On the Clock: Gorrell, 55, is chairman of Hogan & Hartson. Immelt, 57, is a partner in Hogan’s Baltimore office doing enforcement litigation for health care companies; Tracey, 53, is the managing partner of Hogan’s U.S. offices.
Off the Clock: Rabid cyclists.
First Clipped In: Gorrell began cycling a year ago, Immelt has been riding his bike seriously for three years, and Tracey has been an avid cyclist for five years.
The Tour de France is a punishing athletic competition spread out over 21 stages, but for cycling enthusiasts one stage stands out as a sure appointment with agony: the Montélimar to Mont Ventoux stage.
The grueling hill climb stage, the race’s penultimate leg, is 104 miles long. It requires riders to ascend more than 21,600 feet before crossing the finish line at the summit of Mont Ventoux, the highest point in Provence. How brutal is this particular stage, often the deciding one in the race? One cyclist actually died of dehydration climbing Ventoux in 1967. (Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Lance Armstrong and the rest of this year’s Tour competitors tackle the hill Saturday.)
So what made Hogan & Hartson chairman Warren Gorrell and partners Stephen Immelt and Dennis Tracey decide to attempt the arduous ride just five days before the pros took it on?
“I’d been asked what I was going to do for my next big challenge after climbing Mount Kilimanjaro five years ago, and I jokingly said I was going to be riding in the Tour de France,” says Gorrell, laughing. “I have to admit that I didn’t think we’d actually wind up doing it.”
This particular challenge began to take shape last year when Tracey mentioned to Gorrell that the Amaury Sport Organisation, the group that manages the Tour, organizes an event each year for amateurs who want to to race a Tour stage just like the pros. Gorrell seized on the idea, and recruited Immelt to join him and Tracey.
“Before that point I’d thought cycling wasn’t a serious sport,” says Gorrell. “This shows my ignorance.”
He, Immelt, and Tracey set about training together every weekend, maintaining their regimen through the winter despite the freezing temperatures. Gorrell and Immelt also managed to squeeze regular spinning classes in around their jam-packed work schedules. After a few months of serious training, the trio was competing in 100-mile races. By the time they left for Europe on July 15, they were nervous, but prepared.
Immelt and Gorell admit that finding the time to train was difficult, but say it’s important to get away from the office to chase something they feel passionate about. In fact, both say their work benefited from their athletic endeavor.
“When you’re out there riding, usually alone, you’ve got time to really think, to clear your mind,” Immelt says. “It’s important to have that time away from the office.”
The men were among a record 8,500 riders from around the world who headed to the city of Montélimar to start the stage. And they also were among the 7,396 who completed the climb and crossed the finish line within the 10 and a half hour time limit.
When Gorrell and Immelt discuss the experience, they’re prone to talking over each other in animated superlatives. Among the adjectives to come spilling out: “intoxicating,” “amazing,” “challenging,” “spectacular.” They say they spend time between meetings rehashing the trip.
Not that they left work totally behind. The three lawyers managed to stop in at Hogan’s Geneva office, where they held an event for European clients. Their guests were a bit surprised to learn what had brought their American hosts across the pond.
“We wanted to give them an idea of what the firm’s management is like,” says Gorrell. “Now they might think we’re crazy, but at least they know we can handle a challenge.”
Photo courtesy of Warren Gorrell: Gorrell (right), Immelt (center), Tracey (left) at the top of Mont Ventoux, after completing the climb.