Cycling: Some Terms and Expressions Not Lost in Translation

Cycling is an engaging sport and with its increasing popularity more people want to know what all those French terms mean. Here are a few to drop into that intense cycling conversation.

Autobus or Grupetto

A large group of riders at the back of the race in the mountains. Generally it’s made up of the sprinters who can suffer on climbs or domestiques who’ve ‘buried’ themselves setting tempo for the team leader at the head of the peloton.

Coureur Fr.


Racing cyclist.

Espoirs Fr.

The category of riders in the under-23 age division. There are world championships for male espoirs but not women riders. The next world championships are in Geelong, Australia over five days from 29 September 2010. There will be world championship time trial and road stage events for under-23 male riders. Winners in world championship events wear the rainbow jersey, white with rainbow stripes around the chest. The holder of a rainbow jersey is entitled and expected to wear the rainbow bands on the cuffs and neck of their team jersey for the rest of their racing careers.

Flamme Rouge Fr.

Red Flame. A red banner hanging over the road to signal the final kilometre of a stage in a road race. The flag is especially important on sprint stages where the sprinters will time their final attack for the last few hundred metres of the race. The ‘flamme rouge’ is followed by hundred metre markers so the sprinters and other riders know how far away the finish is.

Grand Boucle Fr.

Big loop. A colloquial term for le Tour de France which travels through the French countryside from a starting point that may nor may not be within France to Paris over 21 days.

Grimpeur Fr.

Climber. Climbers are the riders with the capacity to conquer the high mountain passes on a race stage. Being a good climber is essential to being in contention for the general classification (GC) on stage races such as the grand tours.

Lanterne Rouge Fr.

Red light or ‘red tail light’. The last rider in the peloton in the general classification.

Meilleur Grimpeur Fr.

The best climber. Climbers compete for the maillot a pois, known as the polka dot jersey in a points competition. The points are awarded for individual climbs within a stage of a road race. The most points overall in a grand tour takes the maillot a pois for the race.


A moto is a motorbike carrying a driver and cameraman on a road stage. The television footage of road stage races comes from the motorbike cameramen, helicopters and some fixed cameras along the route. The motorbikes have to contend with the riders, team support cars, the neutral cars and referee cars to get their pictures. The cameraman also has a still camera. It’s a very demanding job. Sometimes the pictures are unavailable because of local conditions such as heavy rain for fog as happened on the 2010 Tour of California. On grand tours the moto are numbered. Moto One is always at the head of the race covering the leaders.

Oriette Fr.

Earpiece for radio communication. Riders wear radios to communicate with the team car and their team Director Sportif. There is some controversy about the use of team radio and the governing body of cycling, UCI, has expressed a wish to ban its use. To date the ban has been resisted by the pro riders. The riders’ position is safety: the radios alert them to problems on the road including crashes and mechanical problems. The UCI seems to want to limit instructions being given to the riders by their Director Sportif from the team support car.

Parcours Fr.

The race route.

Poursuivant Fr.

A chaser. When there has been a breakaway from the peloton and a new group formed at the front by one or more riders a poursuivant may in turn break away and chase the lead group. In news coverage the time gap between the poursuivant and the group or rider being chased will be shown.


When a rider has been dropped by the leading group in the peloton. Several groups can form in a peloton depending upon the road conditions and the aspirations of particular riders. Riders can break away individually or in groups, forming a separate group at the front of the peloton or bunch. If one is dropped form the leading group it is a ‘spat’.

Stagiaire Fr.

Apprentice. The title given to a rider on trial with a pro team which is allowed under the rules from September to the end of a year. A good performance during the trial period can result in a contract on the pro tour or continental tours for the following season.

Venga Sp.

‘Come on’. A common phrase used by Spanish fans to encourage the riders as they pass. It is heard a great deal over the 21 days of the Tour of Spain, la Vuelta a Espana, held in August each year. It’s also heard a great deal when le Tour de France takes the peloton through the Pyrenees which border France and Spain. The Spanish fans are often in red, the national colour of Spain.