A Quick Peek at the Ultimate Domestique

Team Time Trial--2009 Tour de France Image Credit: AFP

Who are these riders who give their all in support of the team and its superstar cyclists? Who are the domestiques?

Let’s make no mistake here, all pro-peloton domestiques are super talented riders.  They’ve won races throughout their careers and show great promise.

Of course, they have to be that good.  If they weren’t great cyclists, they’d never come anywhere close to being considered for a Pro-Tour team.  Nor would they be part of that chosen few who support the team in the big races, the Giro, Vuelta, the Tour de France.  It’s the pinnacle, the place where all great cyclist aspire to be.

Through this blog I’d like to spotlight these riders, look at some history of how domestiques and tactics have developed, and maybe do a few profiles of current and retired domestique riders. In the meantime, maybe we can also get a few “surprise” guests to blog about their experiences as professional riders and domestiques.

First though, I really want to start with an ideal, a model of what I think has evolved into the Ultimate Domestique.  This is the rider with exceptional, star talent who choses to ride in support of the team instead of inflating his own palmarès.

Yes, it is true.  Most of cycling’s superstars started their careers as domestiques-carrying water bottles, blocking the wind, protecting the star rider, then they developed.  Lance did, Boonen did, even Contador did. And some of today’s top riders still play both roles, in a sort of super domestique way: stars in some races, support in others.

But occasionally, through circumstances of team or timing, a rider will fulfill the supreme supporting role–that of the Ultimate Domestique.  An outstanding rider, one who could easily be a superstar on a different, lesser team, yet he is someone who choses to be part of something bigger. The Ultimate Domestique is that star cyclist who choses to ride and give his all in support of another and help the team win a major Tour!

So, who is my choice?  Which rider epitomizes that role of the Ultimate Domestique?  Hands down, it’s  Andreas Klöden.

Andreas Klöden Photo Credit: Team RadioShack

An outstanding rider in his own right, Kloden’s individual talents on the bike are really pretty darn impressive.  Twice he’s finished second at the Tour de France (2004, 2006), won at Paris-Nice (2000), and brought home a Bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.   Yet, he’s chosen time and time again to spend his career with the some of the world’s best teams (Team Telekom/T-Mobile, Astana) riding in support of the most heralded superstars of  this generation–Ullrich, Armstrong, and Contador. And much to the frustration of those covetous Team Directors who would love to pay him to come be the big star on their teams.

Klöden has used his talent and stamina to support his team leader through the mountains, in the time trials, and through the grueling weeks of a Grand Tours with the focus on the Tour win for the team.  Once again it looks like Klöden will quietly operate away from the intense glare of the spotlight and continue to play his role as the ultimate domestique, this year with his new Team RadioShack.

Having seemingly been dropped from the media’s tentacles, Klöden rarely gives an interview anymore–which is a shame, because among other things he seems like he’d be a pretty fun guy to get to know.  Instead he allows his performance on the bike to speak for itself, but that probably says more than dozens of interviews ever could.

So, while I think we may get lucky and see a few more individual accolades before Klöden retires from professional cycling, one thing appears to be certain, he’s discovered his place and he seems happy.  Andreas Klöden has found his cycling balance as the ultimate team player — the Ultimate Domestique.

Photo Courtesy of Team RadioShack

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