Anatomy of a Tour team: The four key roles

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The sprinter

THE sprinter can clean up on flat stages which inevitably result in mass finishes, but a fast finisher can also help in damage limitation when rivals try to cut back their time losses at the intermediate sprints and finishes. At these points in the daily race, time deductions of a few seconds are awarded to the first three, and their total race time is reduced by that amount. If a team leader has an advantage of a few seconds a smart sprinter can spoil any attempts to reduce it. Often an in-form sprinter, such as the Italian Mario Cipollini, wears the yellow jersey of Tour leader in the early days before the serious battling begins. A sprinter's favourite colour is green, the jersey shade of the most consistent finisher.

The domestique

AS the name suggests, the servants of the team. They fetch drinks, food and clothing, anything the boss may want at the front of the field. That means falling back to their team car, collecting the necessities, and then racing forward to hand it out. They can have a harder day than anyone, and if a rider is the same size as his leader he may have to give up his bike when the leader's machine lets him down. Sometimes they are left to nurse home a sick or injured teammate. Such rescues often put them 30 minutes behind the day's winner, but many riders have made a career out of this unselfish role. When such a rider has his morale hammered constantly, a major part of his character is that of the team joker.

The climber

They are known as the jockeys of the Tour. Lightweight and nimble in the Alps and the Pyrenees, a team leader uses these men to recapture any dangerous escapees, or promote an attack that could give him an easy day. They are the left and right hand of an ambitious team leader, and ride beside him over the mountain passes, ready for any threat. Some leaders have few fears about climbing mountain roads, but when the attacking is at its fiercest it is reassuring to have the experts on hand. A climber's reward is the red polka dot jersey, but like sprinters many sacrifice themselves to help their No 1 to overall success. As strong as Miguel Indurain is, he will rely heavily on the uphill talents of

Vicente Aparicio and Marino Alonso.

The all-rounder

THE powerhouse riders. Often to keep the field together and to give their sprinters every chance at a finish these men will set a high pace at the front of the field. That prevents any late escapes, and then in the finishing straight they provide the pace-making that launches a sprinter's final charge. They are the leader's guardians on most days, chasing down or joining threatening attacks to ensure that their leader's position is not jeopardised. They too are ready to drop back if an important team-mate has mechanical trouble or a crash, and often as many as three riders will act as a "tow" to bring a rider back to the main field. The Swiss Tony Rominger, unlike many of his rivals, has an embarrassment of riches in this department.