Cycling jargon is all Greek to some people. That’s due not only to the many technical terms used to describe the parts of a bicycle, but also to the figurative expressions that characterise the language of the cycling world. To make things easier for you, we’ve summarised some of the most common and unusual terms you might come across – including French and Italian ones, of course!
Meaning: The most important and challenging stage in a stage race. It almost always takes place in high mountain terrain and often decides the overall standings.
Translations: Ger. Königsetappe, Fr. l’étape reine, Ital. la tappa decisiva
Meaning: The group of cyclists out in front during a race.
Translations: Ger. Spitzengruppe, Fr. le groupe de tête, Ital. il gruppo di testa
Meaning: The group containing the most cyclists.
Translations: Ger. Hauptfeld, Fr. le peloton, Ital. il gruppo (compatto)
Meaning: A cyclist who builds up a lead over the other participants in the race by suddenly increasing their speed. This also forms the basis for the term ‘breakaway group’.
Translations: Ger. Ausreisser, Fr. le coureur échappé, Ital. il fuggitivo
Meaning: Usually refers to small, slim cyclists who are able to navigate steep and long mountain passes particularly well.
Translations: Ger. Bergziege, Fr. le grimpeur, Ital. lo scalatore
Meaning: A cyclist who always rides in the slipstream of a teammate and never takes their turn at the front of the group.
Translations: Ger. Hinterradlutscher, Fr. the verb ‘sucer la roue’ is mainly used, Ital. il succhiaruota (verb: stare a ruota)
Meaning: A cyclist who is able to maintain a high speed for long periods in a road race. Rouleurs are often excellent time trialists.
Translations: Ger. Rouleur, Fr. le rouleur, Ital. il passista
Meaning: Sprinters are the powerhouses in the peloton (the main pack of cyclists). They can sprint the final 200 metres to win a stage or a race.
Translations: Ger. Sprinter, Fr. le sprinteur, Ital. il velocista
Meaning: Every cycling team competing in a tour or a one-day race has a captain (usually the cyclist with the best chance of success). The captain is supported by their teammates during the race.
Translations: Ger. Kapitän, Fr. le leader, Ital. il capitano
Meaning: A cyclist who could do well in the race but instead works to help their captain be successful.
Translations: Ger. Edelhelfer, Fr. l’équipier, Ital. il gregario
General classification rider
Meaning: A cyclist who is skilled enough to be able to achieve a good position in the overall standings.
Translations: Ger. Klassementfahrer, Fr. le coureur du général, Ital. il leader di classifica générale
Meaning: A cyclist who supplies their teammates – especially the captain – with the drinks that they need during the race.
Translations: Ger. Wasserträger, Fr. le porteur d’eau (this term is no longer common in French; the more general term ‘équipier’ is usually used instead), Ital. il portatore d’acqua
Meaning: Strong sidewinds make it difficult for cyclists to slipstream, which is why they form an aerodynamic diagonal row together – an echelon – across the road.
Translations: Ger. Windstaffel, Fr. l’éventail, Ital. il ventaglio
Meaning: In a road race, the broom wagon drives behind the pack, ‘sweeping up’ the cyclists who are unable to finish the race. Cyclists who retire to the broom wagon due to exhaustion, illness or injury have to give up their start number.
Translations: Ger. Besenwagen, Fr. la voiture-balai, Ital. il carro scopa
Meaning: A bonk kicks in when all carbohydrate reserves in the muscle cells and liver are fully depleted. It results in low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia), which causes a big drop in performance.
Translations: Ger. Hungerast, Fr. la fringale, Ital. la crisi di fame
Meaning: A red triangle telling the cyclists they have 1,000 meters to go before the finish line.
Translations: Ger. Teufelslappen, Fr. la flamme rouge, Ital. il triangolo rosso
Of course, there are also some Swiss expressions for which no direct translation exists. The funniest ones are listed below:
Meaning: A negative term used by cyclists to describe very thin road bike tyres.
Meaning: Common term for a banana.
Es Praliné setze
Meaning: When a cyclist goes on the attack and pulls away from the pack at high speed.
Im Chueche fahre
Meaning: To ride in the main pack.
Cover image via Tour de Suisse