17 April 2011

Word of the Day: Dossard

French word for Bib# in cycling

A dossard is both the number on the bike and the number affixed to the rider's jersey in the sport of cycling. (not to be confused with the word in French for bib, as in a baby's bib, which is bavoir).

Team bikes lined up with dossards at the Tour de France, Photo by: PedalDancer.com
Cycling fans probably know that the bib numbers worn by professional cyclists represent both the individual rider number for the race, and the team's number upon entering the race. The team number is the first part (assigned by the race organizers), the rider number is the second number (assigned by the team). The UCI regulates that team numbers may be allocated in any way that is "considered appropriate" (they are not ordered by UCI ranking). Numbers are assigned by race officials in groups of ten regardless of the number of riders on each team.

Ivan Basso team Leader at the Tour de France 2010, Photo by PedalDancer.com
The winner of the race the prior year, if entered in the race in the present year, always wears #1. His teammates then wear the numbers 2-9 (9 riders per team in the TDF and Giro, 8 riders at the Tour of California). The next team wears numbers in a series of 10's starting with 11 through 19, with the team's leader designated as rider 1 (11). The third team 21-29 (with their leader in bib # 21), then 31-39, 41-49, 51-59, and so on. This is why the favorites to win a stage might be seen wearing 1, 11, 21, 31, 41, 51, etc., and why there are never bib numbers 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 etc., used in a race.

Tom Boonen, the Leader of team 5,  Photo by PedalDancer.com
The UCI has specific rules for dossards as well, mostly regulating size and space for sponsor name, they do not necessarily require that all numbers be located in the same place on the bike frame (note that the two pictures at the top of this post are both from the 2010 Tour de France - locate the bike dossards).

Numbers are never 'retired' in cycling because they are never associated with one rider and change at every race. However it is thought unlucky to wear #13. Below Fabian Cancellara shows the superstition of turning one 13 bib# upside down to ward off bad luck.

Fabian Cancellara   Photo by PedalDancer.com/SyS
Each rider is issued two numbers for his jersey and one for his bike. A single race number on the rider is used in time trials. When a rider abandons a race, his number is removed and taken by an official (this action sometimes makes men cry, yielding emotional television footage), and reported to the race organizers as a DNF.

In the Tour de France, and other multi-day stage races, a red bib number (dossard rouge) is awarded every day to the 'combattant du jour' (most aggressive rider).

Most Combative Rider red dossard on the 4th rider of the 18th team
What about the numbers with the yellow background used at the Tour de France? Well these numbers indicate the best overall team in the standings. All 9 members of the cycling team will wear these yellow colored dossards.

Some television media have placed GPS devices on a few riders for tracking, but GPS devices are not yet used for all riders. Someday they might be, when that day comes I will loose my quick rider identifier. As a fan I use the numbers all the time in both identifying riders in the moment (who sometimes look quite different in person then on TV!) and for later identifying different riders in pictures I have taken. I admit that sometimes I am busy taking a picture of one thing only to later realize, hey, I got a picture of the winner today.

If you attend a race and are a new fan to cycling, always bring the rider roster with you, or use the race app. If you are uncertain who you are looking at, just look up his dossard. This also works well when being a fan out on the road so you can verify, "who was that Trek rider in the break away?" It takes years of seeing the riders in person, in magazines, and on the road to be able to identify riders in a split second as easily as Paul Sherwen or other announcers. They deserve a break when they call a rider by a different name, it takes practice.

Mark Cavendish's #111 bike at the 2010 TDF, (these are the bikes of the 1st and 9th rider on Team 11).  Photo by: PedalDancer.com 
Here is the other trick I have learned as a fan at stage starts - find the bike. If you see the bike, the rider is guaranteed to show up, and you will be right there for your photo op.

Interested in knowing how they track riders?: Nick Legan at VeloNews explains, "At many of the grand tours, the race organizer provides a transponder that is attached to either the chainstay or the fork. ... They aren’t GPS units, just coded transponders that are received by a sensor across the finish line. Some local races are beginning to use the exact same technology. Each rider is assigned one transponder for his race bike. ... if a rider changes bikes due to a mechanical issue or a crash, he won’t have his finish recorded by transponder. That’s where the finish camera and good old-fashioned officiating come into play."

Update: 14 October 2011 - A new GPS tracking system being developed to track each rider. Recommended Reading: Velotracker ..."A new device was tested for the first time en masse at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour on Friday, a rider GPS tracking device which has the potential to change the way that teams, media and fans look at a race."

Update 14 February 2013 - Here is a new rendition:

Update 2016 - Velon now has on board cameras on certain team bikes: these are the teams participating with Velon to improve live race coverage. See the list of teams

Trek-Segafredo is one of 11 teams with Velon bike cameras. Riccardo Zoidl of Trek - showing he is the 1st rider on the 5th team. ©Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®