Just as a football team is made up of players with particular specialist skills, a stage race cycling team comprises riders of complementary abilities, to maximise their chances of achieving their overall aim – which, in itself, varies from team to team.
Here is a quick overview of the different types of rider you might see in a Grand Tour team.
GC rider: An all-rounder who is expected to contend for the overall GC (general classification). They are typically either excellent climbers (such as Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Michele Scarponi and Joaquim Rodriguez) who are capable of taking time out of their rivals in the mountains, or excellent time-trialists (such as Bradley Wiggins, Cadel Evans and Denis Menchov) who have the strength to follow the climbers’ attacks in the mountains.
Sprinter: A rider who excels in explosive accelerations in bunch sprints at the end of flat stages, such as Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel. Click here for more information on this type of rider.
Climber (grimpeur): A rider who excels on steep, high mountains, although they may lack the consistency or time-trialling ability to sustain a GC challenge, instead competing for stage victories and the mountains jersey competition. Examples include 2011 Tour de France stage winners Pierre Rolland and Jelle Vanendert.
Puncheur: A rider who excels in explosive attacks on shorter hills, such as Philippe Gilbert.
Time trial specialist: A rider who specialises in individual races against the clock (in French, contre la montre), such as current and former world time trial champions Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara.
All-rounder (rouleur): An all-round rider capable of serving a general purpose role, contributing to chasing down breakaways or perhaps as a regular participant in breaks themselves. Veteran George Hincapie is probably the best-known rouleur in the pro peloton, but other prominent examples include Bernhard Eisel and Johnny Hoogerland. Experienced rouleurs are often a team’s road captain, the rider designated to organise his teammates and make quick tactical decisions during races.
Domestique: Usually a junior rider or one of (relatively) limited ability, who adopts a subservient role within the team. They shelter team leaders from the wind and other riders, drop back to the team cars to bring drinks bottles up to their teammates, and if needed will give up their bike in the event of a senior rider developing a mechanical problem.
The exact composition of a nine-man Grand Tour team varies depending on the team’s objectives. An outfit built around a top GC contender (e.g. BMC, Sky) will be slanted towards climbers and rouleurs who can support their leader in the mountains and in controlling the peloton day after day. A sprinter’s team such as Orica-GreenEDGE may have no climbers, but more of a mix of sprinters and rouleurs who can form an effective lead-out train. An opportunistic squad, whose sole aim may be to feature regularly in breaks in the hope of snatching a stage victory, might be built more around rouleurs and puncheurs – Vacansoleil-DCM and FDJ are good examples. Euskaltel-Euskadi always turn up with a team of predominantly tiny Basque climbers.
There is also the support staff who keep the riders functioning throughout the race, from the directeur sportifs (team managers) who set race tactics to mechanics, coaches, doctors, chefs and soigneurs (‘carers’), who are typically responsible for everything from massages to running all the miscellaneous errands necessary to minimise the riders’ energy expenditure off the bike.