With the Tour de Yorkshire almost upon us, there’s a lot of interest in road racing at the moment.
If, like Canyon Eisberg fan Marina Stedman, you didn’t grow up in a cycling household, you might be planning to watch some of the race but be wondering how it really works.
Road racing seems to have a language and rules all of its own and the commentators, journalists and cyclists who live and breathe the sport aren’t the best at explaining things to new fans.
It can be very frustrating to watch a road race on the television and not know what’s going on!
So here Marina attempts to bust the jargon, dispel the myths and clear up some of the confusion to help you enjoy the action.
One thing I always wanted to know is why many of the terms you hear used in road races are in French?
Might it be because the first official bicycle race (won by a Brit) is believed to have been held in 1868 over 1,200m in Paris?
Or maybe because the Union Cycliste Internationale (the world governing body for the sport of cycling), founded in 1900 by Belgium, USA, France, Italy and Switzerland, is based in Switzerland.
If you’re wondering why Great Britain was not one of the founding members, it was because it was set up after a row with us about whether we could have English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh teams at World Championships or just one GB squad. We weren’t allowed to join until 1903.
It might also be because the first Tour de France was held back in 1903 when 60 cyclists started the 19-day race.
Whatever the reason, here’s an outline of the some of key terms you’ll hear commentators talking about during road races such as Le Tour de Yorkshire…
Cycling is a team sport, unlike most others that involve a race. It’s not every man (or woman) for himself and it’s not always the best or fastest rider who wins. It took me a while to understand that.
In any race, one member of the team is usually nominated as the leader and the others do everything they can to help their leader win.
In major races, the role of the other (six or seven) team members, called domestiques (which means servant in English), is typically to protect their leader by riding in front to help them conserve energy (see peloton below).
They don’t have much chance of winning the race themselves.
Domestiques are constantly watching what’s happening at the front of the race to make sure their leader has the best possible chance of winning.
If, for example, members of a rival team try to break away from the peloton, they may decide to chase if they consider them a threat.
Alternatively, if the leader is the one in a break, his team-mates could attempt to block rivals from mounting a chase, for example by riding at the front of the peloton at a slow speed.
Teams can also mount group attacks. One domestique will surge ahead and force a rival team to chase. As soon as the pack catches up, another domestique will ride off the front again.
The goal of this tactic is to tire out the opposing teams by making them work hard.
Teams usually include specialists, who will take the leadership role according to the type of parcours (see below).
For example, climbing specialists will focus on the hilly stages, while sprinters will save their energy for sprints for points or finishes.
To be fair to the domestiques, who do much of the work but get little of the glory, prize money is usually divided equally among all team members.
When the same riders compete against each other over two or more days (typically one stage on each day) with their cumulative time for all stages added up.
The overall winner is the rider who has the lowest total time. The Tour de Yorkshire is a stage race with four stages for the men and two stages for the women
The overall standings in a stage race, based on a rider’s total elapsed time, is called the general classification.
The rider with the lowest time is the leader in the general classification. This means a rider could win a race without winning a stage.
Time can be deducted from this total through bonuses for winning individual stages or being first to the top of a climb. It can also be added as a penalty for infractions of the rules.
The route the race is taking from the start to the finish – the English translation is the course.
The main group of riders riding together in the race, also known as the bunch. Riding in a pack allows cyclists to save energy by drafting (riding in another’s slipstream).
A rider who is drafting uses between 20 per cent and 40 per cent less energy than a rider on the front of the group.
The term peloton (little ball) was first used to refer to a small group of soldiers, who – like cyclists – travel in tight formation.
In a sprint to the line, a rider trying to win will often ride behind a team-mate for as long as possible to benefit from the drafting effect.
Sometimes, several riders from the same team will form a “train”, taking over, one by one, until finally the fastest sprinter is left to fight for the win.
Provision of that aerodynamic shelter is called giving a lead-out.
THE BREAK or BREAKAWAY
A rider or small group of riders who have ridden away in front of the peloton.
CHASERS or CHASING GROUP
Chasers are cyclists (typically between the peloton and the breakaway) who are trying to catch a lead rider ahead of them.
Marina will have more details and explanations in the next edition but finishes with one of the most confusing terms for anyone who’s not French – L’Arrivée is the finish line!
Click here for an excellent explanation of the British professional cycling scene by blogger Matilda Price.