Annie Thornton - Passion Project #2
“A Day in the Life of a Soigneur”
Soigneur’s (from the French ‘one who provides care’), colloquially known as ‘Swannies’ play a vital role in the running of professional cycling teams. Two years ago, I had never even heard the term, let alone imagined myself in the role, working alongside some of the best up and coming cyclists that Australia has to offer and travelling the world with the team.
Throughout the year I work and travel with Drapac EF presented by Cannondale Holistic development, an Australian UCI Continental Cycling team. The role of a swannie is hard to define, you need to be prepared for anything, be able to think ahead, have good organisational skills and be ready to do a range of jobs throughout the day. The daily routine can include massage, injury treatment, driving riders to and from race starts, race food prep, feeding (handing out roadside bottles) plus a whole lot more.
On an international tour each day can be very different for a Swannie, but to give you an idea, here is a basic run down of an ‘average’ day at an Asian UCI tour to keep things running behind the scenes:
Wake up, have a quick shower and then pack up my massage table and suitcase from the night before.
Scout out a breakfast table for the team at the hotel, and take down our ‘breakfast box’ usually containing some breakfast favourites for the riders (you never know what is on offer at the buffets and sometimes having some familiar muesli and honey, bananas, or even just jam and bread beats eating curried noodles for the 3rd day in a row for breakfast!)
Quickly have some breakfast, and if I’m lucky, a coffee, before gathering all the luggage for the team and loading them into the buses provided. During this time, I have to be extra sure that nothing gets left behind, as we only stay one night in each location.
Depending on where the stage starts there may be a transfer of anywhere from a 5min drive to up to 1.5hrs in the bus to get to the start line.
Pre race chaos! This time of the morning is always hectic, as you have riders warming up, ice to find for the eskies, you have to make sure every rider has the food they want in their pockets for the race, they have their water or electrolyte bottles on their bikes, and that they have anything else they might need so they can just focus on riding and performing their best.
I’ve always called this pre-race time the “Hey…” hour, as I find almost every rider will come up to me at some point and ask “Hey…. have you seen my sunnies/sunscreen/gloves/coffee/random thing from their luggage”? Having what I call a “Swannie kit” is essential, mine normally contains sports tape, sharpies (for marking bottles so we can tell what is electrolyte and what is water), scissors, screwdrivers and safety pins. Being able to give a rider what they need right there on the spot and always being prepared for last minute repairs is what you strive for day to day on tour.
Swannies normally leave before the race starts, as we have to get to the halfway point along the race route to be ready to feed to riders when they come through. The feed zone is the most stressful part of my whole day. In places where the temperature and humidity are high, it’s a fight to keep all the water and other drinks cold, and you want to be able to give the riders as much hydration as you can when they come through. This is where the ‘musette’ comes in, a cloth bag that normally contains at least two bottles with either water or electrolyte, some energy gels and some food (protein bars, fruit cake, anything we find while shopping that will give the riders some extra energy). When you have a peloton of 50-100 riders all bunched up and barrelling down the road at 45km/h at you it can be quite scary. Having to give out 5-7 musettes (sometimes incredibly fast if your team are riding together) is a heart pounding exercise, and once the last bag is out and there is no sound of squealing breaks or crashing bikes, everyone heaves a sigh of relief.
It’s a mad dash once the riders pass through the feed zone to get back to the finish line either in front or just behind the race. At the finish line I need to be ready with a protein shake for each rider, water, and if one of the rider’s places top 3, a change of clothes for the podium. Then it’s on to the new hotel where I sort out the room keys, unpack all the luggage from the buses, give the riders their lunches (normally from the breakfast buffet).
As soon as everyone is showered and unpacked and any first aid that’s needed is done, the massage begins. Despite being a full time Myotherapist, the massage part of a tour is sometimes the smallest part of what we do on a day to day basis. I normally spend 30-40 minutes with each rider, using various soft tissue techniques and sports massage techniques to try and bring their legs back to a ‘pre-race’ condition. This time is also important for the riders to relax, de-stress and sometimes vent about their day.
The team and staff sit down to dinner together at the hotel. This is normally the first time I can relax a bit before getting back to work for the evening.
After dinner my work starts again – Washing bottles for use the next day, and prefilling as many as we can with water (for hot temperatures, normally 60-80 bottles per day), doing any laundry pick up or drop offs to riders rooms, helping the mechanic and race director with anything they need and other odd jobs that normally keep me up until about 11pm, when I can finally fall into bed and try and get some sleep to wake up and do it all again the next day!
Being a Swannie is a full-on job but it is something I have a great passion for, and something I hope to be able to continue for many years to come!