The word ‘peloton’ is used to describe the main group of riders in a road bicycle race. It is derived from the French language, in which it means ‘little ball’ or ‘platoon’. A group of riders may also be referred to as the pack, field or bunch, but peloton is the most commonly used term. The peloton travels as an integrated unit, however win contenders and sprinters often break away from the group to get ahead in the race.
The reason cyclists form a peloton is primarily to counter wind, comparative to birds flying in a ‘V’ formation. Riders will usually stay close together in order to reduce air resistance, allowing them to travel at a greater pace collectively.
The riders at the front of the peloton break the wind, effectively shielding riders at the back. This makes cycling easier, helping riders at the back conserve energy. Riders take turns leading the peloton, however team leaders will often stay near the front to gain better visibility and react to attacks. The direction of the wind effects the shape of the peloton:
Headwinds – Calls for the group to stretch out and riders to spend less time at the front of the peloton.
Tailwinds – Countered by the peloton bunching together and moving at a more rapid pace.
Side winds – The peloton will turn into a series of echelons.
The main purpose of riders within the peloton is to assist the team leader in achieving a win. Riders dedicated to doing so are called ‘domestiques’, meaning servant riders. Domestiques ensure they do whatever they can to help the team leader, including bringing food and water from the team car, shielding them from opponents and helping them with technical problems like fixing a puncture.
Due to riding in such close proximity to each other, collisions are not uncommon. Adjustments in the pack position and speed of the peloton are often the cause; any change at the front of the peloton is magnified further back, so riders at the back of the peloton must be quick to react to avoid crashing into other riders.
If one rider falls, it is often that they will take a few members of the peloton down with them. Falls can have painful consequences, and sometimes mean the end of a tour for badly hurt riders. You may have seen a peloton crash during this year’s Tour de France, such as Xabier Zandio (pictured left) and Chris Froome, whose crash during the 5th stage of the race left him unable to participate in the rest of the Tour.
Peloton Cycling Jewellery & Gifts
We’ve designed a jewellery piece based on the peloton – a ring depicting the pack as a collection of jerseys. This symbolises not only the group of riders, but also the element of teamwork and sportsmanship that being part of a peloton entails. For more details, click the image of the ring below.
This article is the first of a series intended to explain the exciting world of cycling to beginners. Next week: We explain the meaning behind the different jersey colours!