A Guide To Competitive Cycling Terms

Every year, cyclists around the world turn to Europe for the three Grand Tours and a host of smaller events. Read on to learn a few of the terms used so you won’t feel out of place wearing your yellow jersey.

Cyclists in a Peloton

The Peloton on a Group Ride

If you’re interested in professional cycling, here’s a quick primer to the terms and events that you might hear about.

  • bicyle sproket address plaque

    A Sprocket for an Address Plaque

    Stage Race: Each day, the riders have to cover a certain course established by the race directors. These range from short stages (less than an hour) to very long (more than 6 hours). The winner is the rider who completes the course in the smallest cumulative time.

  • Tour de France: Considered the biggest of the big. This is the premier Grand Tour and the race that road cyclists dream of. It is a multiday stage race that goes around France and finishes in Paris with laps around the Champs Elysees. The leader of the race at the beginning of the stage wears a yellow jersey (known as the maillot jaune- it is France, after all).
  • Address plaque for mtb, mountain biking enthusiasts

    Plaques for Road or MTB Enthusiasts

    Giro d’Italia: Tour of Italy. One of the Grand Tours. Less history than the Tour de France, but highly regarded. Occurs before the Tour and many of the riders in the Giro do not ride the Tour.

  • Vuelta A Espana: Tour of Spain. The youngest of the three Grand Tours. Occurs after the Tour de France. The leader now wears a red jersey. This started in 2010, so you may still hear references to the Golden Jersey, which was replaced by the red jersey.
  • Peloton: During the race, all of the riders will start in a group. This group is the peloton. The riders stay in a group for a few reasons, but the most obvious is drafting. When a large group of riders stays together, the second line doesn’t have to work as hard because the first line is already cutting through the air.
  • Breakaway: A group of riders or a single rider that goes away from the peloton. Breakaways almost always form during long stages, but because the peloton can ride faster, they have a chance of being caught. A flat stage has fairly high odds of a breakaway being caught, while mountainous stages have higher odds of staying away.
  • Attack: A rider tries to rider away from the peloton. If an attack succeeds, it becomes a breakaway.
  • Mountain Classification: Points are awarded for being the first one to summit a mountain on the course. At the end of each day, the leader in this competiton is awarded a jersey. Each Grand Tour has a different one.
  • Sprint or Points Classification: Points are awarded for being the first one to go through a checkpoint. Again, the leader in this competition is given a jersey. Certain riders will focus solely on this competition and not try to win overall.
  • Lanterne Rouge: The Red Lantern. Dead last in the Tour de France. It’s tricky to do because there are time cut-offs that you must hit. If you finish a stage too slowly, you are not allowed to continue on.
  • Time Trial: Riders ride a short course, usually less than an hour as fast as they can. There is sometimes a team time trial as well, where an entire team rides together. What is notable about the team time trials is the fact that it’s the fifth-place rider who gives the team its time, not first.
  • Teams: Riders ride with a team consisting of nine other riders. Teams are either sponsored by companies or are national teams. Every year, riders change teams and teams change names. One of the most famous American teams was sponsored by US Postal Service and then the Discovery Channel.
  • Domestiques: The riders you’ve never heard off, with a few exceptions. The domestiques are the workmen of teams. They are the ones who guide the team leaders to the finish line and set pace so that the leader doesn’t have to. If a person wins a Grand Tour, it was on the backs of the domestiques. One of the most famous American domestiques is George Hincapie.
  • Cracking: When a rider dramatically drops off pace. The equivalent of hitting the wall, but it’s most commonly used with the overall contenders for the race. If a rider cannot respond to an attack, he is usually considered to have cracked.
  • Doping: A huge problem for cycling. It’s a blanket term for taking any sort of illegal drug. The most common drugs are EPO, steriods, and painkillers. On top of drugs, there are also blood transfusions that increase the number of red blood cells. Of the past 10 winners of the Tour de France, only three have not had any accusations of doping.

We hope that this quick primer helps you understand more about cycling and road racing.

Love This? Go Tell it on a Mountain!