French Cycling Jargon: Rouler en chasse patates

Welcome to our 2nd installment of French Cycling Jargon, my new ‘winter filler’ for the blog. Also, welcome (hopefully) to my new ad-free blog! Let me know if you see any because I’m paying for them to go away.

Rouler (or être) en chasse patates, literally to ‘chase potatoes’, is something I have unfortunately experienced more than I’d like. It’s a classic French term that you might already know because it’s found its way into UK Eurosport’s lexicon, I think.

Imagine this scene. You are at the front of a peloton in a gran fondo because you are the strongest, or maybe the only one willing to pull at the front. You think that this gang is wrecking your chances at a respectable time and you decide to launch yourself off the front. The trouble is, you don’t know where the next group up the road is, so it’s really a leap of faith. In the end, you never catch the ‘potatoes’ you want and you never get caught by the potatoes you were trying to escape from. It’s just you in an empty field.

The last time this happened to me was in last year’s Haute Route Pyrenees. I had gone to the front of my group on the descent of the Col d’Aubisque and left them behind. I was feeling pretty smug at the bottom because I had even caught and passed more riders on the long way down to the valley. Then, suddenly, I was alone when I didn’t want to be – on the never-ending rolling run back to Pau. I decided to hammer it to see if I could catch whatever was ahead of me. Of course this never happened and 10 km or so from home I was swallowed up by most-likely everyone I’d dropped in happier times on the mountain. The only consolation was that I passed John, who had been ahead of me but had blown up somewhere on that same flat, I guess.

Interestingly (or not), Chasse-Patates is also the name of a ‘rock’ group (we must use quotes with this word in France) in Le Nord. Check out their names and tell me if you get a good chuckle. ‘Guillaume Trainer’ is my personal favorite.

12 thoughts on “French Cycling Jargon: Rouler en chasse patates

  1. This is interesting to me because every 1st Year French Student in the U.S. knows that the French word for potato is pomme-de-terre. Its a handy word to learn because you also get to learn the word pomme (apple) and terre (earth). So it’s three words for the price of one. Now I learn that the French have a perfectly good word for potato in and of itself – patate. It even looks a bit like potato!

    Speaking of potatoes, jargon, and France, I can report the English (American?) phrase, “Couch Potato” does not translate well into French. I was proudly wearing my Couch Potato Racing Team jersey in the Malaucene hotel when the innkeeper asked me its meaning. He’d never heard the term and therefore struggled with the joke. C’est la Vie.

    • Steve, pomme de terre is an oldie but a goodie and still the word to go with. You’re safe.

      I don’t know the translation of ‘couch potato’, but Google just told me that it was – get ready – ‘patate de sofa’! I can’t guarantee this will get you further along with your next French hotelier, so you’d better do your own research.

  2. Pomme de terre = potato; Patate = sweet potato; They are actually two very different vegetables apparently coming from very different parts of the world. (ok, yes, I did an extensive search on google…)

    • I’m not sure, Rich. Your French is better than mine, but I’m not sure you love potatoes as much as me. I’ve heard French people talk about good old potatoes as ‘patates’. Patate douce is, of course, sweet potato. You do have a French wife you could ask. Mine will only be able to tell me the name in Japanese!

  3. and apparently, the cycling expression comes from the “Six jours de Paris” when after a “ravitaillement” there were short sprints launched to catch the riders who profited from the disorganisation during the feed zone. But because digestion is necessary, the short sprints were slower than normal, and thus the term chasse-patate was born. My completely unverified source:

  4. it actually doesn’t make alot of sense since potatoes are very high glycemic index and actually digest very quickly vs other foods… But I suppose in the 1950s we didn’t kno so much about that…

    • I suppose you’ve been doing this all along, TP? I don’t remember the ads being so intrusive in the old days, but then again, I wasn’t reading the blog from someone else’s computer.

      • I don’t think that there were ads added when I started. It was free then too but I had to pay to get more space for exciting pictures of chaffinches and that seems to have kept the ads out now.

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