Compliance Lessons from the Tour de France

I would guess that most of you reading this story do not share my love of the Tour de France. It can be a confusing mix of skinny guys, tarted up with sponsors like a NASCAR racer, with hard to pronounce names, following tactics unusual outside of cycling. But I since I became a fan a decade ago, I continue to be enthralled by drama and athletic heroism on display.

I also saw compliance lessons.

Stage 18 was a brutal day of riding up big mountains in the Alps. The riders started with the Col Agnel, a climb of almost 24km, averaging 6.6 percent, but most importantly averaging 10 percent for the final 9km. Down, then up the Col d’Izoard 15km at 7.1 percent gradient. Down and then up to the 23km to the finish on top of the Col du Galibier. A moonscape at 8,678 feet that had a fresh snowfall just days before the cyclists arrived.

One of the rules of the Tour is that riders who finish too far behind the winner get eliminated from the race. In these big mountain stages the non-climbers fall off the back of the peloton and form a group of riders form that just hopes to finish the stage. Their primary concern is beating the elimination time to ensure the can ride the next day. effectively, the riders self-organize to fight the rule.

At the end of stage 18, 80 riders (nearly half the racers) arrived in the grupetto more than 35 minutes after the winner. This was after the cut-off time. They were not kicked out of the rice, but some were given meaningless penalties.

Stage 19 was another brutal climbing day, going up the Col du Telegraph, back up Galibier, and then scampering up the legendary Alp d’Huez. For the second day in a row, the huge grupetto finished beyond the time cut, with 82 riders crossing the line beyond the limit. The day’s time cut was set at 13 percent of the winner’s time. The race officials allowed the group to remain in the race. All riders in that group were penalized 20 points in the points classification, but both green jersey contenders, Mark Cavendish and Jose Rojas, were in the group. The one poor victim was Bjorn Leukemans, who finished well behind the grupetto and was eliminated.

A rule was broken by almost half the participants but there was no meaningful discipline. How would that work inside your company? If the rule is being broken by that many people, maybe it’s a bad rule?

Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

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