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Discover the secrets of cycling’s unsung hero – the soigneur. Find out what they do, how they make the world of professional cycling spin, and how to become a cycling soigneur yourself.
What is a “soigneur” in cycling?
When it comes to professional cycling, the soigneur may get little media attention but is oftentimes a lynchpin of the race team.
But, who are these mysterious superstars and what do they do for the pro riders?
Derived from the French verb soigner, meaning “to look after” or “to take care of”, the soigneur is a vital member of the team, providing both practical and emotional support to the riders.
They are responsible for ensuring that the team is adequately stocked with food and water during races. This means that they have to stay ahead of the pack and have the supplies ready and waiting when the riders arrive. They also provide massages to the riders during the races, helping to keep them in peak physical condition.
But the role of the soigneur goes far beyond physical care. As well as providing practical support, they must also be a ‘shoulder to lean on’ for the riders. This means offering words of encouragement when times get tough, or lending an ear to listen when race pressure get overwhelming. In this sense, they are as much a psychologist as they are a physical therapist.
Soigneurs are often referred to as “swannies”, a portmanteau of the words “soigneur” and “swan”. Just as swans glide gracefully through the water, soigneurs move quietly and calmly through the chaos of the peloton, ensuring that the team has everything it needs to succeed.
You may never see them, but without them the race may be lost before it’s begun.
Without the dedicated support of the soigneurs, professional cycling (with events such as the Tour de France and La Vuelta) would be a very different sport.
Because we hate to see our readers embarrassed, here’s a quick guide to how to say this tricky bit of French.
If pronunciation of the word “soigneur” strikes fear into your heart, don’t be intimidated – it’s actually quite simple to pronounce. To get it right, start with a short “sw” sound, followed by a long “an”, like in the middle of “canyon”. Finally, the last part of the word is pronounced like the “ear” in “year”, with a short “e” sound followed by a “ur” sound. Put it all together and you get something like “swan-yur”. With a bit of practice, you’ll be saying it like an old pro in no time.
Need a little extra assistance? Then have a listen to this French speaker saying the word.
A busy day in the life of a soigneur
So what does a day in the life of a soigneur look like?
On race day, the soigneur will typically begin the day by preparing the team’s supplies – filling water bottles, packing snacks, and ensuring that the team has the necessary equipment. As the race begins, they will stay ahead of the pack and be ready to provide supplies and assistance as the riders pass by. They may also be requested to give massages and provide other forms of physical care to the riders during the race.
Once the race is done, the soigneur will help to clean and pack up the team’s supplies. They may also be asked to provide emotional support to the riders and give reassurance or comfort. Throughout the day, the soigneur will work closely with the team manager and Directeur Sportif (DS) to ensure that the team is adequately supported.
Despite the demands of the job, soigneurs do have some downtime during the race day. During breaks in the action, they may take some time to rest, chat with other team members, or check their emails. In between races, they may also take part in recreational activities such as cycling, running, or swimming.
The role of the soigneur is multi-faceted and demanding, but it is also incredibly rewarding. From providing practical and emotional support to the riders, to working closely with the team manager and DS, soigneurs are an essential part of the professional cycling world.
Now add a typical day’s timetable for a soigneur on race day starting from the moment their alarm goes off.
Hour-by-hour a soigneur’s typical day may look like this:
5:00am – Wake up and get ready for the day
5:30am – Arrive at the team’s base, prepare the team’s supplies, double-check that the team has all the necessary equipment
7:00am – Travel to the race start, set up supplies and equipment along the route
9:00am – Watch the race start, stay ahead of the pack and be ready to provide supplies and assistance to the riders as they pass
11:00am – Offer massages and other forms of physical care to the riders during the race
4:00pm – Clean and pack up the team’s supplies after the race
5:00pm – Take a break and relax, chat with other team members, or check emails
7:00pm – Take part in evening recreational activities
9:00pm – Head back to the team’s base and prepare for the next day’s race
Who else is on the race team staff?
The soigneurs are not the only people who are part of the race team staff. Here is a closer look at some of the other key members of the team.
The Directeur Sportif (or DS)
The directeur sportif is responsible for making sure that the team is running smoothly and achieving its goals. They will assess race plans, make decisions regarding tactics, select riders to send to races, and manage the logistics of the race day.
The manager is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the team. This includes administrative tasks such as budgeting, accounting, arranging travel, and coordinating logistics. The manager is also responsible for making sure that everything runs smoothly behind the scenes and ensuring that all of the team’s legal and contractual obligations are met. They will also be responsible for liaising with race organizers, sponsors, and media outlets.
The mechanic is responsible for making sure that all of the riders’ bikes are in good working order. They will check for any damage or wear and ensure that all components are properly adjusted. They will also be responsible for cleaning and maintaining all of the team’s bicycles and ensuring that they are in perfect condition before each race.
The physiotherapist is responsible for helping riders to recover from injuries or illnesses more quickly. They will assess a rider’s condition and create treatment plans to help them get back to full fitness as soon as possible. They will also work with riders to improve their flexibility and strength to help prevent future injuries.
The nutritionist is responsible for creating tailored eating plans to ensure that a rider’s diet is balanced, healthy, and provides them with enough energy to perform at their best during races. They will also work with riders on hydration strategies in order to help them stay properly hydrated during long (and often hot) days in the saddle.
The Sports Psychologist
The sports psychologist is responsible for helping riders deal with mental stress and anxiety before and during races. They will work with riders on mental training techniques such as visualization and goal setting, as well as provide support when it comes to managing pressure from sponsors, media outlets, and fans.
The coach is responsible for working with the riders on their technical skills and physical conditioning. They will create personalized training plans to help riders reach their peak performance and help them focus on the specific skills needed to be successful in the race.
The doctor is responsible for providing medical support for the riders before, during, and after races. They will check a rider’s health before races to make sure they are fit to compete, provide medical assistance during races if needed, and assess any injuries that occur. They will also work with riders on maintaining good health throughout the season.
How to get a job as a soigneur
Look through the list of “Soigneur Cycling Job vacancies” in your local job boards and…well, you probably won’t find any. So, how to become a cycling soigneur then?
Here’s a quick guide to grabbing your dream job:
1) Gather the Right Experience – Cycling experience is essential if you want to be a successful soigneur. The most important thing is to amass as much knowledge as possible about cycling – the rules, the regulations, and the technical aspects of the sport. As well as a thorough understanding of the mental and physical pressures that pro riders face during big events. You should also get some hands-on experience with bike maintenance and repair work
2) Build Your Network – Networking is an important part of getting hired as a soigneur. Make sure you’re in deep with all of the teams in your area and attend local races and events. You could also volunteer to assist on a pro cycling team or become an intern at a local bike shop for extra experience
3) Get Certified – It’s useful to get certified in first aid and medical emergency care. You should also have some kind of certification in nutrition, massage therapy or physical therapy (or all three!)
4) Demonstrate Commitment – Finally, you need to demonstrate your commitment to the job by joining pro cycling organizations such as USA Cycling, BCF (British Cycling Federation) or the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale). This will indicate to possible future employers that you’re really serious about the role. Also, be aware the salaries for cycling soigneurs are often zero – whilst there certainly are paid soigneur roles in the major teams, many soigneurs do it for the love of the sport
Becoming a soigneur in cycling isn’t easy – it requires dedication, knowledge and experience. But with the right attitude and commitment, you could find yourself working on one of the world’s top cycling teams!