Talk the talk: Here’s a glossary of cycling terminology.
Attack: A quick attempt by one rider to get away from the group or another rider.
Abandon: Quitting a race in progress.
Bidon: A bottle attached to the bike frame with a small metal receptacle containing water or another refreshing liquid. Not surprisingly, bidon is French for “water bottle.”
Big ringing it: Simply enough, it’s when the rider has his chain on the bigger of two front chainrings. This allows a cyclist to go for maximum speeds and is used on flatter terrain.
Blocking: When one rider purposely obstructs the path of other riders, typically as part of a team strategy to allow other team members to build a gap during a breakaway.
Bonk: Essentially meaning “out of gas,” or “hitting the wall,” another euphemism for running completely out of energy.
Bonus sprints (sprint lines): In a given stage, race organizers typically designate several points along the course where extra points are given to the first three riders to cross the line. The first Sprint Line in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge will be on Main Avenue in downtown Durango.
Breakaway: No dekes or 360 dunks here, but the idea is similar to other sports. It’s when a rider or group of riders pulls ahead and separates themselves from the main pack.
Bridge the gap: When one group or rider breaks away, the natural reaction of everyone else involved is to play catch-up. This term is used to define the moment when another rider or group catches the breakaway.
Caravan/race caravan: All those cars you see riding among the bikes typically carry officials or each team’s support group, which provide food, extra clothing, etc. Caravan is the collective term for those riding on four wheels.
Cadence: You know how cars measure how many times a piston turns per minute in the engine – i.e. RPMs? This is the cycling equivalent. It’s how many times in a minute a pedal stroke is completed.
Chamois: Pronounced “shammy,” in this case it’s not referring to the moisture-wicking towel used by swimmers and people washing and waxing cars. In cycling, it’s a soft, absorbent liner in the crotch of cycling shorts, padded for maximum comfort.
Chasers: Remember a little bit ago when we went over what it meant to bridge the gap? These are the riders attempting to do just that.
Criterium: A multi-lap race typically held on a shorter track that typically lasts for a set amount of time. Durango annually hosts one of these downtown on the Sunday of Iron Horse Bicycle Classic weekend.
Commissaire: Equivalent to other sports’ referees or judges, this is the person in charge of enforcing the rules in cycling. They’re typically seen with a copy of the rules, stopwatch and clipboard.
Circuit race: Essentially a longer criterium, it’s a multi-lap event on a course that’s usually two or more miles in length.
DNF: Did not finish
Domestique: A noble soul the big guns typically need to earn victory. It’s a rider who gives up any shot at individual honors to help the team leader who’s in contention to win.
Drafting: Commonly used in auto racing as well, this is when riders line up closely behind another rider to coast in the pocket of air his or her body creates, thus diminishing drag. The lead rider can expend up to 30 percent more energy than the riders behind him or her.
Dropped: Something any rider doesn’t want to be. This term is for when riders aren’t able to maintain the pace set by the lead pack, typically because they’re tired or have some kind of mechanical issue.
Echelon: A line of riders at the lead of the group who, in the interest of fairness early in the race, take turns at the front so each rider can get the most protection from the wind as possible.
Feeding: Even finely tuned athletic specimens get hungry from time to time. Cyclists often go to the team support car to pick up a pack, called a “musette,” which is full of food and water bottles, which they often empty into the pouches in the back of their jerseys. Riders typically favor high-energy foods that break down rapidly.
Field: The main group of riders, also known as a pack or peloton.
Field sprint: The final big push among a group of riders, not necessarily for the win.
Force the pace: Sometimes, one rider decides he has had enough of this snail’s pace, so he speeds up to increase the tempo of the pack.
Gap: Mind it. It’s the distance between individuals or groups.
General classification: The race’s overall leaderboard, representing each rider’s total time in the race. The lower the time, the higher the ranking.
Grand tour: The three three-week major stage races: Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España.
Grupetto: The group that usually forms at the back of the field on mountain stages, finishing just soon enough to beat the time limit (see also Time Cut). It’s usually made up of sprinters and other riders who don’t specialize in climbing. Also called an “autobus.”
Hammering: Pedaling steadily and strenuously.
Hammered: Exhausted. Worn out. Severely lacking any semblance of energy.
Hanging on: Barely keeping contact at the pack’s rear, i.e., in danger of being dropped.
Hook: Sometimes on purpose, sometimes not, it’s when a rider uses his rear wheel to clip the front wheel of the rider behind him.
Jump: A sudden burst of speed. It typically occurs at the beginning of the sprint, so expect to see this on more level terrain.
KOM: King of the Mountain. The top dog of climbing, if you will. The first KOM points line for the Pro Challenge is at the summit of Hesperus Hill.
Kick: The final burst toward the finish.
Lead out: Intentional and often selfless, it’s when one rider begins a sprint to give a head start to another rider, typically a teammate, who then slingshots around at an even quicker pace to take the lead.
Mass start: Any race in which every cyclist starts at the same time. Read: Not a time trial.
Mechanical: Cycling jargon for a mechanical problem with a bicycle. Usually not what any competitor wants to hear.
Mountain climb classification: Large mountain climbs normally come with a number attached. Category 4 is the easiest type, followed by 3, 2 and 1 in increasing order of difficulty. These numerical indicators of suffering are based off the length and average gradient of the climb.
Off the back: One or more riders who’ve failed to keep pace with the main pack.
Off the front: When a rider takes part in a breakaway, which is seemingly more preferable to the being off the back. Call it a hunch.
On the front: Not quite as fun as being off the front, but leading the peloton for an extended period of time would be suitable. This is the term for a rider doing just that.
Paceline: Another word for “echelon”.
Peloton: The main field or pack of riders. It’s a French word meaning “group moving forward,” which is convenient because nobody seems to win a race going backward.
Point to point road race: A one-day event in which the route goes from Point A to Point B. The top dog events of this nature are called Classics.
Popped: The term for when one’s legs lose all power. Not quite as fun to say as its synonym – knackered. Also called “blown,” “had it” and “stuffed.”
Prologue: Short time trial that starts off stage races.
Prime: Pronounced “preem.” It’s a race within a race in which cyclists can win prizes for leading a designated lap or at a particular part of a race. Popular in criteriums, including at last year’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, when one of the prizes was a John Elway trading card.
Pull: When a rider takes a turn in the front in order to cut the wind for the other riders in the pack. Usually this is standard practice and a pretty nice thing to do before the race gets late.
Pull off: Getting out of the way because it’s somebody else’s turn at the front. Nobody wants to be the guy stuck at the front the whole time.
Pull Through: Moving to the front of the paceline, from the second spot in line, after the lead rider swings off to the front.
Puncture: What you likely were expecting when you saw “popped” earlier. A flat tire.
Road rash: Large scrapes and cuts on a cyclist who has just taking a nasty tumble, usually on asphalt. What you may have referred to as “strawberries” as a kid, only on a much larger scale because, well, these folks are moving at a rapid pace on self-powered machines.
Saddle: The bike seat. Simple enough.
Sitting in: When one rider refuses to take a pull, which typically angers the other riders in the pack who are. Big time.
Sitting up: When a cyclist isn’t tucked in the most aerodynamic position. This happens most frequently during climbs because everybody needs to get some extra giddy-up, so they climb off the saddle to get a push.
Slipstream: The windless pocket of air created by drafting.
Soigneur: Pronounced “swaneur,” which is a fairly fancy way to describe what most of us on this side of the pond would call a trainer. They handle massages and help out with other medical maladies.
Sprint: A sudden thrust of speed toward the end of the race when more than one rider is involved.
Stage race: A series of individual races of varied types – time trials, road races, circuit races or criteriums – that make up one event that takes place over the course of several days. The lowest total time wins. It’s entirely possible to not win a single stage yet win the race overall, although stage wins typically are handy.
Switchback: A tight, twisting turn on the face of a mountain. One that makes you wonder, “How do those riders not just go flying off the side?”
Take a flyer: When a rider takes a solo run off the front of the pack. Sometimes the cyclist succeeds in pulling away for good, sometimes not.
Team captain: The head honcho, the person in charge, the big kahuna. The person directing a team’s strategy during the race and typically the most experienced rider of the bunch.
Team car: This car typically contains spare bike tires, food, drinks, medical supplies and is basically one-stop shopping for a rider’s in-race needs. How there aren’t more collisions between these and the cyclists is a mystery.
Team director: An even bigger head honcho, person in charge and big kahuna. This person manages the tactics during the race and picks the riders for each race as well as deciding which races the team will participate in.
Team leader: The rider designated as the team’s best chance to win a particular event, stage or jersey.
Tempo: A brisk speed. These folks tend to be pretty fast. Trust us.
Time trial: An individual race against the clock. Often, riders will use different wheels and wear more aerodynamic gear for these events. The helmets must be more aerodynamic, because they sure aren’t much of a fashion statement.
UCI: Union Cicliste Internationale. These folks run the show as the sport’s foremost governing body. Best to not get on their bad side.
USA Cycling: The official governing body of American cycling. These are the folks that establish the criteria for who does and doesn’t make the Olympic team and monitor all cycling disciplines.
USCF: U.S. Cycling Federation. This group monitors amateur road and track racing in America and is contained under the USA Cycling umbrella.
USPRO: U.S. Professional Cycling. The USCF’s professional cousin.
Velo: French for bike. Take it from us, there’ll be a lot of these hitting town.