Tour de France: 'Domestiques' prove there is no I in team

Updated 4:23 AM ET, Thu July 20, 2017

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Story highlights

  • Domestiques sacrifice themselves for team leader
  • Some go on to win the Tour de France

(CNN)Rarely is the phrase "'there's no I in team" more pertinent than when talking about the Tour de France.

While the leading riders of each team are the ones battling it out for glory and the highly-coveted yellow jersey, behind them are a host of cyclists sacrificing themselves for the cause.
These selfless riders -- called "domestiques," which translates literally as "servants" -- do everything in their power to make life as easy as possible for the main men.
From dropping back and offering their leader a slipstream to catching and reeling in breakaway riders, none of their physical exertions are for personal gain.
The term was first coined as an insult in 1911 by Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange.
Cyclist Maurice Brocco -- who failed to finish any of his six Tours between 1908-1914 -- lost time on the fifth stage in 1911, thus ending his hopes of winning.
The following day, he sacrificed himself and dropped back to help fellow rider François Faber, who was on the verge of being eliminated due to his slow pace.
Desgrange -- then also a chief judge -- originally planned to disqualify Brocco but decided against it through fear the cyclist would appeal to world cycling's ruling body.
    Instead, Desgrange opted to deride Brocco, writing: "He is nothing more than a domestique."
    The following day, Brocco -- determined to prove Desgrange wrong -- caught and passed yellow jersey wearer Gustave Garrigou on one mountain, before passing two more riders on the next.
    With Desgrange watching, Brocco eventually won the stage by 34 minutes.
    Though the concept was used long before 1911, Desgrange's phrase stuck and has been used ever since.
    His run-in with Brocco was another factor behind Desgrange's decision to change the Tour's format from being run by individual cycling brands and instead be raced by national teams -- thus enhancing the need for and reputation of domestiques.
    However, domestiques do sometimes get their moment in the sun.
      Current Tour leader and three-time winner Chris Froome was Bradley Wiggins' domestique in 2012, while three-time winner Greg Lemond was "servant" to five-time winner Bernard Hinault.

      History of the Tour de France

      There have been four cyclists who have won the tour five times:
      - Jacques Anquetil of France (1957 and 1961-1964)
      - Eddy Merckx of Belgium (1969-1972 and 1974)
      - Bernard Hinault of France (1978-1979, 1981-1982, and 1985)
      - Miguel Indurain of Spain (1991-1995), the first competitor to win five consecutive races.
      Lance Armstrong held the record for most Tour de France wins (seven) but he was stripped of those wins in 2012.
      France has won more times than any other country. (36)
      Three Americans have won: Greg LeMond (1986, 1989, 1990), Lance Armstrong (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005) and Floyd Landis (2006). Both Armstrong and Landis have had their titles stripped due to allegations of doping.


      1903 - Henri Desgrange, a reporter and cyclist, creates the Tour de France.
      1903 - Maurice Garin of France is the first cyclist to win the race.
      1910 - First time the race goes through the Pyrenees.
      1989 - Greg Lemond defeats Laurent Fignon by 8 seconds, the smallest margin of victory so far.
      1999-2005 - Lance Armstrong wins seven times in a row.
      2003 - The 100th Anniversary, but not the 100th race (the race was canceled 11 times during WWI and WWII).
      September 20, 2007 - Floyd Landis, winner of the 2006 Tour de France, is stripped of his title when an arbitration panel rules in favor of the USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency). Landis, the first Tour de France winner stripped of the title, initially maintained his innocence but later admitted to doping and accused others, including Armstrong, of doing the same.
      October 22, 2012 - The International Cycling Union announces that Armstrong is being stripped of his Tour de France titles and is being banned from professional cycling for life.
        October 26, 2012 - The International Cycling Union announces that no one will be declared the winner of the Tour de France from 1999-2005, after Armstrong is stripped of his titles.