Co-written by guest moderator- Dan Wuori (@DWuori) of Velo News
The Tour de France is one of the most arduous sporting events in the world. At 2,200 miles, the race is a three-week gut check that tests every aspect of a road cyclist’s skillset - from the time trial (in which teams or individual riders race against the clock), to brutal mountain climbs, to flatter sprint stages (“flat” being relative for cycling superhumans).
To the untrained eye, cycling seems like an individual event. But, much like teaching and learning, it’s deceptively heavy on teamwork.
Like geese flying in formation, cyclists take advantage of aerodynamics - with teams working to keep protected riders tucked safely in the slipstream of workhorse teammates (known as “domestiques.”) By drafting behind their peers, it is estimated that team leaders expend up to 30% less energy, enabling them to preserve their energy for the moments where it matters most.
Like other high-functioning teams, cycling squads are comprised by riders who bring diverse specialties to the table. There are time trialists, who are experts at putting their heads down and burning rubber over a long distance, climbers whose wispy physiques enable them to float up ridiculous grades, sprinters, who preserve energy in the peloton (a large group of riders) until the end of a stage, where they explode toward the finish at unimaginable speeds, and domestiques, carrying food and drink for team leaders, pulling (creating a draft line) the sprinter along, and guarding the team from attack. As a cyclist grows and gets better s/he can move from domestique to leadership positions. Personally, I prefer to be a descender.*
The parallels to teaching and learning become more obvious the closer we look at this sport. As in diverse, classroom learning communities, the entire group benefits from the strengths and specialties of individual members. Echoing Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, protected riders take advantage of the scaffolding provided by peers to accomplish more than they could on their own.
The hills and valleys of Le Tour also echo the emotional ups and downs of a school year. Specialization within a team can be overlaid with veteran and rookie teachers, teachers who are better at certain subjects, and teachers who might get more performance-enhanced through special professional development** than others.
Cyclists train hard for months to even survive this event. Do teachers need survival training? How can we prepare to be prepared for the year? Even veteran riders do months of legwork (get it?) to get through, and many have their own routines and superstitions. The teams have support teams, chase cars carrying food, water, and tires. Everyone is ready to carry their teammates up the hill, and most of the team is built to get one guy near the front so he can do his job in the final sprint. A cycling team subverts individual fame and recognition in favor of lifting the best, strongest rider to a good finish while still themselves performing above what could be considered normal for any human’s threshold for pain and suffering.
*lame cycling joke alert
*yeah, like I was getting through this without making a doping crack