pan y agua
Join Date: Aug 2005
Bikes: Wilier Zero 7; Merlin Extralight; Co-Motion Robusta; Schwinn Paramount; Motobecane Phantom Cross; Cervelo P2; Motebecane Ti Fly 29er; Calfee Dragonfly Tandem
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You could literally write a book answering these questions. Reading the Race would be a good book to explain bike racing in general (written by BF's own EventServices).
Teammates can help their leader in a large number of ways. Some of those involve going with a breakaway, and some involve staying with their leader.
Most obvious way a teammate helps is pulling into the wind, allowing the leader to draft, and save energy. Although it goes much beyond that.
A domestique in a breakaway can do several things for the leader. The Leader's team has no need or obligation to chase the breakaway if they have a rider in the break. Other teams however need to chase the break ( for fear of losing time, and or the stage) and therefore your rivals are forced to expend energy (and the preservation of energy is crucial over a 3 week tour)
Also, on a mountain stage, having a rider or riders in the break means that the leader will have more teammates to help him in the mountains when the leaders ultimately catch the break.
Teammates also help protect the leader by keeping him well positioned in the pack. You want to be at the front of the pack to avoid crashes and to cover attacks. Your teammates will expend the energy necessary to keep you up there.
You also want to keep the pace of the pack high enough to discourage attacks from other teams. Again teammates help drive that pace to avoid attacks from your rivals.
You need to deal with attacks from other teams. Teammates can do this in several ways. They can "bridge" up to the break, giving you a ride in the break, compelling other teams to chase the break. Or the teammate in the break may shut down the break (i.e. cause them to give up an go back to the pack) because they know the other teams won't let your team succeed in the break. Or your teammates may pull you up to the break.
Other ways teammates help are being there to give up their bike to you in the event of a crash or a mechanical problem. They're also there to drop back to the team car to get food and water and bring it back to you, so you don't have to. And they are there to tow you back up to the pack if you have a mechanical problem or a crash.
There are more ways, and more scenarios in which, teammates help, but those are some of the basics.
You could fall off a cliff and die.
You could get lost and die.
You could hit a tree and die.
OR YOU COULD STAY HOME AND FALL OFF THE COUCH AND DIE.