Home » French Words in Cycling: A List

French Words in Cycling: A List

Loading...

We hear a lot of the French words in cycling. Traditionally, it was the language of the peloton although English has started to win over in recent years. It hasn’t taken long to use the first French loan word either – peloton! Often its misspelling is a sign of who follows professional cycling year-round and who might only tune into ITV4 over the summer to watch Le Tour.

Cycling’s French Words

Loading...
Peloton

Common French Cycling Terms

Peloton

The main group of cyclists, the literal translation is platoon. This is surely the most well known of all the french cycling words

Domestique

A helper on the team, their purpose is take the wind, run errands and hunt down the breakaway

Grimpeur

The fancy French word for a natural climber like Romain Bardet

Maillot (Jaune, Vert, à pois rouges, Blanc)

The various jerseys – yellow, green, polka dot and white – that are won in the Tour de France. Maillot Jaune is the one most commonly used French Words by the English speaking cycling media

Souplesse

A hard to define smoothness in pedalling style, usually synonymous with class too

Contre la Montre

Time Trial – its literal translation is against the clock, invoking a heroic battle of riders against time. You might hear it in tv coverage pieces or in a race roadbook

Mathieu van der Poel

Brevet

A long, timed cycling event. The Brevet is often a card that is stamped to provide evidence a route has been completed properly

Randonneur

Someone who takes part in super-long rides, potentially with a brevet. These are people who do audaxes or the trans-continental race

Chamois

Once bib short pads were made from chamois leather. Now the plucky, lucky chamois is safe thanks to modern fabrics but the name has stuck

Derailleur

Back in the day, riders had to stop, undo their wheel and flip it over to change gear. Then Simplex came up with the first rear derailleur as we know it today (there’d been other rod push ones not using cables). Campagnolo improved on it and everything else since has been a refinement of what SunTour put out in the 1960s

The word itself comes from the French expression for a train derailment

Directeur Sportif

Often shortened to DS so journalistic bad spelling isn’t exposed. The DS is the head honcho of the team. They’ll be the ones in the team car shouting at riders to go faster. The translation is just ‘sporting director’ but you’re more likely to hear the french cycling word version instead

Echelon

The French cycling word that French people don’t use! The English speaking world reckons it makes sense though for the formation of riders in a crosswind. The real word is further down

Flamme Rouge

Named for the red flag that marks the last kilometre of a stage. I suppose it looks like a flame too

Grand Départ

The big depart! Day 1 of the Tour de France

Tour de Romandie Mountains

Hors Catégorie

In relation to mountains, the HC ones are ‘beyond categorisation’. The most difficult climbs in the Tour de France, these were ones that a car wasn’t expected to be able to summit

Lanterne Rouge

The red lantern originates from the backs of train carriages which always had red lights. The person in the last place in Le Tour earns this infamous and surprisingly affectionate title

Musette

It’s the bag that riders get to eat their lunch from at the feed zone. It translates to haversack or more cynically a nosebag

Palmarès

The achievements of a rider’s career. It translates as a prize list and is a record of a rider’s wins

Pavé

Almost interchangeable with cobbles now in English cycling parlance

Portage

It’s the French to carry, unsurprisingly it’s used for when a rider carries their bike

Philippe Gilbert

Puncheur

It translates as it sounds but describes a rider who specialises on rolling terrain with short climbs. Often synonymous with classics riders like Philippe Gilbert

Randonnee

Similar to the Randonneur, the Randonnee is the long-distance event a randonneur takes part in

Revitaillement

Revitaillement is supplying or supplies, in cycling it refers to the feed zone

Rouleur

Another rider type, the Rouleur is a roller who can sit at the front of the peloton and drive the pace all day. Once the mountains arrive though, they’re done

Soigneur

From the French verb to take care of, it literally means caretaker. The soigneur looks after riders needs and provides general support

The Tête de la Course – I’m also in this photo!

Tête de la Course

The head of the race, it’s usually seen shown on TV whilst showing the front breakaway group

Velo

The French for bike, it comes from one of the original names for a bicycle, the velocipede. The velocipede had cranks on the front wheel to be pedalled, making steering an interesting pastime, on the plus side no mucky drivetrain!

Velodrome

Like what an aerodrome is to aeroplanes, a velodrome is to velos…or bikes! The short indoor track used for the world of track cycling, a sometimes interconnect discipline that’s also very separate in its traditions and history. The likes of Geraint Thomas, Chris Boardman and Rik van Steenbergen are famous for being successful in both forms of cycling

Derby Velodrome

More Obscure French Cycling Phrases

The following list of French cycling words are ones that you’re unlikely to hear very often in TV commentary. Probably just when David Millar or another commentator feels like showing off their linguistic skills. These are the properly French cycling words and phrases and full of idioms.

Bordure

This is the actual word the French use for echelon, it means border or edge

Visser

An acceleration – it comes from visser la poignée or to twist the wrist like a motorcyclist on the throttle

Grosses cuisses

Literally big thighs but the term is in relation to swollen or sore legs

Andre Greipel

Se tétaniser

When your legs are frozen solid by the cold, can also be spasms or cramps

Se refaire une santé

To recover or to regain health

En facteur

To quietly slide off the front of the peloton like a postman, the opposite of a fierce attack

Paquet

Another word for the peloton. A paquet is a group of riders.

Des fourmis dans les jambes

To feel frisky, the literal meaning is “ants in the legs”

Péter le feu

Farting fire or in great shape and confidence

Gros cul

A big butt, slang for a sprinter

Mark Cavendish

Faire l’élastique

To hang on the back of a group – to stretch the elastic as you fall back and then re-join the group

Larguer

To be dropped but a term more normally used when a ship sets sail

Coup de cul

A short sharp hill

Bidon au miel

Literally a bottle of honey but slang for a sticky bottle or help from the team car

Faire un trou

To get a gap

Boucher le trou

To fill the hole or close a gap

En chasse patate

Potato hunting – the origin is unknown but it’s when you’re stuck wasting energy in the no man’s land between the breakaway and peloton

Brûler le ravitaillement

To ride straight through the feedzone without collecting a musette

Greg van Avermaet & Philippe Gilbert on the Oude Kwaremont - E3 Harelbeke 2017 Mathew Mitchell
Greg van Avermaet & Philippe Gilbert on the Oude Kwaremont

Chantier

It means building site but is cycling slang for a selective climb or another strategic point where everyone starts to work

Exploser le paquet

To blow a group of riders apart

Avoir la soquette légère

Having a lightweight sock, so to feel as if you’re pedalling with ease

Jambes en cotton

Legs of cotton or to feel weak

Partie de manivelles

A group ride

En danseuse

To stand up on the pedals, like a dancer

Les cocottes

Slang for the brake hoods

Cuit

Literally cooked and slang for tired

Piocher

It comes from the verb to dig but on a bike it is to pedal with the shoulders rocking heavily as if you were shovelling

Pédaler avec les oreilles

To rock so much on the bike it’s as if cranks are attached to your ears

Dans le rouge

To suffer because you’re above your threshold – in the red

Braquet d’asthmatique

A gear so easy that someone with asthma is able to turn it – suggesting a rider is struggling

Avoir tout à gauche

When your chain is on the inner ring and the biggest sprocket on the cassette, ie everything is to the left

En garder sous la semelle

Soft pedalling, it literally means to “save something under your sole”

Jouer des coudes

Jostling for position or elbowing your way through

Fumer la pipe

To be so at ease on the bike while others are struggling – “smoking the pipe”

Frotter

To rub shoulders, in particular, whilst in the peloton

Les deux jambes sur la même pédale

To be so tired you struggle to turn the pedals – “two legs on the same pedal”

Finir sur la jante

To finish on the rim, like how when you’ve punctured and have to ride slowly to stop the tyre rolling off

Le bon wagon

The winning breakaway is “the good wagon”

Sur la Plaque

To ride in the big chainring or “on the plate”

Tags:

1 thought on “French Words in Cycling: A List”

  1. Pingback: Pro Cyclist FTPs • ProCyclingUK.com

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.