As far as I understand, the cycling term "domestique" (referring to a supporting member of a professional cycling team) comes from the French word for "servant". According to Wikipedia, it was first used in cycling as an insult: "He is unworthy. He is no more than a domestique."

Is the cycling term "domestique" still pejorative? What are its connotations in modern cycling? Do racers refer to themselves as domestiques, or would they prefer to be called something else?

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    No, the English adjective used like "local" is "domestic." The term "domestique" is a French noun used in cycling.
    – amcnabb
    Commented Jul 25, 2013 at 20:37
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    The word domestic, comes from the Roman word Domu meaning House, Domestic relates to or from the house. In french the term domestique is not used as "slave" but instead can be used the word "équipier" for the same meaning of "unselfish" in cycling. Where only when used in the Netherlands the term for domestique in cycling "knecht" (meaning "servant" or "helper" in Dutch)
    – Arromazam
    Commented Jul 25, 2013 at 21:32
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    I can say that in the 5 languages that I have a decent knowledge of, never have I heard of the word domestique used for "slaves", maybe in the past, but not anymore.
    – Arromazam
    Commented Jul 25, 2013 at 21:47
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    In US English the term "domestic" might be used to refer to a household servant. The connotation would not generally be complimentary. So to the American ear it does sound like a veiled insult when "domestique" is used to refer to cyclists who assist the "stars" of the team, and thus it seems reasonable to wonder what connotation the term carries in French. Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 2:11
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    @NeilFein I can't imagine that the English Language and Usage site would have any meaningful insights on the connotations of French words within the multilingual community of cycling.
    – amcnabb
    Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 17:43

3 Answers 3


Domestique is only really a term found in (professional) team cycling and in that context it isn't really pejorative, it's descriptive of the role performed in the team by those riders without aspirations to overall honours, but who are there to support their team leaders and specialists. While it stemmed from the French for 'servant' the term has evolved and softened.

On some stages roles might be reversed, perhaps on a rolling hilly stage the star sprinter without a chance of a stage win that day would turn to playing the domestique, e.g. in last year's Tour de France, the then reigning World Champion, Mark Cavendish, was seen at the team car stuffing bidons up his jersey and ferrying them back, often this will result in the description super-domestique, recognising the role change.

Where it might be pejorative is use away from the pro peloton. If you're on a club run or a ride with friends and someone asked you to do something that you didn't want to do, "what am I, your domestique?" would be about right.


To an extent, yes it does have negative connotations.

The word was first used in cycling as an insult for Maurice Brocco, known as Coco,[4] 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.
-- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestique

In road racing, if you are young and unproven you often get your start as a "domestique" on a team. You are the cycling equivalent of the chore boy. The job of the domestique is to sacrifice his or herself for the leader and team.

If one of the stars an your team needs some food, you have slip out of the peloton, and go back to the support cars pick up the food, then work your way back up to and through the peloton to deliver the goods. Likewise if you are in a situation where either the domestique or the star gets water, the star wins out.

If the team is worried about a break getting away, it will often fall to the domestique to set the pace and do all the work to close the gap.

Basically, the domestique is an expendable asset of the team. Their final race ranking is of little to no concern, other than to remain in the race so that they can provide their services.

That said, as you prove yourself as a domestique (ability to ride hard and survive) you will be given more opportunities, eventually working your way up in the team. If you are a fan of the sport, following the domestiques may give you an idea of who may be the upcoming stars.

  • So does a team have one star and everyone else on the team is a domestique?
    – amcnabb
    Commented Jul 25, 2013 at 21:11
  • The dichotomy is not that simple, it depends on how deep your talent pool is, team strategy, and egos. That said, when Mario Cipollini was in his day, everyone else on the team was essentially a domestique if through sheer force of will ;-)
    – Rider_X
    Commented Jul 25, 2013 at 21:13
  • doesn't it depend on what race they're working in? I'd think that just to be selected as a grand tour domestique is a big achievement, let alone finishing one. I'd say it's even has positivity because in small races every one can just work for themselves, i.e. there's no domestique.
    – imel96
    Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 0:21
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    Re-read your answer. All of your explanations for what a domestique are are accurate, but I don't see any support for this being a negative term. I just see you saying that cyclists who are domestiques, are working their way up in the industry while gaining experience. Why is that negative?
    – zenbike
    Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 11:46
  • @zenbike - Being an "expendable asset" does have a negative connotations, at least within cycling circles. You can be easily replaced with someone else looking for a break.
    – Rider_X
    Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 14:09

Domestique by itself is neither a good nor a bad term. It simply refers to riders on a team whose role is not to work for their own race ranking, but to perform the day to day tasks and support that enable the team leader to advance their own race ranking. This may include such things as ferrying food/water from team cars, working to control the pace of the peloton, support a break, even down to giving the team leader their own bike if a mechanical failure happens at a critical point.

What makes it perjorative is the context in which it is used. If someone uses it as a put down, then yes, it's demeaning. If someone simply uses it as a description, then it is not.

Servant is a similar term. Servants were NOT slaves. They are people who serve others for a salary. Many servants both in older times when it was more common and more modern times were/are fiercely loyal to the house they serve. Especially in Europe where it is more common, head butlers and similar for peerage (Lords, Earls, Dukes, etc) were highly respected. If a lord got a reputation for not being good to their servants, it was hard for them to get more. But, you can use servant as a description or as a putdown.

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