Word of the Month: Domestique


David Zapatka

Last month we discussed the word “chicane” used in describing an obstacle on the Tour de France racecourse. Our word this month is “domestique,” used to describe a rider in the Tour de France.

Domestique noun do·mes·tique dō′mĕs-tēk′ (Cycle Racing) (in competitive road cycling) a cyclist whose job is to support the higher-ranking members of the team, by carrying water, cycling in front to allow a team member to ride in one’s slipstream, acting as a pacemaker, etc.

Origin and etymology—French meaning domestic.

First used—The word was first used in cycling as an insult for Maurice Brocco, known as Coco, in 1911.

Domestique used in a sentence:

The book detailed his life as a domestique on the cycling circuit.

An average domestique might make $50,000, a good climber $250,000, and a serious Tour de France contender $1 million.

He was good enough to be a featured rider on some other teams, but joined Postal as the world’s best domestique.

Yesterday he won a stage, but today he will be back to domestique service as the race heads into the mountains.

Domestique in the news:

“Even in this emerging generation of impulsive superstars, who sometimes don’t look like they need much of a helping hand, the role of the domestique remains a vital and respected one.” —Cycling News, Nov. 12, 2021

“Henderson might have started off the year as a domestique, but by midseason, she had more than proved herself worthy of a leadership role.” —Cycling News, Nov. 12, 2021

The rest of the story:

“Brocco started six Tours de France between 1908 and 1914, finished none of them, although a stage he won in 1911 caused the coining of domestique. Brocco’s chances in 1911 ended when he lost time on the day to Chamonix. Unable to win, the next day he offered his services to other riders, for which he had a reputation. François Faber was in danger of being eliminated for taking too long and the two came to a deal. Brocco waited for Faber and paced him to the finish. Henri Desgrange, the organizer and chief judge, wanted to disqualify him for breaking the rules. But he had no proof and feared Brocco would appeal to the national cycling body, the Union Vélocipédique Française. He limited himself to scorn in his newspaper, L’Auto, writing: ‘He is unworthy. He is no more than a domestique.’

Domestiques had long been accepted in other races. Desgrange believed the Tour should be a race of individuals and fought repeatedly with the sponsors and bicycle factories, who saw it otherwise. Desgrange got rid of the factories’ influence only by reorganizing the Tour for national teams in 1930, with the effect that he thereby acknowledged teamwork and therefore domestiques.”—Wikipedia

Etymology is fascinating, domestique being a prime example.

Please submit any experiences you have had or any word you may like to share, along with your insights, and comments to [email protected].