What is a satellite rider in cycling?

What is a satellite rider in cycling?
Evenepoel and Bardet ahead of the pack during the 2023 La Vuelta

You may often hear the term "satellite" rider being thrown around and wonder what it is in reference to. No, the cyclist isn't being launched to outer space - however neat that visual might be. It simply refers to a teammate of the lead general classification contender for the team, often a loyal domestique, attempting to make the break such that the team can rely on them to support the leader further into the race.

How far into the race are we talking? That depends. Often satellite riders will be used to support general classification contenders on the tail end of a steep finishing climb. Given that the leaders in teams are often strong hill climbers, they'll often catch the breakaway during the final climb. If that breakaway has a satellite rider from the same team, then the satellite rider can use the last amount of his energy to help pace the leader to the finish.

A classic example of this - that almost everyone should now know due to the Netflix series Tour de France: Unchained is when Wout van Aert was sent up the road as a satellite rider on stage eleven of the 2022 Tour de France. After the penultimate climb Wout van Aert was able to pause and wait for team leader Jonas Vingegaard to catch up with him prior to pacing Vingegaard up the finishing climb.

While satellite riders are often used in this way, this isn't the only use case. The main benefit is having the extra "chess piece" up the road. It opens up a wide avenue of possibilities. For example, if the leader of the team isn't feeling strong that day the team can let the satellite rider attempt to win the stage. Or attempt to sabotage the breakaway they're in.The possibilities really are endless.

Almost like shooting for the stars when launching satellites. You may not reach them - but hey you'll likely reach escape velocity.