My first article on Velominati was to introduce one of my favorite cyclists, Eros Poli. I refered to him as a domestique on the Mercatone-Uno team. This faux pas was properly pointed out much later by @KaffeineKeiser, a commenter who suddenly surfaced and unfortunately submerged just as quickly, like Das Boot in the Straits of Gibraltar.*
I do take exception to you calling him a “domestique”. Eros was a “passista” of the highest order. A team position no more or less glamorous than the former, but one that certainly warrants its own designation.
To der Keiser, calling Eros a domestique was to call him a mere bottle carrier. I was completely unfamiliar with the term but in debt to der Keiser for setting me straight. Poli was an Olympic gold medal winner in the four man team trial. He was engine number one on Cipo’s Mercatone-Uno original lead-out train. He raced Paris-Roubaix. I’m sure he carried his share of bottles. Everyone carries bottles up from the team car when necessary. Poli was a passista first, a domestique second.
More light was shed on “passista” when Pez published the excellent Italian for Cyclists a while back.
Passista (pahs SEE stah) - Francesco Moser fits the bill here. The passista is a big, powerful rider able to maintain 50 km/h for an hour at the front of the peloton. Their strength and toughness make them naturals in the northern classics.
By that definition, Jensie Voigt is a classic modern passita, our own Frank Strack too. Tom Boonen is absolutely one judging from the work he has been doing this week at the head of the peloton in Paris-Nice. Boonen’s elbow infection foiled his usual preparation for the Spring Classics so he signed up for a week-of-beauty spa called Paris-Nice. Need some fitness? Ride from Paris to the Mediterranean at ass hauling speed, do hour sessions at the front of a professional peloton. On the rainy cold days, do even more.
Passista is a type of rider rather than just a job description within the team. I don’t think there are designated bottle carriers these days. One can’t be really good at just riding back and forth to the team car. A friend who has done it told me how damn hard riding back to the field at high speed towing an additional seven kilos really is. No one makes it to the pro ranks on their bottle carrying savy. The fact that one is on a team for a particular race means one is a badass, except for the newbies who are just hoping to finish and gain some race experience (like Andy Schleck). If this is their mission, then either they are future badasses or their team lacks any depth and therefore sucks. Julian Dean may have carried bottles during each stage during the Tour but he still had to man up for the last twenty km and be faster than everyone except his team’s designated sprinter. He was the lead- out guy.
If I had chosen my parents perfectly, I too would aspire to be a passista. Pure climbers- too small, pure sprinters- too crazy; who wouldn’t want to be a big cobble crushing beast that can can just ride people’s legs off when required?
*Yes, for you Das Boot fans, I know that was an imperfect metaphor.