“I was waiting to go and thought I’d waited too late. Then I went, I thought maybe I was in too big a gear… I don’t know. Sorry, I don’t mean to be a cry baby.” Sam Bennett was the winner of a thrilling finish to stage ten of the Tour de France on Tuesday. Sprinting hard to the line, he narrowly managed to keep his attackers at bay and regain the green jersey. It was overwhelming, and you could see it in the post-race interview. The man could barely hold back tears. “I just want to thank everyone that has been involved — the whole team, Patrick, for giving me the opportunity and everybody it took to get to here. I want to thank my wife and everyone around me. Sorry… You dream of it and you never think it will happen. Now it has and it took me a while to hit me.”
This moment was clearly the culmination, not just of the preparation and graft that was put into readying oneself for the race at hand, but of a lifetime of commitment to a discipline. Well rewarded now, from Bennett’s reaction, it all seems worth it, but it got me thinking – what is it that takes someone on the journey from getting on a bike for the first time to winning a stage of the biggest and most prestigious race in the sport? There is something different about athletes, at this most highest of levels. Be it cycling, football, mixed martial arts, no matter the sport, there is a commitment – no, an obsession – with victory and achievement.
Look at Cristiano Ronaldo. Obsession personified. When rising Colombian star James Rodriguez joined Real Madrid in 2014, he thought he’d impress the coach by showing up to his first training session two hours early. When he arrived, he asked if he was the first person there and was informed by the groundsman that no, he wasn’t. Ronaldo had already been there for two hours, and this was standard practice for the Portuguese.
Natural talent is never enough to take a person to the top of the mountain (literally, in the case of the Tour de France), if that talent goes untapped and undeveloped. The people that reach the pinnacle of achievement are the people, simply, that want it more than anyone else. In fact, wanting it isn’t enough. They HAVE to have it. They HAVE to win. It is an obsession with victory that makes the victory achievable. Nothing less. This was perfectly personified in Bennetts interview – crashes, muscle tears, blood and sweat – finally now come the tears, as all that effort and all that spent energy result in the crowning achievement of a Tour de France stage win. I think it speaks to the condition of human nature that, even in a part of the world where it seems that you could want for nothing – with a regular job, you can keep a roof over your head and never go hungry – there are people out there who always strive for more, people who are driven to greatness, people who have to win.