Leadership lessons become clearer as a crisis looms. An attempt to sabotage the 14th day of the Tour de France in 2012 gave an illustration of the point with the actions of Tour leader Bradley Wiggins
The crisis, as often happens, comes like a storm from clear blue skies. A tough but not particularly critical stage was underway. The large bunch of riders making up the peloton were scaling a steep incline. The various team members were working to protect the broader interests of their own lead rider, as general classification category, or various other competitions for King of the Mountains, Sprint champion, best young rider. The leaders for each could be distinguished by their gaudy but prized jersey… The bright yellow jersey of overall leader Bradley Wiggins was clearly visible in the midst of the multi-coloured millipede of the peloton [main group of riders].
The chess game
In the chess game of the tour, breakaways by a small group of attackers occur and are assessed as damaging to the broader goals and capabilities of the riders and teams in the Peloton. Today, a breakaway seemed likely to be successful for a stage win, but not harming the prospects for other prizes.
The mysterious punctures
Then the bolt from the blue. Or more literally, the punctures in the tyres. Significantly, Cadel Evans, last year’s winner, and still with some chance of regaining his title, was stricken, in a location where back-up provision of a new tyre was not possible. The frequency of punctures reached highly unusual levels over the next half hour or so.
Wiggins makes his leadership decision
For Cadel Evans, the misfortune threatened to end all hope of his winning. Wiggins could make his lead unassailable. But instead, Wiggins acted in the spirit of the Tour, by bringing the peloton to a slower pace to give Evans a chance to regain his place.
Wiggin’s actions fit notions of altruistic ‘old-fashioned sporting values’. He later said he had no option. There was an option, although it posed a dilemma of perceived self-interest (“race to win within the rules” weighed against the consequences of capitalizing on the misfortune which had hit Evans.
Give me a break
One rider, Pierre Rolland, chose to seize the moment to make a break. There is some evidence that a form of rough justice may be meted out to a rider who breaks the unwritten rules. Later, after another attack, and apparently under orders from his management team, he made obvious his own decision to allow the peloton to catch up
To the outsider
To the outsider, the actions may be clearer by understanding the dilemmas of self-interest and social standing above a peer group. Which may be another way of thinking about temptation.
The sabotage attempt, and wilful blindness
I could have written another post focussing on the sabotage. It showed the difficulties of the Eurosport commentators David Harmon and Sean Kelly. Harmon began to searching for explanations of the punctures.
“Quite incredible. Maybe a rough road surface?” he asked
Sean Kelly’s mind was running along more suspicious lines but he offered a cautious view:
“There might be something else. It has happened before…” He was hinting at foul play, maybe tacks strewn on the road.
“But it’s unbelievable it would happen here, in the Tour de France”. Harmon still did not want to believe such a betrayal of the spirit of the tour, although it was quite in keeping of the early days a century ago. Unbelievable, but it was quickly confirmed. And there is still the unanswered question “why?”
Bradley Wiggins retained the cherished Yellow Jersey. He and the main contenders ended with the same time differentials that they held at the start of the stage. The French Press hailed Wiggins as “Le Gentleman” a linguistic tour de force and concession to Franglais. An English journalist suggested in The New Statesman that such actions explain why England does not have the winning mentality at sport.