A race can have up to 200 riders, split into teams. The race organisers decide how many riders a team can enter.
Each team is supported by a car from which a manager (the ‘Directeur sportif’) can give instructions.
The riders have a radio from which the manager can give tactics and time splits. Each team has a leader, with the remaining riders being known as ‘domestiques’ – meaning, literally, ‘servant’ in French.
The use of domestiques was first allowed in 1911 in the Tour de France and it is a strategy that has been used ever since.
The biggest enemy to a cyclist is wind resistance. Riding closely behind another rider, in their slipstream, reduces the effort required to maintain speed by 25–40 per cent. The effects are greater at higher speeds.
Domestiques try to keep their leader ‘out of the wind’ so they can reserve their energy for attacks, or a sprint towards the end of the stage, domestqiues will also drop back to the team car to collect water-bottles and food for their leader. If the leader is involved in a crash, they will wait and pace the rider back up to the ‘peloton’ (the main group or pack) or even give him their wheel, if he has a puncture, so he can keep riding and not lose time to other team leaders or competitors.
Breakaway Riders and The Breakaway
It is customary for a group of between three and six riders to break off from the peloton early in a stage and go on ahead. Riders in ‘the break’ are often from minor teams who don’t have the big budgets needed to employ jersey contenders. Teams who have lost their leader to illness in the middle of the race will also start to try to be involved in breakaways.
The breakaway riders attract lots of TV coverage, thereby rewarding investment from their sponsors.
The breakaway hopes to outrun the peloton to the line. If a team in the peloton has a strong desire for the stage to end in a sprint, it will keep an eye on the speed of the breakaway and calculate how quickly it could be reeled in.
Catch it too soon and new attacks may go clear with fresh-legged riders, but too late and a rider from the breakaway will win. The ideal controllable gap from pack to breakaway is roughly one minute per remaining 10 km (6¼ miles) of the stage. So, for example, with 40 km (25 miles) to go, the breakaway should be allowed no more than a four-minute advantage.
Riders specialise as climbers, sprinters or overall contenders. In the last two decades, modern race tactics have seen teams targeting just one of the classifications.
JLT Condor Sprinters: Brenton Jones, Alex Frame, Ed Clancy
A sprinter’s team will target flat stages, creating a ‘lead-out train’ on the run into the finish or intermediate sprint. This train keeps the pace high and the leader tucks in at the back of the train, out of the wind. The lead-out men peel off one by one, getting faster and eventually leaving their rider at the front of the race, ideally with 250m (820ft) left to sprint to the line. The teams designated sprinter is supported by another sprinter who, they will follow in hectic final kilometres, their helper jostles for position and helps move the sprinter to the front of the pack.
JLT Condor Climbers: Ed Laverack, Ian Bibby, Edmund Bradbury, Steve Lampier
The domestiques in the yellow-jersey contender’s teams become active when the road starts to point upwards. On the early climbs, they set the pace of the peloton and shield their leader from the wind, chasing down any threats to the yellow jersey. Domestiques setting the pace on climbs limit any attacks from rivals, who have to spend longer accelerating into the wind before chipping off the front and gaining metres up the road. As with the sprint train, domestiques peel off as the race approaches the summit, eventually leaving their leader with 2 km (1¼ miles) left to ride alone or in which to make their stage-winning attack.
JLT Condor Rouleurs: Tom Moses, Graham Briggs, Russell Downing, Jon Mould
There are a handful of stages on the Tour route that suit ‘rouleurs’, hard-working riders with all-round abilities who are capable of outrunning the peloton on the days when the course profile is lumpy, but not super mountainous. These stages are ideal for a rider to grab a solo stage win and his moment in the spotlight.