I picked this article to give some credit to the domestique work Ryder Hesjedal has done for his Garmin teammates during this tour …
The unsung heroes of the road
Joe O’Connor, National Post
Published: Friday, July 24, 2009
He was known as King René, but really, the French regarded René Vietto more like a saint, a noble being who was both pure of heart and driven by a selfless desire to sacrifice everything for someone else.
Vietto was just a simple busboy from Cannes, with an unrefined talent for bicycle racing, when the French national team summoned him to be a domestique – or servant – for their great champion, Antonin Magne, in the 1934 Tour de France.
The French critics were aghast. They cried that the kid was too young and inexperienced to be a loyal rider whose sole purpose would be to fight not to win the race but to make sure Magne did.
But a funny thing happened when the Tour entered the mountains. The busboy from Cannes had springs for legs, and astonishing lungs, and beetled up the staggering steeps leaving the rest of the competition behind. Vietto was in third place overall and perhaps on his way to claiming the yellow jersey in Paris when duty intervened in the Pyrenees.
“It turned out Vietto was a sensational climber, and he was out-climbing Magne in the mountains,” says Owen Mulholland, an author, columnist and cycling historian from the San Francisco Bay area. “There was one point in the race where the team car comes up to Vietto and tells him Magne has crashed. So Vietto turns around and rides back up the mountain to give his bike to his team leader. This guy had a chance to win the Tour de France and he gave it up for his leader – and he gave it up by riding the wrong way back up the course.”
King René never won a Tour, although his sacrifice for Magne, who eventually did, remains the gold standard for what it means to be a domestique. Vietto was revered for what he did that day. It made him into a king, and his roadside grave on a mountain pass near his hometown is a holy shrine for cycling fanatics.
The domestic life may not sound like such a glamourous existence, but then, how does this sound: living in Europe, riding around on a bike and, if you are good at sacrificing yourself for someone else’s glory, getting paid several hundred thousand dollars a year to do it?
Steve Bauer earned even more than that for being a team leader-cum-domestique for Motorola in the early 1990s. Affectionately known as Le Canadien around France, Bauer finished fourth in the 1988 Tour. He wore the yellow jersey for 14 days and completed 11 Tours in all. Bauer was also a domestique for winning teams in 1985 (Bernard Hinault of France) and 1986 (Greg Lemond of the United States).
Le Canadien never had La Problème with being a helper instead of the headliner. It was just part of being a professional rider.
“You do it with pride,” Bauer says. “I look at North American sports and without a solid team the individual is nothing. And without a solid team in cycling, you cannot win.”