From the Latin, where it indicated a person that was "in the middle of the group or a friendly person (gregarious)". The Italian form for what is more commonly in cycling as a domestique (servant) in French, translating as supporter, follower or even wingman. Perhaps an interesting commentary on the two cultures? I personally prefer the Italian to the French, capturing as it does the spirito di corpo of a cycling team rather than a command and control relationship. Surely a much better approach in the modern era of management and leadership.
Cycling is an unusual sport in this regard, accolading the winner but raced as a team. And understanding that the team is essential the win, with the captain as the finisher, the closer. The importance of the gregario was brought to mind in reading George HIncapie's book the Loyal Lieutenant. Hincapie was the essence of the gregario, a tireless worker, moral support, team booster, tactician and more. Jens Voigt is another example as is Iris Slappendel. Darryl Impey is also a shining example of the current crop.
The gregario is critical to any win, as Michael Barry, Canadian cyclist and sometime domestique to Mark Cavendish and Sir Bradley Wiggins explains: “The team director plans a strategy for the stage and each of the riders has a specific role to play. For example, some domestiques will be saved for later in the day. They will stay on the wheels of their team-mates all day and then attack hard towards the finish to split up the race and put the leader in a position to win the race. Other domestiques are involved earlier on in the race, keeping the leader protected, making sure he is well-fed, swapping wheels if he has a puncture, or helping him back to the front after he stops for a pee. The main thing is just how big a factor drafting is within cycling: conserving energy is always crucial. If the strongest rider in the race wastes his energy, he won’t win.”
Perhaps the place of the team and the fact that a champion team will always beat a team of champions accounts for the camaraderie in cycling. Sharing a ride, a coffee stop, assisting with a puncture or a push, it really is a sport for the gregario.
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