noun - A domestique is a road bicycle racer who works for the benefit of his team and leader. The French domestique translates as "servant". The word was coined in 1911, although such riders had existed before then. Its equivalent in the open water can be considered a Swim buddy, teammate or even a Swim Angel.
Much of a cyclist's effort is to push aside the air in front of him. Riding in the slipstream of another rider is easier than taking the lead. The difference increases with speed. Racers have known this from the start and have ridden accordingly, often sharing the lead between them. From there it is a small step to employing a rider to create a slipstream while his leader rides behind him.
The same concepts apply in the open water where leading swimmers cut through the water ahead of the trailing (drafting) swimmers, making it easier for the swimmer(s) behind.
The word was first used in cycling as an insult for Maurice Brocco, known as Coco, in 1911. 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, he next day 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 organiser 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 bring water and food from team cars and shield teammates from opponents. They help teammates with mechanical disasters – should the leader puncture a tire, the domestique will cycle in front to create a slipstream allowing him to reclaim their position. A domestique may also sacrifice his bicycle or wheel.
Domestiques race in the interest of the team, or against opposing teams. By putting themselves in a breakaway they force other teams to chase. In turn, they chase a breakaway that threatens their team.
Domestiques lead out sprinters by letting them 'draft' behind to conserve energy until the last few hundred meters. The lead-out train sometimes starts 10–15 km to the finish with up to eight domestiques setting a pace to discourage others from breaking away. One by one, worn-out teammates drop off. The last to lead a sprinter is often a good sprinter himself. The sprinter will launch into a dash to the line with one or two hundred meters to go.
In mountainous races, domestiques help their leaders by setting a pace or thwarting attacks from others.