The stone-faced man stares through colored lenses at the road rushing toward his bike. An ebony river stretches out before him, a flowing ribbon undulating over green hills, winding through picturesque villages, cresting atop towering mountains. He rides the relentless road, oblivious to the thousands of screaming fans lining the route. Only one thing matters today.
The rider’s legs burn as he furiously turns the pedals of his racing bike. He increases his cadence, raising the pace, forcing his competitors to match his tempo or fall behind. The pain amplifies; his legs scream in agony, but he thrusts away their protests. His own needs must wait, for today he will sacrifice himself.
The rider casts aside his own dreams of individual glory. He concentrates his entire effort on one goal, to serve his team’s captain, the overall race leader, who rides comfortably in the midst of a cadre of courageous men, his body enveloped in the maillot jaune*, the yellow jersey coveted by every rider in the Tour de France.
“You’re really sacrificing and it brings out something in you that maybe you couldn’t normally do.” Jason McCartney, Team CSC
At the end of the Tour, only one man claims the grand prize, the yellow jersey. Lance Armstrong won it a record seven times. But he didn’t get there alone. In order to win, he had to have a strong team surrounding him. These teammates are called domestiques**. The French word means “servant” and for three weeks in July, these domestiques sacrifice themselves for each other and for their leader, especially if he has a chance to win this epic race.
“You learn a lot about your teammates, their weaknesses and strengths, and they learn all about your weaknesses and strengths. And when it comes to the crunch, everyone’s ready to lay it all down for another rider.” Stuart O’Grady, Team CSC
Some domestiques are engines, setting the pace of the peloton, the main pack of cyclists. They surround their team leader to shield him from the wind and from aggressive opponents. Other domestiques are work horses, falling back to the team car to collect drinks before racing forward again to their fellows, jersey pockets bulging with bottles. Together, they form a brotherhood of trust, encouraging and carrying each other safely through the race.
“I think that’s what a domestique really is. I think it’s trusting in your teammate and knowing that you can give absolutely everything for him so he can finish the race well.” Jason Donald, Team Garmin/Chipotle
And though this brotherhood is strong, they look to another man to guide them through the 2,200 mile ride to Paris. The team director rides in a car behind the main pack, calling out instructions over his race radio, carrying extra water bottles, bicycles, and supplies. He has studied the course and carries the Tour map and directions, nicknamed the “race bible.”
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Cor 9:24-25 NIV)
We are called to be like the domestiques. We train together, studying our race Bible. We ride with our heart, mind and soul focused on one single goal. We deliver a drink of living water to those who thirst. When the pace of living becomes too strong, experienced believers surround and encourage. We die to self to honor the one who sacrificed himself for us.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith...” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV)
When the road is difficult, the mountains insurmountable, and our energy is depleted, we look to our race director, who knows the course and reassures us with the words “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Therefore, we ride with courage. And at the end of the race we receive, not the yellow jersey, but a golden crown of glory.
*maillot jaune (mah-oh jzon)
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