Who remember those who came 16th or 78th in stage 5 in this year's Tour? Oh, that one is hard, I know, but I'll guess there are many more who remember the winner. That is how things are in cycling, a team consisting of eight individuals have to set their own ambitions aside and do what they are required to, working for one man, hopefully the winner. What a selfless thing to do.
How many of you haven't been standing on the barricades in countless discussions with people about whether or not cycling is a team sport? Usually these people are not familiar with cycling. Most people probably see only the last kilometers of a stage, or watch the resymé at 17:30 AM, not noticing the actual rythm of a race, the pecking order within the teams or within the peloton for that matter. Not that many people outside the cycling community knows what happens when the team's leader wants a coke, a bottle of water or a much needed rain jacket. Well, the leader must preserve his/her energy so someone better hurry up and deliever the goods.
Michael Barry writes in the fantastic book Le Métier about when he and his soigneur are waiting for a plane on the airport to bring Barry to a training camp if I'm not mistaken, when the soigneur lets Barry sit on the only available chair in order for him to rest as much as possible.
We have all seen those domestique riders or gregario as they are called in Spain and Italy, who gives all they have for the team captain. The translation of domestique literally means "servant". Henri Desgrange, one of the founders of the Tour, used the frase to describe Maurice Brocco in 1911. Desgrange did that to scorn Brocco, not to praise him for setting himself aside for someone else.
In a long race, especially the Tour, bringing liquids and calories is an important task. It's a common thing to see riders fill up their bottle cages, putting 3-4 bottles back in the jersey pockets then stuffing bottles down the neck of his/her jersey. Thereafter you see the overloaded riders make their way up to the front or whereever where the rest of the team is.
In Paris-Roubaix 2010 Hushovd ordered a snack from a fellow teammate, after 45 minutes the teammate had made it back to Hushovd giving him the chocolate bar. Drifting back to the team car, bunkering up and get back actually took that long.
Giving shelter to the leader is also an important job. Shelter from the blistering wind or sheltering from the bouncing elbows as the peloton reaches an important climb or cobble section. Sheltering from wind in four-five hours can actually preserve 25% or so of the leader's energy, it's that important.
Towing the leader back up to the peloton after a flat, being a peasant in the DS' tactical game are other jobs these unsung heroes furfill. Think about that unselfish gang of true heroes, working not for their own personal achievements but for the team's. Well, it is probably wrong to say "not for their own achievements", because for these guys, achievements doesn't necessarly mean winning. Knowing that you contribute to the team is an achievement in itself. Hoping that todays hard work pays off in the sprint.
There are others than just riders in teams. I'll write about that in the next blog post.
By the way, the winner of stage 5 in this year's Tour was Cavendish. Remember him standing on the podium in tears, letting all that pressure go, while at the same time giving a sincere thanks to his teammates.