I have to admit, I’d never really considered the domestique as a glorious position. Whenever I imagined the grand tours, I always revered the Lance Armstrongs, Carlos Sastres, or the like… The heads of the team, the leaders.
For those not well versed in cycling terminology, a domestique is:
A road bicycle racer who works for the benefit of his team and leader.
Domestiques bring water and food from team cars and shield team-mates from opponents. They help teammates with mechanical disasters – should the leader puncture, the domestique will cycle in front to create a slipstream allowing them to reclaim their position. A domestique may sacrifice his bicycle or wheel.
Domestiques race in the interest of the team, or against opposing teams. By putting themselves in a breakaway they force other teams to chase. In turn, they chase a breakaway that threatens their team.
After reading a short post by Padraig on Belgium Knee Warmers, my opinion of the humble domestique has definitely warmed. He opened my eyes to the silent honor of a good domestique. From the post:
In watching other riders play the role of draft horse, I was filled with a sense of nationalistic pride; as if taking a bullet at the front of the field was an act of patriotism. The more ignominious the finish, the more self-confident and solid the ride was. Seeing a rider finish five or ten minutes down on the field, but roll in relaxed, without the frantic pedaling of someone showing off for the cameras is large-scale PRO. Soft pedaling across the line means you are secure you’ve done your job well, very well.
It’s a quick read that also highlights the delicate relationship between domentique and team leader as well. I’d suggest giving it a gander.