Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

Marco Marcato: Why I love being UAE Team Emirates' 'domestique'

Each week a cyclist from UAE Team Emirates writes for The National, providing insight from the UCI World Tour and offering their thoughts on the season

UAE Team Emirates cyclist Marco Marcato says he is happy with his role as a 'domestique'. Bettini Photo
UAE Team Emirates cyclist Marco Marcato says he is happy with his role as a 'domestique'. Bettini Photo

As anyone who has ever watched professional cycling on TV will tell you, the commentary is peppered with French words or phrases that describe various elements of bike racing.

The peloton, which translates to "ball" in French, is the main bunch of riders tightly grouped together on the road. Echelon, which means "rung of a ladder", is used to describe the shape of the peloton when it hits cross winds. "Parcour" is used in place of the English word terrain when describing the characteristics of the route we ride. And finally "domestique" – this is the name given to the riders in the peloton that work for the benefit of the team. They sacrifice their own ambitions of individual success to ensure that their team leader has the best possible chance of winning the race.

It’s selfless. it’s unglamorous. It’s never rewarded with a personal victory. And it’s what I love doing for UAE Team Emirates.

The word domestique actually translates into English as "servant". And, at times, I can feel like one.

As the TV cameras focus on the breakaway or the superstar riders in the peloton, the domestiques will be dropping back to the team cars to pick up water bottles and energy gels – or maybe some wet weather gear – and then we’ll pace ourselves all the way up to the front of the race to distribute the goods.

At other times our role means we have to physically protect our team leaders by guiding them through the stress of the peloton like bodyguards on bikes. We help them get to the relative safety of the front of the bunch – and then we sit in the wind, allowing the "chosen one" to draft in our slip stream and reserve their energy for the fast finish or the next big mountain climb.

Despite how it looks from the outside, cycling is a team sport. It’s just won on behalf of the team by the guy that crosses the line first. For us, that’s often Alexander Kristoff or Fernando Gaviria. They get to raise their hands as they cross the line, stand on the podium, slip on a leaders jersey and get mobbed by the media and the fans – but they don’t get to do that without having the best domestiques – or as we say in Italian "gregario" - around them.

This week, I head to Spain as a team domestique for the final Grand Tour of the season; the Vuelta a Espana. It’s the second time I’ve ridden the race and it will be my 11th Grand Tour since my first Vuelta in 2009.

We kick off in Torrevieja on Saturday with a team time trial and finish on September 15 in Madrid. In between those two dates there will be 21 days of intense stage racing. Eight of the stages feature uphill finishes, so I will have my work cut out. As a team we’ll be working for two world-class riders: Gaviria and Fabio Aru. Gaviria has four or five chances to take a win on the sprint stages and Aru will be hunting stages in the steep mountains – as well as keeping one eye on the GC, or General Classification.

This year it’s going to be an open race as there are no favourites. The big Grand Tour winners such as Chris Froome, Tom Dumoulin, Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal and Vincenzo Nibali won’t be lining up at the start – so we can expect to see lots of fireworks and aggressive racing from all the teams right from the off. We’ve had two amazing Grand Tours already this season, and I don’t think the Tour of Spain will disappoint.

So, when you tune in and watch Gaviria putting the hammer down in the sprints, or Aru dropping people on the climbs – spare a thought for the domestiques of UAE Team Emirates riding in the "grupetto" at the back. Our jobs will have been done for the day and we’ll be saving our legs for the next stage when we will, once again, lay it all on the line for our leaders, our jersey and our fans.

Updated: August 21, 2019 03:17 PM

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