It may come as a surprise to learn that cycling is a team sport. Few riders could compete in a race as long as the Amgen Tour of California on their own.
In a typical pro race, teams have 8-12 riders on the start line. Each team has its own game plan for winning, and like pieces on a chess board, each rider plays a different role in that game plan.
Most teams have one leader. His teammates play the role of domestiques, who sacrifice their own chances of winning in support of their team leader. A domestique is the “worker ant” of the team; protecting the leader from the wind, chasing down breakaway riders, fetching food or clothing for the leader, and even sacrificing their bike’s parts to give to their leader if he has a mechanical problem. Understanding this team aspect in cycling will make watching the Amgen Tour of California even more exciting.
One of the most crucial concepts in team racing is drafting. Riders can conserve energy by riding in the slipstream of another cyclist. As a result, teams try to surround their leader with teammates, keeping him out of the wind and fresh to attack at the right moment.
Different formations can increase the energy-saving benefits of drafting, and wind can necessitate a variety of drafting formations. In a headwind, the best formation is a long straight line that is called a paceline. In a crosswind, riders will form staggered, diagonal lines that are known as echelons.
Teams also develop complex strategies to win specific stages and the “races within races,” such as points for King of the Mountain or Sprint competitions. Not only do teams designate a leader for the overall race, but many also select riders to vie for the best sprinter and best climber titles.