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French Cycling Terms List

We hear a lot of the French cycling terms over the season. 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.

French cycling terms


Common French Cycling Terms


The main group of cyclists, the literal translation is a platoon. This is surely the most well-known of all the French cycling terms


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


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 one of the most commonly used French Words by the English-speaking cycling media


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


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


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


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


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


The French cycling term 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

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


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


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


Almost interchangeable with cobbles now in English cycling parlance


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

Julian Alaphilippe


It translates as it sounds but describes a rider who specialises in rolling terrain with short climbs. Often synonymous with Classics riders like Philippe Gilbert and Julian Alaphillipe


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


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


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


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

Tête de la Course

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


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!



Like what an aerodrome is to aeroplanes, a velodrome is to velos…or bikes! The short indoor track is used in the world of track cycling, a sometimes interconnected 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

More Obscure French Cycling Terms

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 proper cycling terms in French and are full of phrases and idioms.


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


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

Andre Greipel – grosses cuisses

Grosses cuisses

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

Se tétaniser

When your legs are frozen solid by the cold, there 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


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

Mark Cavendish – a gros cul

Gros cul

A big butt, slang for a sprinter

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


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 feed zone without collecting a musette


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

En danseuse

To stand up on the pedals, like a dancer

Les cocottes

Slang for the brake hoods


Literally it means cooked and is slang for tired


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

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”


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

Sur la Plaque means to o ride in the big chainring or “on the plate”