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Tour de France 2012: domestique bliss for Team Sky’s Chris Froome

Published: July 14, 2012 | 9:24 am
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When Chris Froome was asked about challenging his team leader,Bradley Wiggins, for the yellow jersey in this year’s Tour de France, the talented British rider, currently in second place behind Wiggins, said exactly what every domestique should say: “I’ll follow orders at all costs. I’m part of a team and I have to do what the team asks me to do”. It was a statement that reinforced cycling’s reputation as being a feudal sport.

More than a century ago, the domestique was a description given to a riders whose self-sacrifice allowed his team leader to focus on personal glory. As a domestique (literally “servant” in French) a rider would sometimes stop at a stream to fill his captain’s water bottle. If a team leader had been dropped by the pack because of a puncture his domestique rode in front of him, shielding him from the wind, so he could return to the front. The job description hasn’t changed much.

In terms of reward, some domestiques dreamed of spending their share of the team’s prize money on a small farm in the French coutryside. At least nowadays, a talented domestique can be promoted to super-domestique and eventually team leader.

Although the current crop of British cyclists may have won the respect of their continental peers, in the past many found themselves stuck in the domestique role, a kind of ‘Jeeves on wheels’ as some saw it. In 1985, Paul Sherwen, now a cycling broadcaster, talked to the Guardian about leaving the UK to become a domestique in France.

Le Tour
Published in the Guardian on 13 July 1985.

Another British rider content to leave the podium to others was the current sports director of  Team Sky, Sean Yates, whose many years as a domestique were at least rewarded with a single day spent in the yellow jersey during the 1994 Tour.

Le Tour1
Published in the Guardian on 26 June 1994.

Occasionally, the domesitique might win an individual stage of a race by slipping away from the pack to cross the line first. For the most part, he is expected to be near his leader’s side. This rule is relaxed somewhat in the Tour de France when the race passes through the home town of a domestique, and he is allowed, momentarily, to ride ahead of the pack to enjoy the applause of family and friends.

For a domestique not content with a life in service, there’s always the dream of emulating US rider, Greg LeMond, dubbed ‘L’Américain’ by the French, whoes undoubted talent helped him rise up the ranks and go on to win the Tour de France three times (1986, 1989, 1990) and become World Road Race Champion (1983, 1989).

Published in the Guardian on 7 July 1989.



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