Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Paolo Tiralongo: A Domestique Life.

From Wikipedia: A domestique is a road bicycle racer who works for the benefit of his team and leader. The French 'domestique' translates as "servant".  Two sentences which perfectly sum up Paolo Tiralongo who finds himself currently ahead of his team leader in the Giro d'Italia, sitting pretty at fourth overall. Paolo won't be looking to rise any further up the standing though because no matter the form or ability, it's always been a domestique life for him...

Of course the role of a domestique is far more complex than those sentences - they carry food and water for the team, they shelter their leader from the elements, they bury themselves at the front of the race to set a pace quick enough for their leaders to shed their opponents, they force other teams to chase by getting in the break-away, indeed if they are not in the break-away, its them who also chase to close it down, the tactics are endless, but the outcome the same, every single action taken by a domestique is for the benefit of the team leader, even to the point of giving up their bicycle. Giving up their race.

Time has given us plenty of faithful, loyal domestiques - though they never reach the dizzy heights of fame as the team leaders - a strong domestique can gain a reputation just as strong and often become fan favourites for the pure hard work they put in, with such little reward. Two names that have firmly been imprinted on the minds of cycling fans are universally popular, Jens Voigt and 'big' George Hincapie have both forged long, successful careers as loyal domestiques. Paolo Tiralongo is of much the same school.

Cycling professionally since 1999, Tiralongo has been at Astana since 2010 where he currently rides as a domestique in this years Giro for Roman Kreuziger. Before that he was a Domestique for Damiano Cunego at Lampre since 2006, and as we go further back it appears Tiralongo has spent his whole career as a Domesique, always riding for somebody else, somewhere else.

Of course domestiques have personal goals like all riders, stage wins can be a good domestiques bread and butter, allowed off the leash to take a moment of passing glory before returning to the side of their team leaders. Tiralongo did exactly that on stage 7 of this years Giro is he powered to victory ahead of Scarponi in closing metres to take what is unbelievably, only his second stage victory since his career began 13 years ago. A few days later team leader Roman Kreuziger seemed to be struggling, losing time on the final climb to his rivals, by his side Tiralongo, in better form than his leader, unable to drag his man back to the favourites but with legs good enough to go himself. And there it is, the undeniable frustration. When a domestique is in such fantastic form, better than their leader - but without permission they must remain behind the leaders, doing all they can to help their lagging captain. The question inevitably gets posed, should they let him go? Should they swap? As in the case of Tiralono and Kreuziger - Tiralongo looks in better shape, should then Kreuziger turn the tables and act as his faithful lieutenants domestique. Not likely.

Ok, so it happens - Froome (Sky) took to the Vuelta a Espana last year as domestique for Bradley Wiggins, but then Froome showed promising form the line between leader and domestique became blurred and in the end Froome went all out for the win, eventually finishing second behind Cobo, one place ahead of team 'leader' Bradley Wiggins.

Tiralongo though, as ever the loyal servant, stand by his role as domestique, telling press today that: "I have always been riding – and always will ride – to support Roman, following the instructions of my directeurs sportifs and giving 100 percent to help him get on the podium.” With such a lengthy career behind him, it would be easy to say Tiralongo deserves a shot, deserves a chance, a victory - and yes, I can't help feel a little sorry for him, and yes I would love to see Tiralongo set free to fight for a grand tour in his own right. Loyalty though, is a key trait for any domestique, it's a skill. It takes a different set of skills to be a team leader. Some men are born to be leaders, others to be their servants. It is true in all walks of life so why should cycling be any different? Winning isn't the only thing that makes a great career. And a great career is exactly what Paolo Tiralongo has had...

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