Throughput on Wheel: The Tour De France
Its speed, elegance, and cohesiveness could easily lead you into believing that it all happened naturally. That you were observing one of those rare phenomena of nature in which everyone moves in sync flowing uniformly past obstacles, undeterred by the unexpected, moving ever forward. Ahh.
Think a school of fish, a flock of birds, an army of ants. And even where the occasional yet inevitable glitch—the surprise yet inevitable speed bump–can do nothing to sap its energy or stall its momentum.
But the participants, hunched low over their gleaming metallic bikes, faces masked by shining helmets, taut in their multi-color suits revealing only team affiliations and not national ones, were anything but a natural phenomenon. They were the world’s top racing cyclists. And they were gathered in Monaco on July 4, 2009, for the beginning of the 96th edition of the Tour de France. Even Lance Armstrong, unprecedented winner of Tour from 1999-2005, had decided, after several years of retirement, to return. Not necessarily to win, but to simply take part in the world’s most exciting cycling event. He was part of the Astana team, based in… Kazakhstan. Yet for all the Americans who had crowded along the Place du Casino that morning, and for the French who had finally come to embrace him, Armstrong remained wholeheartedly theirs’.
For close to 100 years the Tour de France has captivated the world by the surging determination and channelled energy of its participants. Many have become world famous—no one more so than Armstrong, who achieved another world record in 2009 by coming in third at the finish line in Paris.
The Hidden Structure behind the Grace While the Tour de France is alternately mesmerizing and energizing to watch, few see the immense structural and organizational elements within. The role of the global sponsors and their official teams—ensuring a ready supply of materials, bikes, gears, flags, spare parts, water, jerseys, champagne and pretty girls. The role of the international media publicizing the event. But let’s not forget that the Tour can crisscross six sovereign States. Without quick decision making, communication, flexibility, transparency and accountability, the Tour de France could be stuck in its tracks at any point. But it’s not just the respective governments that have a role to play. It’s also the tiniest of municipalities through which the Tour passes, along with their respective police, hotels, hospitals, waste companies, and caterers all operating intra-dependently to ensure that the Tour moves as smoothly and seamlessly as possible. Seamlessly epitomizing… Throughput on Wheels!