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Domestiques, the unsung heroes of cycling: A conversation with Stijn Steels

We recently launched our new podcast series Watts Under The Hood, in whiche we delve into the world of professional cycling, discussing everything from performance to diet, training, and race predictions. Our first guest is the seasoned cyclist, Stijn Steels, who shares his insights on the sport, his career, and the often-underestimated role of a domestique.



Steels began his career with Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise, a small continental team, before moving to Roompot and finally Quick-Step. He quickly realized in order to build a successful career, he needed to excel as a domestique, a role that put him on the radar of many top teams.


Being a domestique, however, is not as straightforward as it may seem. It's not just about producing high numbers on the power meter, but also about knowing when to push hard, when to conserve energy, and how to navigate the peloton. Steels explains: "For example, when I had to control the breakaway in classics, my job was done after three hours, three hours and a half. For that, I had to produce normalized power 380-385. But it's not only about producing the watts, it's also producing them on the right moments."


Feel the rythm


The role of a domestique is often misunderstood, and the ability to produce high numbers in a field test does not necessarily translate to success in the peloton. Steels points out: "Sometimes you see big talents. In a field tests they produce big numbers, but in the peloton they can't produce any results because at the critical moments they can't feel the rhythm of the peloton."


Steels uses the example of Jay Vine, a cyclist with impressive power numbers but lacking in bike handling skills. Despite his high power output, Vine's poor bike handling often leads to energy loss, especially during descents. This is a clear example of how producing high power numbers is not the only factor in becoming a successful professional cyclist.


In conclusion, Steels emphasizes that being a successful domestique requires a combination of high power output, tactical awareness and excellent bike handling skills. It's a role that demands a lot from a cyclist, but it's also one that is crucial to the success of any professional cycling team.


Curious for the whole conversation with Stijn Steels? Have a listen to our first episode of Watts Under The Hood!




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