What Is A Domestique? How Do Teams Use Their Riders?

What Is A Domestique? How Do Teams Use Their Riders?


What is a domestique, and what do they do? Domestique is a French word, which, when used
in a cycling context, literally means servant. The role of a domestique is simply to be a
helper to their team leader. Some of what the job entails is obvious, other parts are
more subtle. The role of each domestique will also depend on their strength, experience,
speciality and tactical nouse, so here is our guide to that role, which will hopefully
make everything clearer. One of the main jobs of a domestique is to
protect his leader from the wind. Sitting behind another rider will save you around
30% in power on a flat road, sitting behind your entire team will save you even more.
In this way, domestiques will do everything they can to make sure that their team leader saves
as much energy as possible, either for the entire stage, or at least until a selection
of the best riders is made. Domestiques are also priceless when it comes
to protecting a race lead. At the start of a stage, the race leader’s domestiques will
make sure that nobody dangerous goes up the road in an early break, and that the group
isn’t too big. As the stage progresses, the domestiques will start to set a pace on the
front, making sure that the gap to the breakaway doesn’t get too large, and depending on the
aims of the team, bring it back before the finish. Their job also entails helping their leader
if they get into any kind of trouble. If they are forced to stop for a puncture, mechanical
problem, natural break or crash, then one or more domestiques will wait with their leader
and bring them back to the bunch, again saving them as much energy as possible. A domestique will also make sure that their
leader doesn’t have to stop if they don’t need to. If their leader needs more food,
drink, extra clothing or anything else, the domestique will drop back to the team car
and bring it up to them. Just as important as keeping your leader out
of the wind is getting them into the right position before a crucial part of the race,
be that a climb, cobbled section or an area of potential cross winds. If the leader
had to do it himself, he’d have to use a lot of energy to get into the right position and
might not be at his best when the crucial point actually starts. Likewise, if the leader
starts an important section at the back of the bunch, he’ll either use unnecessary energy
to get to the front of the group, or even worse, not get there at all. Some of the more experienced domestiques will
make on-the-spot tactical decisions on the road. Many races these days do not allow race
radios, so this quality is becoming even more important. The team leader is normally the
strongest rider in the team, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the most tactically
aware. A good domestique can keep them calm and stop them making any mistakes on the road. The job of a sprinter’s domestique is slightly different
to that of a GC leader, and also depends on what role you have within the sprinter’s team.
For a couple of riders, the job will be to make sure that the early breakaway isn’t too
big, then set a tempo on the front of the bunch to make sure that the gap doesn’t get
too large, and then, eventually, start to bring the gap down. Other riders fall into the job of the leadout.
A good sprinter’s team will aim to keep as many domestiques as possible for the last
part of the race. Once that team gets into the final kilometres, each domestique will have
their own job. Often starting with 3km to go, their aim will be to keep the speed as
high as possible in order to keep their sprinter out of trouble and reduce the risk of them
getting blocked in. That speed will build up gradually until the final domestique’s role is to, ideally,
hit the front with 400m to go, gradually increase the speed until around 200m to go, at which
point the sprinter will hopefully do his stuff. An occasional job for a domestique is to enter
the early break, with the sole aim of helping their leader later in the race. In a mountainous
stage for example, some riders might not be capable of making the front group on one of
the later climbs when the pace rockets. However, if they’re in the early breakaway and setting
a steadier pace, they can be in a great position if their leader attacks from the group behind.
They can then pace them for as long as possible, with the aim of maximising the time gap to
their key rivals. Domestiques will also sacrifice their own
equipment, if the situation arises. At a crucial point of a race, the team cars are sometimes
not directly behind the front group, so if a leader punctures, a domestique will give them their
wheel to speed up the change. Likewise, if there is a rider who is of a similar size
to their leader, they might simply swap bikes. On some occasions, a domestique can be useful
simply to give their leader motivation, or keep their morale up. Athletes often start
to question their own ability at critical moments, and cyclists are no different. The
relationships that teammates build up together can often mean that the domestique is key
to making sure that their leader doesn’t give up, quit, or hold back at the crucial moment. Finally, the term super domestique refers
to a rider who is one of the best in the world in his own right, capable of winning races
himself, but who sometimes puts himself at the service of others. Think Fabian Cancellara
at the 2013 Vuelta, Chris Froome at the 2012 Tour de France, Tony Martin riding for Mark
Cavendish, or Jens Voigt at almost every other race of the season.