As the days get darker in the southern hemisphere and the nights get colder there are a few things that light the soul. Sleeping in, hot coffee, chocolate and cycling. Like those middle aged men in lycra, those happy few who ride up the local mountains and bike lanes.
I gladly watch Le Tour de France. Every year I watch amazed at the green of the countryside, the history of the towns and the foolishness of the people who mass at the side of the road.
Young and new riders are told they cannot expect to even finish the first time riding Le Tour. Their bodies are unconditioned and often not able to continue once the tour gets into the Alps and the Pyrenees. Exhausting yourself to the point where the body does not respond anymore is an occupational hazard for cyclists. Even bodies that are trained and honed to perfection can succumb to the strain of this endurance event.
Forgetting water or food at the wrong time can lead to losing on the day, or not finishing at all. The best prepared and most experienced can hit the wall and blow up.
One for all and all for one
Chris Froome, the race winner, lost the lead supposedly due to not keeping up his fluids. It took Froome days to get back the lead and the Yellow Jersey (maillot jaune). Fabio Aru who held the lead from Froome ended up surrendering it because his team, Astana, had lost so may riders that they could not support Aru. In the big races like Le Tour you may be able to snatch the Maillot Jaune for a day or two, but, you cannot keep it without a strong team.
In contrast to Aru, Michael Mathews the Australian rider for team Sunweb has had two stage wins and won the green jersey for best sprinter. Mathews' team has been consistently at the head of the main group (the peleton) when Mathews needed them. If you did watch regularly you would have seen the black and white striped jersey's of Sunweb and the duo of German Simon Geschke and Dutchman Laurens Ten Dam out in front setting the pace.
Team Sunweb arrived in Paris with two of the four major classification winners in Mathews and the Frenchman Warren Barguil. Barguil secured the Polka Dot jersey for the 'King of the Mountains', the best climber. It shows the dedication, commitment, planning and execution that played out so successfully for team Sunweb. Not just the riders on the road, but the race managers, the team drivers, the soigneurs with food on the roadside, the mechanics, doctors and physiotherapists. For each winner in this race it requires a huge number behind them.
We win the prize together
At the end, in front of the Eiffel Tower on the Champs Elyse the winners are presented to the cheering crowd. The hard toil and pain of the last three weeks all behind them as they, the victors, stand triumphant. Paul's image of running the race is an obvious analogue between sport and Christian life. Paul's imagery of the race and the prize is a future orientated goal with an individual focus. It is about the cost required, a price that Paul like the cyclists in Le Tour believe to be worth it. Chris Froome, Michael Mathews and Warren Barguil certainly saw such discipline and training a worthy entry fee for the prizes they have won. As does Paul, though like Paul the winners in Le Tour stand aloft because of the people behind them.
At this point those who know their 1 Corinthians would have a few questions. Mainly, that in 1 Corinthians chapter 9 Paul is exhorting the fact that he is beholden to no one. Financially this is true. No one has given Paul wages for his work as an apostle. Though he does stand upon the education of his earlier years. In Acts, Paul proudly tells of his studies under Gamaliel. Paul is also supported and assisted by Baranabas, Priscilla and Aquila, Timothy and Silas.
These are those we know through the biblical text and there are many more who can be assumed to exist. Who taught him Greek Philosophy? Where did he learn his tent making skills? Paul is not beholden to them financially but Paul would not be the Apostle he was without them.
Like the Le Tour winners our Christian life involves many others. Mentors, helpers, educators, supporters and fellow travellers. We are together, each of us very important parts of the Church that is the Body of Jesus in the world. For each of us to achieve the prize within our ability requires others to nurture, train and support us.
Paul's race requires the encouraging and upbuilding of each other to attain it. To strive together so that as many as possible arrive before the podium and receive the prize awaiting us in the new life to come.
Phillip Hall studies Theology at the University of Divinity and is very grateful that Le Tour coincides with the mid-year break. Circadian rhythm does take a while to readjust from late late nights watching cycling from Europe.