“Age and treachery
will overcome youth and skill.”
Fausto Coppi, Italian
"Champion of Champions"


By Barry Boyce
CyclingRevealed Historian


Abandon- French term used when rider gives up and gets in the tam car or broom wagon.

Arrivee- The finish line of a race or stage.

Attacquer- A French verb, to attack - an aggressive ride that moves away from the other riders. A phrase heard frequently on Radio Tour*.

Autobus- A group of riders, often sprinters and rouleurs (strong flatlanders), who are unable to climb the mountains well. They all stick together and ensure they are just quick enough to make the time limit. The "bus driver" is the rider who does the calculations but it sometimes goes wrong and they all get thrown out of the race.

Bidon- French for water bottle.

Big Ring- The bigger of the two chain rings (front gears) on a bike that generates a larger gear. The Big Ring gives the rider the most speed, but is the harder gear to pedal. It is the gear used during a sprint, a flat time trial or a mountain descent.

Blocking- Legally stopping or disrupting a rival’s effort, so that a teammate can make progress in a breakaway. You just ride slower in front of the rival rider.
Blow up- Sudden exhaustion due to overexertion.

Bonk- What happens when a rider does not eat or drink enough during a race or long training ride. The reaction is similar to what happens when a diabetic person suffers a drop in blood sugar levels.

Break or Breakaway- A group of riders (or solo rider) who have attacked and ridden away from the peloton*. This group of opponents will often work together knowing each has some chance of winning the race.

Broom Wagon- A bus or van that trails the peloton to sweep up abandoned riders after the team cars have gone. (In French Voiture Balai)

Bunch sprint- The high-speed dash for the line when the peloton stays together until the end of a race. The extreme effort is not for the faint-hearted. Speeds of up to 40 mph are possible.

Cadence- The speed at which the pedals turn, measured in Revolutions Per Minute (RPM). Inexperienced cyclists tend to ride in higher gears than they should, pedaling at a slower cadence. Most experienced cyclists pedal at cadences in the range of 70-90 RPM. This puts less strain on the joints, particularly the knees. Racing cyclists often use even higher cadences for bursts of acceleration.

Caravane Publicitaire- The publicity cavalcade where sponsors promote goods and hand out free samples. The Caravan precedes each stage into along the race route, giving sponsors of the TdF a chance to advertise.

Carte- French for map.

Chasing Down- Riders do this when a breakaway is up the road but their team is not represented in the lead group.

Chute- A fall or crash

Classic- Name given to the top class one-day races. These are the oldest spring and fall traditional races.

Col- A mountain pass.

Control Dopage- Drug testing. (see Dopage)

Cote- Any climb or hill, smaller than the large mountain climbs.

Criterium- A criterium race consists of many laps around a short course. The course may be a few city blocks. Criteriums are good for spectators, but less popular with racers. A criterium bicycle will often have a somewhat higher bottom bracket than a road-racing bicycle, to allow pedaling through the turns (there are a lot of turns in a criterium!). Criterium bicycles are designed with a particular eye to maneuverability, because the peloton in a criterium is likely to be large and dense.

Depart- The starting line of the race or stagge.

Derailleur- A mechanism for moving the chain from one sprocket to another to change gears on a multi-speed bicycle. A typical derailleur consists of a parallelogram that moves a cage. In the case of a rear derailleur, the cage will have two chain pulleys, a jockey pulley and a tension pulley. Different derailleurs have different capacities to handle different gear ranges.

Director Sportif (DS)- Team manager.

Domestique- French for servant - these are the lesser riders who fetch and carry for the team leaders, plus provide him shelter from the wind. Sometimes they are called water carriers. They sacrifice so their team leader can win.

Dopage- French for doping or drug use of any kind. Hence, use of "dope" to mean more than just the substances as it would for recreational users. (see Control Dopage)

Echelon- A formation of riders caused by a cross wind on a flat stage - riders form a diagonal-line across the road to shelter from the storm. The formation can causing massive problems for the rider who don’t get far enough forward and are forced to ride in the gutter or lose touch on the end. The echelon can decide a race if a split occurs.

Etape- Stage of the race, usually one day.

Flamme Rouge- A red kite-shaped banner or flag strung across road that marks 1 km to the finish line.

Following a wheel- The most crucial tactic in the sport of cycling is to conserve energy by riding directly behind another rider. Staying in the slipstream makes for big savings in effort, while riders will often share the load by circulating and each doing a turn on the front (see Pace Line).

Fork- The part of the frame set that holds the front wheel. It is usually refers to the front fork, the fork is attached to the main frame by the headset. The fork consists of the two blades that go down to hold the axle (the fork crown and the steerer). The term "rear fork" is sometimes used to refer to the part of the frame that holds the rear wheel.

General (overall) classification- The overall standings in the stage race on time or points.

Grand Boucle- The big loop, a French term referring to the Tour (loop) around France.

Green Jersey- (see Maillot Vert), the jersey awarded to the most consistent finisher in the Tour’s stages. Points are awarded for each stage position to calculate the leader. A sprinter, who can finish relatively high on mountain stages and time trials, usually takes it.

Hammering- Setting a very fast pace at the front of the race.

Haute Montagne- High Mountain.

Honking- Getting out of the saddle and standing up while climbing a mountain easier at first but then much harder

Hors Categorie (HC)- The highest category of a climb. Climbs are categorized on a scale from 4 (the easiest of the big climbs) to 1 (the more difficult of the big climbs). Hors Categorie climbs are beyond category; they are the hardest climbs in cycling.
Jump- A rapid acceleration, another word for attack.

Lantern Rouge- French for red lantern, as in what hangs off the back of a train.
In the TdF, it refers to the rider who is the lowest on general (overall) classification.

Leadout Man- The top domestique responsible for bringing a sprinter within meters of the race finish line, sheltering him from the wind until the final seconds of a race. Top sprinters will often take a trusted lead-out man to a new team as part of their contract

Maillot Jaune- Yellow Jersey: the race leader’s jersey. The color was chosen for the color of the page of the sponsoring newspaper, Le Auto. (see Yellow Jersey)
Maillot Pois- Polka Dot Jersey: King of the Mountains best climber’s jersey. It was first awarded in 1975. Poulain Chocolates, who wanted to advertise, sponsored the jersey. The Polka Dots came from the sponsor’s distinctive candy bar wrapper. Next to the Maillot Jaune, the Polka Dot Jersey has become the second most recognizable jersey in cycling. (see Polka Dot Jersey)

Maillot Vert- Green Points Jersey: the jersey is awarded to the sprinter who gains the most points for high finishes in the daily stages. The sponsor was the Belle Jardinier, a department store specializing in gardening products. Green was the predominate color of a garden, so they chose green as the symbolic color of their jersey. (see Green Jersey)

Musette- A bag of food handed out to the riders by team support midway (sometimes several times) through a stage. Feeding is so important in a long race that if you drop the mussette, you could bonk or knock.

Neutral service car- This car will give any rider a spare bike or wheel if his own team car is not nearby. This car usually follows the early part of a breakaway and services riders until their team car arrives.

Off the back- Riders who have been dropped by the main group (the peloton).
Pace Line- A group of cyclists riding close behind one another in a line, so that each cyclist can draft the cyclist on the front. The riders take turns pulling (riding on the front of the line breaking the wind) and drafting. A group of cyclists in a pace line can maintain a substantially higher speed than even the fastest of the group could do alone. (see peloton)

Peloton- French for main group, pack or field, a densely packed group of riders, sheltering in each other’s draft. In a mass-start race, most of the competitors usually end up in one large peloton for most of the race. The word is French, from a term that means rolled up in a ball.

Polka Dot Jersey- The jersey awarded to the King of the Mountains, the best climber. Each climb in the Tour has a category (see Hors Categorie) of fourth (easiest) to first, and then Hors Categorie, beyond category (the real monsters like Alpe d'Huez). Points are awarded to the winner of each climb; the harder climbs get the most points.

Poursuivants- Chaser(s), or group trying to catch leaders of a stage or race.

Radio Tour- Not a public station, it is broadcast by the TdF officials from a motorbike to keep commissaires, team managers, journalists and public broadcasters, to keep all informed of developments during the stage or race.

Rouleur- A rider that has a very smooth pedaling action, who is capable of riding at a steady tempo over long distances.

Route- The road or path of the race.

Slipstream- Where a rider always wants to ride as he follows another rider’s wheel. The slipstream makes the following rider’s effort easier.

Soigneurs- The riders’ assistants who give massages, hand up food and other items to team members. Festina's former employee Willy Voet was a soigneur until he was found transporting drugs during the 1998 TdF.

Sprint- An all-out burst of speed, usually at the end of a race or intermediate sprint for points.

Sprinter- The fastest men in the bunch over the final few meters of a stage. He is usually the slowest over a mountain climb.

Stage race- The Tour is one - they consist of various daily tests with the winner the rider with the lowest elapsed time for all stages.
Team car- Containing Director Sportif (team manager), mechanic, and soigneur. It follows the race, carrying the team’s spare bikes and wheels on top.

Tempo- The pace of the race or fast riding.
Tet de la Course- The head of the course (race): the rider(s) leading (in a breakaway) on the road at the time.

The knock- More polite word for the bonk.

Time Trial- (individual and team) a race in which competitors start one-at-a-time, usually at 30 second or one-minute intervals. The winner is the cyclist who completes the course in the shortest time. Since drafting is not allowed in an individual time trial, there are no team tactics; it is just the cyclist against the clock, hence the name "the race of truth."

There are also team time trials, usually involving teams of 4 or more. They allow the taking turns leading and drafting each other. Team time trials require great precision in rotating position within the team.

UCI- Union Cycliste Internationale (International Cycling Union), the worldwide governing body of road and track racing. The UCI is located in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Velo- French for "bicycle” commonly used as a root for compound words relating to cycling. (see velodrome)

Velodrome- An oval track, also known as a velodrome for bicycle racing. Track bicycles have steep angles, fixed gears, and no brakes. Common track events include match sprints, pursuits, motor-paced events and miss-and-out races. The Japanese variant, the Keirin, is a major betting event in Japan.

Ville etape- The town hosting stage start or finish.

Voiture Balai- French for the broom wagon, which sweeps up riders unable to continue through

Wheelsucker- A cyclist who drafts other cyclists without taking his or her share of pulling (turn breaking the wind on the front). Unpopular rider who sits behind another and never does any work on the front of a group.

Yellow Jersey- The jersey awardedto the man who completes the race in shortest time, the race leader. It was first handed out during the 1919 TdF to Eugene Christophe. Often copied by lesser races, but the Tour yellow is the true Golden Fleece of cycling.


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Cover Feature
Part 1: Milan-San Remo: The Beginning, The Development.

Part 2: Coppi's Grand Journey

Big Picture Trivia and Story
Tour de France History
CyclingRevealed Timeline
We've added entries for 1913-1919.
2005 Starts to Roll.
Team Support
Cycling-related information and links
Trivia Challenge
Tour de France Easy
Tour de France Hard
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