I am new to cycling and became interested watching the tour de france. I always thought cycling was an individual sport, but watching the tour, they constantly make mention of their teams? Could someone explain the team concept of cycling or refer me to a place to read more about it? What are some of the strategies used? How does one determine who will win out of the team?
Yes cycling is a team sport, I'll quickly outline some things for you. You can also find some information at your local library, just look for books about (bi)cycling. I'm sure there'll be info about racing.
Cycling teams (professional) are sponsored by businesses for advertising reasons, they range from Banks to esspresso machine makers. Amateur teams are usually fielded by local clubs and can be sponsored by businesses or nations as well. The number of riders on a team is limited by it's resources, however in a race there is almost always a limit to the number of riders a team can enter in a race, usually nine in pro races.
Rider types/"positions" are as follows:
Team Leader (TL)- The rider chosen by the coach/director sportif to be helped by the others to win the race, usually a superior rider in one specialty, time trialing, sprinting, climbing, for the terrain of the day or a very good "all round rider", especially true for stage, (multiple day), races.
Time Trialist-Races against the clock, raced individually, each racer leaves the start at 1 to 3 minute intervals. No "drafting" other riders is allowed.
Sprinter- When the races finishes in a group during the last few Kilometers, each team has it's helpers/"domestiques" lead it's sprinters to/and at the front of the pack to accelerate as hard and fast as possible at the finish in the last few hundred meters, the pros hit near 45 mph!
Climber- Many races include long hard often multiple climbs where the smaller lighter types often excell.
Team Captain- Strong experienced rider with good tactical sense, who "calls the plays during the race" when the coach/DS is out of touch. Example- Should the team chase the latest attack or let it go? The captain can be a TL but is usually a domestique.
Domestique/Helper- Riders who ride to help the TL win by; giving draft, shared by all except TL -breaking the wind by riding just in front of the TL so he can rest, attacking in a "Breakaway" alone or with others to leave the pack threatening to win so the opposing teams have to chase, chasing down a breakaway, going back to the team follow car for water, food, clothing etc. Domestiques can be all round riders or have a specialty, sprinter, climber, Locomotive/strong timetrialist.