The Tour de France is the most grueling cycling race. One feature of the race is the peloton, the group of competitors that rides together in a huge pack. During the race, smaller groups try to break away from the pack in order to gain an advantage. Sometimes the peloton can track the attackers down, sometimes it can't.
In cycling, just as in business, you do not want to be stuck in the middle of the peloton. You can't try different tactics to attack because you're surrounded. If you sit in the pack the whole time, you will stagnate and never have a chance to win. However, if you try to break out from the middle, you risk causing a huge accident that can knock you and possibly others out of the race.
In my opinion, the problem with Big Lots and Retail Ventures is they are poorly positioned competitively (i.e., in the middle of the peloton). They don't have a niche and can't make up for it by being stronger -- in retailing terms, by turning their inventory...
Compare them to Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT), who conjures up images of cyclists Jan Ullrich or Miguel Indurain. All three are big, strong, and fast. Between Jan and Miguel, they have won six Tour titles and five second-place finishes. Wal-Mart turned $28.3 billion of inventory in 51 days last quarter! Both feats are very impressive.
On the other hand, I would compare riders like Tyler Hamilton and Iban Mayo (who lost his chance to win the race after getting caught up in a crash in the peleton) to companies like Tuesday Morning (Nasdaq: TUES), recently written up by James Early, and Overstock.com (Nasdaq: OSTK). They are trying to break away from the pack by exploiting a niche (furniture for Tuesday Morning) and building a stronger business model (last quarter, Overstock.com took 40 days to sell its inventory).
I can't go without mentioning Lance Armstrong. Like eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY), which can compete business to business, business to consumer, and consumer to consumer, Lance can compete anywhere. He's not known as a climber, but he rules the mountain stages. He's not known as a sprinter, yet few can beat him in a time trial. Both eBay, which may have the best business model ever, and Lance, the best all-around cyclist ever, are champions that are tough to beat.