A soigneur is a massage therapist, and team assistant that is responsible for feeding, clothing, and escorting the riders. That translates to long days taking care of the team mostly for the love of the sport.
Australian Jonathan Coulter, known as Jono is the lead soigneur for the Bissell Team. A racer in how own right, Jono is joined by Lani Galyer, a freelance massage therapist to take care of the riders at the Tour of California.
Take me through the routine in the morning.
Jono: On a tour like this when the stages start between 10am to noon, I get up just before 7am and make sure between Lani and myself that the breakfast is all set up for the riders and then a lot of a preparation for the next day is done at night time so in the morning it’s just making sure that everything is sorted. We have other staff that do the transfer so they collect the luggage of the riders. For us in the morning, it’s pretty straightforward of loading the things that we need for that day into the car. Starting at 7 in the morning.
What about the evening?
Jono: On a race like this, it has been pretty tense and when it’s raining there’s a lot more to do when the riders are a lot more smashed than they would be so it’s making sure that at first they are warm and dry and that’s within fifteen minutes of the stage finishing, we want them to be totally dry and warm. We don’t have the setup that some of the other teams have so we load the riders all into this van, turn the heater on full blast, towels and that sort of thing. Then get them to the hotel as soon as possible, get them nice and dry, we always make sure that they have First Endurance Ultragen to replenish the system straightaway, they always ask for it, if you miss out on having it, they’ll ask for it., it gets back into their muscles so they can recover for the next day. It’s the first step of their recovery and then making sure on a race like this, warm tea and all their foods. And then within 45 minutes of the stage finishing, we’ll start the first rub. We try to get at it straight away, it’s enough time for them to get a shower, get on the table as soon as they get out of the shower. The stages have been finishing up pretty late so Lani and split them up.
How do you decide, which soigneur gets which rider?
Jono: We just picked four riders each, one from each room at the start of the tour and then we swap them halfway through.
Why swap them?
Jono: A bit of variety. But the reason we keep them is just if someone has an ongoing problem say one of their riders have an achilles heel problem, you’re looking after it on a day to day basis. And not on this tour and not on this team, one rider may prefer a certain soigneur and they always get that. If a rider wants a particular person, they get that.
How long for each rub down?
Jono: They’re getting half an hour each. Around the time trial time, we’ll do a little bit more , some riders need a little bit more personal attention. Some of the stronger riders, like Frank Pipp, in the cold he seizes up in the back, so an extra rub for him at those times. Around the time trial, we’ll definitely look after Ben and Tom a little bit more.
What happens after the rub down?
Jono: We’re lucky this year to have Kelloggs as a sponsor so we make sure to have around any dinner table, there’s always Kelloggs products and make sure that’s all out there. We have a doctor on board that makes sure that there is good hygiene and good nutrition throughout the entire tour so there’s various things that we can eat and make sure that we clean with purel before and after eating sort of thing. And then afterwards, it’s a case of making sure that you set up for the next day. If we start dinner at 6:30pm, be done by 7:30 and then between 7:30 and 10 or 11, it’s doing the bottles for the next day, doing the laundry. Once again, we are lucky, our directeur Eric [Wohlberg] who just retired from racing loves to have a hand to helping the whole operation run smoothly so he’s doing being some washing.
How much more work did the rain and bad weather bring?
Jono: A lot more work, maybe twice as much work as it would be without the rain. In most areas, in terms of towels, you use a lot more, in terms of running around trying to find hot water before, during and after a stage, it’s as much as trying to fill all the bottle, it’s a whole other task. In terms of, normally if a rider finishes a 200k stage, they’ll be tired and hungry but if it’s in the rain, they’ll be doubly tired and hungry, double as much to do.
Jono: I’m really surprised with these guys, they drink and they eat well. You’d think with the weather that they’d be smashing it down, but they keep it pretty simple, with obviously good nutrition, In fact, Jeremy Vennell said this morning that one flask of the First Endurance is equivalent of having three sandwiches, it’s like three meals in a flask.
Any special requests?
Jono: No allergies. Everyone is good, there’s no one with gluten intolerances, no one with dairy intolerances. Everyone is really good, everyone is really laid back, it’s unbelievable.
What’s in the musette bag?
Jono: We started off just doing your First Endurance bar, your First Endurance flask and the we’re making sandwiches, something with a bit of ham, provolone cheese, maybe some cream cheese. On these long ones, they are getting hungry. They basically have half a sandwich in each bag.
Why do this?
Jono: Like a lot of cyclists, I’ve just been really really passionate about the sport for a long, long time. I initially came over to American to race my bike, I’ve been racing for a long time but never been at the top level,. So to be able to be involved in the sport and guys that are super dedicated to their sport and achieve, for me it’s very fulfilling, whether it’s a women’s team or a men’s team.
Is it necessary to be a racer of cyclist to be a soigneur?
Jono: I think the perfect situation is to have two soigneurs where one is a cyclist and one is not a cyclist. One thing you don’t want is soigneurs thinking that they are more important than the directeurs and the riders and telling the riders what to do. You see that often, ‘you should be in the break’. So to have a bit
of the sport is good but it’s not necessary. It’s sort of good to understand what the riders are going through and when to leave them alone.
So what do you do in between races?
Jono: Train (laughs).
Lani, tell me about yourself.
Lani: I’m a massage therapist by trade for about 4 years now, and in 2007 I started doing soigneur work for Toyota at the Tour of California, and since then I just do free lance kind of thing. Last year, I worked for Successful Living for 5 of their big races and I was the only one there, and that was fun, I had 8 guys to myself for every race. This time, I am the second soigneur and I planned on doing freelance with teams, I don’t know if I’m ready for a whole year commitment. I like cycling and traveling so it’s a good job for me and I like helping the guys.
By the numbers.
- 700 elite water bottles
- about 20 cartons of Kelloggs products
- 15 tubs of First Endurance drink mix and 6 tubs of recovery mix
- 300 First Endurance bars
- 100 gel flasks
- 40 big towels
- 10 rolls of surgical tape
- 15 sharpies