Life as a soigneur in a pro cycling team
We talked with one of our soigneurs, Rui Sá, about his job in the team, what it involves, what he enjoys the most, and what parts of the role are the most challenging.
After finishing his career as a professional cyclist, Rui decided to stay involved in the sport, and so after studying massage therapy, he started working as a soigneur, specialising in athlete recovery and injury management. He commenced with a small cycling team in his native country of Portugal, before going on to work in the men’s peloton, and eventually making the move to Équipe Paule Ka this year.
One of the most demanding jobs in pro cycling
The role of a soigneur is often regarded as being one of the most challenging in pro cycling, and as such, Rui’s job begins long before he even touches down at a race. After arriving at the team’s Service Course in Switzerland, he’ll gather and pack all the equipment that the team will require at the race. As he explains, "this might include going shopping for anything that is missing or things that need to be restocked. Spare equipment, bottles, food, drinks, nutritional supplements and much more, all need to be organised to ensure that everything is ready to go for a race. Apart from packing, I also have to organise a lot of the logistics for the massage tables and the teams’ equipment, each time taking into account the type of race and the duration of the event, and what will accordingly be required."
Once he’s taken care of that, it’s then time to travel to the team’s first race hotel, where he’ll firstly get to work organising the rooms and luggage of the team staff and riders, before turning his attention to race-related preparation. He tells us: "Before the race, I look after all the nutritional aspects of racing, making sure that the riders have everything they need to refuel during the day. That includes preparing food and drinks, and getting the bidons filled up and the musette bags organised for each rider. I am also responsible for making sure the team has spare equipment like helmets, shoes, jerseys and more, when they head out to the race. Preparation for a race already starts on the previous night or very early in the morning, but right before a race, I have to ensure that all riders have what they need, because when the peloton is on the move there is no going back to fetch things!"
Let the racing begin!
Come race day, after the riders depart from the start line, he’ll drive directly to the feed zone to hand out bidons to the riders. This is followed by yet more driving, this time to the finish line to await the riders, as he explains, "hoping for a win and also a safe day without any injuries.“
If you think that the job is done after the race, then think again. When the riders cross the finish, the race may be over, but there’s still more work to be done. In fact, post-race can often be the most hectic part of a seigneur’s job. It’s here that Rui assists the riders in their recovery with extra nutrition and hydration, and if the team takes a podium place, he helps them prepare for the presentation, which usually involves preparing new kit and generally getting them cleaned up. After that, it’s back to the team hotel as quickly as possible to provide a recovery massage to get the tight spots and knots out of the riders’ legs. If they’ve sustained a minor injury during the race, he’ll also treat any cuts and abrasions. And then he’ll need to wash the kits and, if needed, make any repairs, while also starting all the preparations for the next morning yet again.
Weighing it all up
With such a hectic schedule and variety of responsibilities, we asked Rui what the most difficult part of his job would be. "For me, it’s the travelling. I have to travel between different locations, find my way around unknown areas, drive to the hotels, organise hotel changes and then drive back after the race to my home or to the service course. In this job you are constantly on the move. Sometimes for one single race, I’ll drive more than 2000km, and that can be challenging and tiring. So you have to roll with the punches a bit, plan ahead and be willing to work long hours. But in the end, it’s all worth it.“
And for all the extended travels, early mornings, and late nights, what does Rui find more rewarding in this demanding job? "The part that I like the best is being able to establish a connection with the riders and knowing that I have prepared everything for race day, so they can concentrate on the event, be motivated and give their best performance. It makes me feel very satisfied to know that, through my work, I have done my part to bring about the team’s success.“
And a word of advice for those who’d like to follow in his footsteps of working behind the scenes in a professional cycling team? "You have to like what you do, and you have to enjoy the sport to last in this job, and that’s something that definitely applies to me.“