Domestique
by Ben Greenwood | 21/07/10

As I’m sure you’re all aware, the Rapha Condor Sharp team has been winning alot of races, so many I’ve lost count. People look at the results and see a name like Newton or House at the top of the results. They might even read a brief report on the race or watch the heavily edited highlights on the TV. But these don’t always give a true indication of what has happened. There’s alot that goes on in a 5 hour race, most of which doesn’t get reported, it doesn’t provide any glory or fame, but this is where the domestique quietly does his work, unseen by many but vital nontheless.

Cycling is unique in sport, it’s an individual team sport. Only one rider gets to stand on top of the podium, but without his team it would be all but impossible for him to win. For members of the general public this can be hard to understand. How did the race go they ask? We won you reply. But what position did you come they ask? At this point you usually roll your eyes and smile. It’s a bit like asking a defender in a football team how many goals he’s scored. As the 3 musketeers would say, it’s all for one and one for all. A win for the team is a win for everyone.

Of course there are some riders for whom personal results count for more that a result for their team. As a couple of Pro Tour riders once told me, these riders are known as ‘Internet Pros’. They always get an ok result without doing anything special and more importantly without doing much work for their team. These riders might impress the casual cycling fan scanning the results on the net, but they certainly don’t impress their team-mates or fellow riders.

So what does a good domestique do? This of course depends on the situation of the race but to put it simply, their job is to make their team leaders life as easy and stress free as possible. This work often starts as soon as the flag drops covering the early moves. The team leader doesn’t want to waste too much energy early on, but nor does he want a dangerous break to get away. The domestique will try to ensure the team is represented in the early breaks while chasing down anything containing any of the big threats from the other teams. In the mid part of the race, the domestique will try to keep his leader out of the wind as much as possible and if need be, do the majority of the work in the break or on the front of the bunch giving his man an easy ride. At this stage of the race it might be time to go back to the team car to collect some bottles or move team-mates up the bunch if a dangerous section of the race is approaching. As the race approaches it’s defining stages the domestique’s role is all about positioning. The aim being to leave the leader in exactly the right place at the right time, be it leaving the sprinter on the correct wheel with a km to go or leaving the climber in the ideal positon at the foot of the final climb.

Often with his days work done, and his energy levels having reached zero, the domestique will find an easy gear and ride slowly in to the finish. While the ‘Internet Pros’ are fighting for the minor placings, the domestique is safe in the knowledge his team leader will be fighting for the win. He is already thinking about saving energy for the next day. Another day of unseen suffering and pain ahead. He might not get much glory, but he can go to sleep with a smile on his face, a job well done, a victory for the team, another team-mate on the podium.
But what position did you come they ask?
Ask my team-mates I reply, because if they’re happy with what I did, the answer is I won.