Tour de France: 'Domestiques' prove there is no I in team

Updated 0823 GMT (1623 HKT) July 20, 2017

Story highlights

  • Domestiques sacrifice themselves for team leader
  • Some go on to win the Tour de France

(CNN)Rarely is the phrase "'there's no I in team" more pertinent than when talking about the Tour de France.

While the leading riders of each team are the ones battling it out for glory and the highly-coveted yellow jersey, behind them are a host of cyclists sacrificing themselves for the cause.
These selfless riders -- called "domestiques," which translates literally as "servants" -- do everything in their power to make life as easy as possible for the main men.
From dropping back and offering their leader a slipstream to catching and reeling in breakaway riders, none of their physical exertions are for personal gain.
The term was first coined as an insult in 1911 by Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange.
Cyclist Maurice Brocco -- who failed to finish any of his six Tours between 1908-1914 -- lost time on the fifth stage in 1911, thus ending his hopes of winning.
The following day, he sacrificed himself and dropped back to help fellow rider François Faber, who was on the verge of being eliminated due to his slow pace.
Desgrange -- then also a chief judge -- originally planned to disqualify Brocco but decided against it through fear the cyclist would appeal to world cycling's ruling body.
Instead, Desgrange opted to deride Brocco, writing: "He is nothing more than a domestique."
The following day, Brocco -- determined to prove Desgrange wrong -- caught and passed yellow jersey wearer Gustave Garrigou on one mountain, before passing two more riders on the next.
With Desgrange watching, Brocco eventually won the stage by 34 minutes.
Though the concept was used long before 1911, Desgrange's phrase stuck and has been used ever since.
His run-in with Brocco was another factor behind Desgrange's decision to change the Tour's format from being run by individual cycling brands and instead be raced by national teams -- thus enhancing the need for and reputation of domestiques.
However, domestiques do sometimes get their moment in the sun.
Current Tour leader and three-time winner Chris Froome was Bradley Wiggins' domestique in 2012, while three-time winner Greg Lemond was "servant" to five-time winner Bernard Hinault.