed winning the Tour de France this year by one stage upset) is not arrogant, but is hard working and calm. The team has so much respect for each other and they work hard to support each other in grueling races.

One thing to explain about road cycling races is that each team will have a team captain during a race, and generally ride to support that captain in winning the race as there is a lot of strategy involved in teams working together to send a teammate to the finish line in each day of racing. A Grand Tour is 3 weeks of racing an average of over 100 miles per day up steep mountains. Lance Armstrong, for all of his incredible skill, could not have won every Tour de France without the support of his teammates during each stage of the race.

For contrast, the commentators for the Vuelta Espana referenced some of the troubles on team Movistar during the race. The article, "Six things we learn from the Netflix Movistar documentary," in Cycling Weekly describes this other team as, "warring team-mates and communication breakdowns typified their Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana campaigns, where the team managed three top 10 placings in each Grand Tour without taking home the leader's jersey." My point isn't to pick on Movistar but to highlight that problems within teams is not uncommon. The respect and quality of Jumbo-Visma rather, is the ideal that is now attracting cyclists from other teams.

Some of the things teammates will do for each other include: taking the lead during a tough climb and setting the pace, helping to lead a sprint and try to make a move against the rest of the peloton (the other riders), picking up water bottles and energy food to distribute to team members (from the team cars), even jumping off their bike and giving it to their team captain if the team captain experiences a collision or some sort of bike malfunction. (The team car will provide a new bike when they are able.)

It’s of course very important to make sure the team captain is given the means to deliver at the end of the day but it’s a bit like if the Avengers said that Ironman was the only man that mattered, and they didn't care about investing in Black Widow, Hawkeye, or the Hulk, who didn’t have the star power of Ironman. Jumbo-Visma wants Black Widow, Hawkeye, and the Hulk to improve too, and invests in all of their “avengers.” They understand the concept "rising tides raise all boats."

The Vuelta Espana ends this Sunday. There are many great athletes in that race with their own great stories. For now, I will continue to be inspired by the great sportsmanship and respect for individuals that I see on Team Jumbo-Visma.

Want more? Here’s pro cycling in a nutshell There are three major road cycling races every year that are like the World Cup of Soccer. These three races are called Grand Tours and of course, Tour De France is the most famous of them. They are:

  1. Giro d’Italia Typically in May - was post-poned to October this year because of Covid.

  2. Tour De France Typically in July - was post-poned to end in September this year because of Covid

  3. Vuelta a Espana Typically in September - was post-poned to end in October this year because of Covid

Each of these three races are typically three weeks long races with daily stages, and overall winner, daily stage winners, and daily rankings for a few positions like “king of the mountain.” Last year, for instance, the Tour de France ended early due to massive rain storms and dangerous mud slides.

Each day of the race is incredibly grueling (well, except for the last day of the Tour de France, which is more for show) so the fact that these guys are doing this almost every day for three weeks (with a few rest days) is incredible.

Life is tough. We don't go untouched by challenges, whether it's a worldwide pandemic, an uncontrollable wildfire, or a flat tire in the middle of a bike race after riding up mountain after mountain for 100 miles. We can face each challenge with grace, with mutual respect, and a desire to cross the finish strongly though. I continue to be inspired by these teams that value individuals. I'd love to hear your stories. Who inspires you?

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