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Tour de France: The Pro-Team Tactics Explained

By We Love Cycling

Whether you’re going for the general classification of Yellow Jersey, the King of the Mountain Dots, or you’re taking stages for the Green, you need your team to keep you going. Here is an overview of Le Tour tactics.

The domestiques must protect your leader

The domestique riders work twice as hard as the contenders for 90% of the race, both physically and mentally. This makes them hard as nails, but they’re effectively disposable as they’re not expected to win.

Domestiques carry the water for the other riders, keep watch for potholes, protect the
leader from the wind, and provide defensive muscle in the jostling for position. They get their leader to the right place at the right time.

Conserve energy by staying close

The sooner a team is together the less energy they need to spend later in the race, so teams jostle to dominate the front of the peloton early on.

Every time you double your speed on a bike, you need eight times the physical effort to push air out the way. The domestiques create a wall to shelter the leader who rides in the slipstream.

It’s a risky business staying within millimetres of your domestique’s back wheel which is why you see crashes in tour cycling. The benefit? You reduce your effort by up to 80%.

Fight the headwind

When there’s a headwind the teams all clump together in a pellet (“peloton”). The domestiques take it in turns at the front and circulate around the leader to offer them protection from the wind.

Crosswinds leave a team vulnerable

If the wind blows from the side, you’ll see the peloton split into diagonal lines across the road in an echelon formation. During a crosswind, teams are vulnerable when they become split across two echelons, especially if their team leader is in the wrong echelon.

If a team realises they’re together and another team is split, the team will attack.

Mountain climbs are for specialists

The King of the Mountain competition is the only jersey that can reliably be won by an individual effort. Understandably, the cyclists aren’t up the Alps fast enough for wind resistance to be an issue, so any team mate hanging on to the specialists are only there to offer moral support and carry water until they run out of gas.

Unleash the Sprinters

The aim of a team looking to get their contender in the Green Jersey is to keep their main man on a leash until the sprint finish line is in sight. A lead-out rider will exhaust all their energy until the last few hundred metres, getting the sprinter into place. A quality sprinter may just abandon his own team in favour of slip streaming the fastest rider, until digging deep for his own sprint to the finish.

Making a break for it

At some point a lone rider or several together will break from the rest of the peloton and get several minutes ahead of the competition.

No one believes a breakaway will succeed because there’s less protection from the wind, so most of the time the peloton easily catches them up.

But when a breakaway succeeds, it’s something special – you may wreck yourself with the effort, but breakaways are how legends are born.