I'VE GOT TO ADMIT THAT BEFORE I WATCHED A COUPLE OF incredibly grueling and exciting Tour de France races, I didn't think too much of bicycling. I knew very little about the sport, except that when I ride my bike to work, the eight miles (slightly downhill and along the scenic Potomac River) is much easier than the eight miles home.

Now, after a week of watching races at night and getting immersed in the strategy, the rivalries, and the sheer drama of the race, I'm not only hooked but I see parallels everywhere, especially in business. Consider the companies that finished in the top 10 of our list of the 100 fastest-growing home building companies. For our industry, this achievement is not unlike a top 10 finish in the Tour.

The top 10 managed to increase their revenue by more than 130 percent on an annual compound basis between 2001 and 2003. I'm not sure what's harder—doing that, or riding a bike 100 miles a day for 21 consecutive days?

Team Work It's clear from their stories that success at building homes, like success in racing, depends on team work. When you ask these builders how they managed to grow so fast, often in a start-up mode, they invariably point to the support they received from their family, a business partner, or a key employee they hired that allowed them to shift their focus and get more work done.

Some builders, like bikers who elect to break from the pack, took big chances that worked out. Consider Oakley Custom Homes in Lewisville, Texas, which bought out a troubled builder and made good on that company's warranty problems, all to get access to several dozen subdivision lots and grow the company.

Many of the builders on our list, like cyclists who take an early lead, understand that they can't sustain current speeds forever. Some plan to pause to install new systems and technology to achieve even bigger growth later on. Others are wary of a market downturn even though they have never been through one.

Strategy Matters The companies on this list seem to know their strengths and weaknesses. They typically work a particular market niche. If they are good at building third-time move-up houses, they pass on an opportunity to take a position on starter homes, even if it's very tempting.

These builders, like bikers wary of what's around the bend, worry about rising material and land prices that could wipe out their profits over night. They watch material costs closely, do their best to pass them on, and they are careful not to pay too much for land, even as national builders bid it up to formerly unheard of prices in some markets.

We hope that you draw inspiration from these stories of the industry's fastest-growing companies. After all, most of us might find it easier replicating the success of our Fast Track companies than biking around France at break-neck speeds for three weeks.

Boyce Thompson, Editorial Director
e-mail: bthompson@hanleywood.com