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Cycling Terminology

Here are some common terms you'll encounter in the world of cycling.

Attack
A sudden acceleration to move ahead of another rider or group of riders

Big Ringing It
A "big" gear – when the rider has his chain on the larger of the two front chainrings – allows a rider to go for maximum speeds. This gearing is most often used on ‑at or rolling terrain.

blocking
getting in the way of slow down in front of rival riders, to help a teammate get ahead on a breakaway.

Bonk
Total exhaustion caused by lack of sufficient food during a long race or ride.

Breakaway
One or more riders who sprint away from the peloton in an effort to build a lead. Competing riders in a breakaway will often form uneasy alliances, working together and drafting to increase or maintain their lead. Those alliances break down, though, as they approach the finish. A team leader in a breakaway with multiple teammates has a decided advantage over a rider who has no support.

Bridge
A rider or riders who sprint away from the main group of riders, or peloton, and catch the breakaway.

Broom Wagon
The vehicle that follows the race, picking up racers who have to abandon the race.

Caravan/Race Caravan
The official and team support vehicles in a race. Each team has a car in the official race caravan. The team cars follow the peloton and riders will often go back to their team car for food, extra clothing, or to speak to their team director.

Circuit Race
A multiple-lap race around a course of 2 miles or more. Circuit races are great crowd pleasers. The final stage of the 2007  Tour of California is a circuit race. If you're in or near Long Beach, CA on the 25th, don't miss it!

Clincher
A traditional bicycle tire that is mounted on a rim with a wire or kevlar bead. Clinchers are easy to replace or repair, but they and their rims tend to weigh more than a tubular.

Criterium
A multi-lap, one-day race on a closed, short course, typically one mile or less

Disc Wheel
A bicycle wheel with covers or a solid disc, rather than open spokes. Disc wheels are very aerodynamic, but heavy, and can turn into a sail in a strong crosswind.

DNF
Short for "Did Not Finish"

Domestique
A rider whose main job is to help the team leader win the day's stage, or the entire race. A domestique may pull the leader up to a breakaway, or pace them up a steep climb. If a team leader gets a flat, a domestique may even be called upon to give up their front or rear wheel and wait for the team mechanic, saving the leader precious seconds.

Drafting
One or more riders ride single file behind another rider, taking advantage of that rider's slipstream. By doing so the rider behind has less of a headwind and gets a breather. In a crosswind, riders may ride in a diagonal line, instead. Drafting is the lynchpin of most bicycle racing tactics. See also paceline.

Drop/Dropped
When a rider has been left behind by another rider or group of riders.

Echelon
A staggered, long line of riders, each downwind of the rider ahead, allowing them to move considerably faster than a solo rider or small group of riders. In windy sections where there are crosswinds, a large peloton will form into echelons.

Feed Zone
A designated area along the route where riders can grab "musette bags" filled with food and drinks as they ride by. There is an unwritten rule in the peloton that riders should not attack the ­field while the riders are going through the feed zone.

Field Sprint
A mass sprint at the ­finish among the main group of riders in a road race.

Gap
The amount of time or distance between a rider or group of riders and another rider or group of riders.

General Classification (G.C.)
The overall leader board in the race, representing each rider's total cumulative time in the race. The rider with the lowest time is number one on the G.C.

Gruppetto
A group of riders that forms at the back of the ­eld on mountain stages and ride at a pace that allows them to finish just inside the time limit. (see Time Cut.) Usually the gruppetto is comprised of sprinters and other riders who are not climbing specialists or race leaders. Gruppetto is Italian for "a small group".

Hammer
To ride hard. Also, to "put the hammer down"

Jump
A quick acceleration, which usually develops into a sprint.

King of the Mountains
The KOM is the fastest climber in the overall standings. King of the Mountain is awarded to the racer who has the best total time to the many KOM sprints in the Tour. Look for the KOM jersey in the race.

Lead Out
A racer's teammate(s) form a paceline in front of the leader, pulling hard for the finish. The supporting cast pulls off one at a time, leaving the leader rested and fast for the last sprint. Leadouts typically happen right before the finish line or sprint.

Mechanical
Slang for a problem with the bicycle. "He had a mechanical."

Mountain Climb Classifications
Large mountain climbs are normally classified according to their difficulty. Category 4 is the easiest, followed by Categories 3, 2, 1, and the Hors-Categorie (which is the hardest). Mountain climbs are classified according to their length and the average gradient of the road's incline.

Off the Back
When a rider or riders cannot keep pace with the main group and lag behind.

Off the Front
When a rider takes part in a breakaway.

Paceline
A formation of two or more riders who are drafting. Typically, racers take turns doing the hard work at the front of the line.

Peloton
The main group of racers. With its dozens of colorful jerseys, maneuvering for position and breakneck speeds, the peloton can be quite a site. Also called the pack.

Prologue
One type of beginning for a stage race, which is a relatively short time trial.

Popped
Blown; Had it; Knackered; Stuffed; Words used to describe the legs losing all power.

Puncture
Flat tire

Road Rash
Skin abrasions resulting from a fall or crash onto the road.

Saddle
The bike seat.

Schwag
The free stuff competitors get when they race. May include water bottles, jerseys, food, or more expensive toys.

Slipstream
The area of least wind resistance behind a rider.

Sprint
A quick scramble for the finish line or a mid-race king of the mountain or other competition. A professional road race sprint is fast, furious and tactical. Watch for riders to jockey for the second or third spot, or organize leadouts by their teammates.

Squirrel
A small rodent, but also a rider who is erratic and 'squirrely' when riding in a group.

Stage Race
A race comprised of multiple one-day races, or stages. The Tour of California is a stage race.

Team Leader
The rider for whom the team supports in order for the leader to win a stage or race

Technical
A descent or other portion of a race that is twisty, steep or otherwise challenging from the point of view of bike handling.

Time Cut
Mostly applicable to the Grand Tours. On each stage all riders must finish within a certain percentage of the winner's time to remain in the race. Those who are unable to make the cut are disqualified from the race.

Time Trial
Often called the Race of Truth, a time trial pits a rider or a team against the clock. Individual time trials are grueling affairs, with each rider expending maximum effort.

Train
A fast moving paceline of riders

Tubular
A high-performance racing tire with the inner tube sewn inside the tire. The tire is then glued to a low-profile rim. Tubulars offer weight and strength advantages, but are hard to fix and maintain. Plus a bad gluing job can mean a tire failure in a sharp turn, and an ugly crash. Also called sew-ups.

UCI
Union Cycliste Internationale, the international governing body of cycling.

USA Cycling
America 's governing body of cycling. USA Cycling supervises the activities of all cycling disciplines (road,mountain, track, cyclo-cross), and establishes criteria for the U.S. Olympic Cycling Team

Velo
French for "bicycle"

Wheelsucker
A somewhat dated term for someone who, while riding in a paceline, doesn't take a turn at the front of the line. These days they get called lots of other names. None are printable here.