This year's Tour de France was an exceptionally interesting race. Readers will recall my post earlier this month in which I highlighted Lance Armstrong's flat tire as a potential setback (depending on how we define that term, from a mindset perspective). Armstrong's fortunes only worsened from there, and with ten days or so to race, he gave up any hope on finishing on the podium in Paris.
The fascinating part of his part in this year's race, however, occurs after he accepted with humility that a podium finish was no longer attainable. In one of the multiple post-stage interviews that week, he stated that his job now was to help his team, Team Radio Shack, finish first in the overall team standings. In order to accomplish such a feat, a team must consistently place a certain number of riders in a certain swath of riders for each stage. Team Radio Shack is a new team for 2010, and for a new team to capture first place in that category is a true accomplishment. They did it, beating second-place Caisse d'Epargne by almost ten minutes, a "pounding" in the cycling world.
It's interesting to see how humility (positive humility, not humiliation) in a leader can serve the team; with his focus off finishing on the podium in Paris, Armstrong--a master strategist in the Tour de France--followed familiar formulae to place various Team Radio Shack riders in the appropriate places on each of the remaining stages, culminating in the first-place team finish.
Looking back only one year, the year of his return to the Tour after a four-year absence, tells a different story. Riding for Team Astana in 2009, Armstrong was in direct competition with Alberto Contador, the eventual winner of that Tour. There was no love lost in that relationship, which was tremendously awkward for the team.
Given Armstrong's success with the US Postal Team and Team Discovery, where there were no other "top dog" riders on the exact same level with him, it is odd that he would have considered riding with Team Astana, which had another Tour winner on board. Everyone saw that tension coming long before the Tour began. In a sense, then, the 2009 Tour was a remarkable non-sequitur for Armstrong.
A great leadership tale, to be sure. In a sense, Armstrong grew from his 2009 experience and his 2010 mishaps to become a more selfless leader within the team, placing the team first and foremost.
The moral of the story? Leadership is made even more effective by humility in one's service.