Domestique is the engine room of racing

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place.  If I quit, however, it lasts forever” ~ Lance Armstrong.

A lead out rider looks over his shoulder to see whether help is coming. Photo: Dean Murphy

A lead out rider looks over his shoulder to see whether help is coming. Photo: Dean Murphy

I know that a lot of readers watch the tour coverage for the history, the geography and scenic views of country they may never get to see otherwise. There is no doubt that Le Tour de France captures the world’s attention for many reasons.

There are close synergies of professional cycling to many of our everyday humdrum working lives. Professional Cycling is a job none the less when it is all said and done.  Most of us may never reach stardom and occasionally we get recognition for a job well done in our working life but it does not lessen the importance and value we add every day. We may never reach the top of our chosen vocation and be a leader among men but we are the very ones that are an essential cog in the wheels of the industry or work place.

In the cycling profession there are those riders that make many things happen and are paid to give their soul to the efforts of getting their chosen rider onto the podium.  This is the role of the domestique, riders on a cycle racing team whose role is to assist the team’s designated leaders even if at the expense of their own individual performance.

The French domestique literally translates as “servant”, though the French term for such a team worker is porteur d’eau (literally: water carrier, like the German Wasserträger). In Italy and Spain, the term gregario (a kind of soldier of the roman legions, “one into the group”) is used, while in Belgium, and the Netherlands the term knecht (“servant”) or helper (“helper”) is used.

Some general important tasks carried out by the domestique include retrieving water and nutrition from team cars and bringing it back up to the rest of the team and shielding team-mates from aggressive opponents. They are also vital in helping team-mates cope with mechanical disasters – should the leader suffer a puncture, the domestique will shield him as they pull over, wait with him until they have replaced the wheel, then cycle in front of him to create a slipstream allowing them to quickly reclaim their position.

A domestique may also be called upon to sacrifice his or her bicycle or one of the wheels, if the leader has a puncture, depending on the circumstances. Domestiques are also important for racing in a way that is in the tactical interest of their own team, or against the tactical interest of the opposing teams. By putting themselves in a breakaway they force other teams to chase the given breakaway. In turn, they may have to get to the front of the peleton to chase a breakaway that threatens their team’s goals. Several domestiques may help sprinters by giving them a lead- out: creating a draft for the critical moment to come off the wheel to win the sprint.

The role of the domestique has evolved over the years. The UCI points system changed the relationship between the domestiques and their team leaders. Prior to the introduction of the points system, riders in general were not concerned with their finishing order in the races. However, with the introduction of the points system, professional riders are given points depending on their finishing order at every UCI-sanctioned race. This induces pressure on the domestiques to put into consideration their own performances, instead of sacrificing everything for their team leaders.

The 1990’s saw the introduction of radio communication systems, allowing team members and managers a way to communicate, either one-way or two-way. There is now greater importance of the team domestiques, because a well-equipped and organized team can follow the evolution of the race and assign tasks to their riders regardless of where they are in the race whether it be in the mountains or on the flats.

See you on the road soon God willing

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