Peloton Primer: Glossary

All sports have their own jargon, and cycling is no exception. Many of the words are French, a few are Italian, so here at VeloVoices we’ve put together a short (but not exhaustive) glossary of key cycling terms you might hear used during a race.

Arrivée: Finish line.

ASO: Amaury Sport Organisation. Organisers of the Tour de France, as well other big races such as the Vuelta a España, Critérium du Dauphiné and Paris-Roubaix.

Autobus or Gruppetto: A group of riders who, because of their comparative lack of climbing ability, ride together in a bid to survive the stage and beat the cut-off time, which is calculated as a percentage of the winner’s time.

Bidon: Half-litre water bottle made of biodegradable plastic which typically contains water, electrolyte drinks or a mixture of syrup and water. Riders can get through up to 20 bidons per stage – they use them once before throwing them away where they are either collected by roadside spectators or swept up by the official rubbish collectors who follow every race.  Unless it’s a particularly hot stage, riders are not permitted to take on any refreshments in the last 20km of a race. A sticky bidon is so-called because often when a rider is collecting bidons from the team car, the person in the team car handing them out will keep hold of them for a few seconds longer than necessary to give the rider a little tow.

Bonification: Time bonus (actually time subtracted) awarded to a rider for winning or placing on a stage, an intermediate sprint or a rated climb. The Tour de France no longer awards these.

Broom wagon (also known as voiture balai): When Henri Desgrange, Father of the Tour, first added the high Pyrenean climbs to his 1910 Tour he had a rescue wagon, called a ‘broom wagon’ – with an actual broom bolted on the front – follow the riders to sweep up any who were unable to ascend the climbs. It’s still in use today, following the last rider in a stage. Typically though, when a rider abandons, he surrenders his dossard – race number – to a race official and gets into one of his team cars.

Catégorie: Designation of the difficulty of a mountain climb. A wholly subjective judgment of the difficulty of the ascent, based upon its length, gradient and how late in the stage the climb is to be ridden. A medium difficulty climb that comes after several hard ascents will get a higher rating because the riders will already be tired. The easiest is a category four and then with increasing severity they are three, two and one. The most challenging are hors catégorie (HC) – literally, ‘beyond category’.

CLM: Abbreviation for contre-la-montre, an individual time trial.

CLM par équipes: Team time trial.

Col: Mountain pass.

Coup de bordure: When riding into a side wind, the peloton rides at an angle in an ‘echelon’ to gain greater protection. In these instances, riders can easily become distanced if they find themselves without shelter and literally end up ‘in the gutter’. See also échelon.

Défaillance: If a rider forgets to eat and drink or doesn’t take on enough sustenance during a race he can completely run out of energy. Also known as a bonk.

Départ: Start.

Directeur sportif: The person directing a cycling team from the team car during a race. The DS works out team tactics and keeps an eye out for obstacles or dangers to the team. The team car also carries the team mechanic, spare bikes, parts and wheels, rain gear and extra bidons and energy gels.

Domestique: A rider who works in support of their team leader. They shelter them from the wind, ride to keep the pace high, chase down breaks, go back to the team car for bidons and energy gels and generally keep the leader safe. A super-domestique is a particularly strong and talented rider who rides in the service of another (e.g. Bernie Eisel is Mark Cavendish‘s super-domestique).

Dossard: Rider’s race number pinned on the back of his jersey.

Échappée: Breakaway.

Échelon: In order to better navigate a side wind, riders ride slightly to the right or left of the rider in front in order to remain in that rider’s slipstream, instead of riding nose-to-tail in a straight line. This staggered line puts those riders further back in the pace line in the gutter. Because they can’t edge further to the side, they have to take more of the brunt of both the wind and the wind drag of their forward motion. In these instances, a series of echelons will form so that all the riders can both contribute and receive shelter. See also coup de bordure.

Équipe: Team.

Étape: Stage.

Feed zone: A specially designated part of the course where riders ride by and pick up their musettes, which are filled with food and drink during the stage. Although the peloton slows when it goes through these zones, there are often crashes due to bidons and musettes getting caught in wheels. It is also considered bad cycling  etiquette to attack when the peloton is going through the zones. See also bidon, musette and ravitaillement.

Flamme rouge: A red triangular banner hanging from an inflatable arch marking the beginning of the final kilometre of a race.

Grimpeur: A pure climber.

Hors-délais: Outside the time limit. See also autobus.

Jour sans: A day in which a racer has no strength or energy.

Lanterne rouge: The last rider in the general classification. In some years riders will actually compete to be the lanterne rouge because of the fame it brings and they can therefore earn better appearance fees at post-Tour criterium races.

Magic spanner: Like a sticky bidon, this is a way that cyclists can get some assistance or respite from the race. A rider will come up along side the team car, the mechanic will hang out of the window and hold the bike while ‘making adjustments’. Race officials usually turn a blind eye unless it’s felt that the spanner work is gratuitous.

Maillot á pois rouges: The polka dot jersey (white with red spots), worn by the leader of the King of the Mountains classification.

Maillot blanc: The white jersey worn by the leader of the young riders’ classification (based on the lowest accumulated time). The competition is open for all cyclists who will be aged less than 26 as of January 1st in the year following the current race.

Maillot jaune: The yellow jersey worn by the overall race leader, the rider with the lowest cumulative time.

Maillot vert: The green jersey worn by the leader of the points classification.

Musette: A team-branded, small cloth bag containing food and drinks handed to the rider in the feed zone. It has a long strap so the rider can slip his arm through it easily while still riding, then put the strap over his shoulder to carry it while he transfers the food and drinks to his jersey pockets. He’ll then throw the musette away, which is why there are always crowds of spectators in and around the feedzone. Riders often also throw away the food they don’t want.

Palmarès: An athlete’s list of race accomplishments, usually lovingly extolled at the race or stage sign-in.

Parcours: The race course.

Pavé: Cobblestones.

Peloton: The main group of riders.

Piano: Riders intentionally taking it easy. (From the Italian for ‘softly’.)

Podium: The top three places – first, second and third – in a race.

Prologue: An introductory stage in a stage race that is usually a short individual time trial, normally under 8km.

Puncheur: A rider who is particularly good in rolling terrain that has short but steep climbs. They often attack in short, sharp bursts to win. Philippe Gilbert is the epitome of a puncheur.

Ravitaillement: Taking on food and drink, usually at an appointed time and place in the race, in the feed zone. See feed zone.

Rouleur: A cyclist considered a good all-rounder who can ride well over most types of course. Jens Voigt is the epitome of a rouleur.

Tempo: A fast but not all-out pace. Teams defending their leader in a stage race will often go to the front of the peloton and ride tempo for days on end in order to discourage breakaways: think Jens Voigt or Vasiliy Kiryienka.

Tifosi: Fans, the most fanatical of which are the Basques.

UCI: The governing world body of cycling: the Union Cycliste Internationale.

Voiture Balai: See broom wagon.

WADA: World Anti-Doping Agency. Independent agency that promotes, coordinates and monitors the fight against drugs in sport.

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