Luke Rowe is a domestique. Which means he’s the ultimate teammate, a selfless workhorse determined to help his team and team leader to victory whatever the cost. Use ‘servant’, the literal French translation of domestique, and you’ll be doing him and the role a disservice. Despite being a crucial element of any team, domestiques share little of the fame of their fellow riders. But being one doesn’t always limit potential. Many big-name riders have gone on to Grand Tour successes after sometimes lengthy stints as domestiques, such as Greg LeMond, Jan Ullrich, and Chris Froome. For Rowe, a proven and celebrated domestique, passion is high on the criteria of essential attributes. So is acceptance. For anyone thinking of becoming a domestique he delivers it straight – manage your expectations and know your role. “First thing is you’ve got to want to do it, and you have to accept that your opportunity or your chance of victory or a result goes out the window. I think that’s the first thing you have to accept from the get-go. And until you accept that role as a domestique, no results are going to come your way.” WHAT MAKES A GOOD DOMESTIQUE? “[In terms of] physical attributes it varies. You’ve got domestiques who have to tick every box, you’ll have guys especially for the climbs, guys especially for the flats… For me, it’d be more catered towards the flat lands. I can do a few little climbs but nothing too big. The biggest part for me is that role acceptance – accepting that I’m going to give all I’ve got for this guy and that means there’s no real opportunity for me.” Team tactics very often win races in cycling, the most common being to save the energy of your team leader by allowing him to ride in your slipstream. As a result, a race win is often impossible without the domestique putting in the grunt work and sacrificing his finishing place in the process. But there are other sacrifices to make, which all feed into Rowe’s idea of acceptance. ACCEPTANCE – THAT TIME AT PARIS-ROUBAIX “It all came together. I think firstly we had the right guys at the start line. We were in the bus before and we had this vibe. We had this bunch of guys, these seven guys who just wanted it. They were hungry. The way we raced I thought was fantastic, we entered the first section and we had seven guys in a group of 40, which is just what dreams are made of. I could do this race another 100 times, it would never happen again. And then my race was over – I had to give a wheel to Filippo Ganna, which is another piece of that domestique puzzle which you’ve got to fulfil sometimes. That is quite annoying as a domestique where you feel good, you’re in the front, it’s a race you love, but there’s a hierarchy and one of the top guys punctures so you have to give them a wheel. There’s no hesitation or delay, you just do it.” ALWAYS BE WILLING TO LEARN AND SHARE KNOWLEDGE Luke Rowe has plenty of experience, having helped Chris Froome to three consecutive Tour de France victories (five in total if you count his time with Team Sky). The more he learns, the more he can share. Ultimately, it all helps to make the team better and enables him to control a race and its outcome. It’s no wonder, as a current INEOS Grenadiers team captain, he is trusted with crucial mid-race decisions. “I think over the years you just pick things up. The approach I take is just to never stop learning, so constantly be that sponge for your whole career and just keep trying to gain information and gain knowledge as well as give it out when you can.” HAS THE ROLE OF THE DOMESTIQUE EVOLVED? Like all sports, cycling gets faster every season and the performance demands of racing reaches new heights. How riders respond to that challenge defines their careers, particularly as racing becomes more dangerous and injuries more common. No guts, no glory, as they say. “In terms of the role itself I don’t think it’s changed a massive amount. I think since I’ve been pro racing it’s definitely gotten more stressful, and more ‘fight for position’. So that’s something you’ve got to be aware of. There seems to be more crashes. It’s like a snowball effect – there’s more crashes so you want to be in front of the crashes, which causes the crashes. I think staying towards the front a lot more in the peloton is becoming a general theme across every rider. So, something that has definitely changed over a ten-year span is that the stress in a race is a lot higher and the speed is a lot faster. Every year it gets faster, and unless you’re getting better you’re going to get left behind, so every year you’ve got to be striving to get better. Year on year, month by month, race by race, always striving to be the best you can be and don’t stop improving, which is a challenge. It’s almost like you can’t do the same as you did last year, you’ve got to try to tweak something, see where you can gain a couple of percent to continue with the theme of faster racing and move with it rather than get left behind.” LUKE ROWE’S TOP 5 DOMESTIQUE ATTRIBUTES Be passionate – you’ve got to want to do it Accept your role – where you finish is less important Be selfless – always be willing to sacrifice for the team Keep learning – be a sponge and share knowledge Strive to get better – don’t just do what you’ve always done Written By Nick Burt In a previous life Nick played American football professionally before becoming a secondary school teacher. Nowadays he works as a freelance copywriter where amongst other things he gets to write about his first love – sports. In his spare time, he lifts weights, plays and coaches baseball (which he calls his retirement sport), and travels with his wife to as many countries as he can.