Although Tour-de-France glory remains strictly reserved for the riders, the 3,519-kilometre journey requires concerted team effort.
In addition to the nine riders, every team has a superman working behind the scene to ensure that their star rider is atop the podium on the Champs-Elysees.
Often misinterpreted as a masseur, a soigneur (French for ‘caretaker’) is so much more. As Shelley Verses - the first female soigneur to work with a top team in Europe – famously said, “We’re valets, cooks, washers, drivers, wound cleaners, psychiatrists and confessors.”
They are not afraid to get into scuffles either.
Each team employs around three soigneurs (aka swannys) with a rider free to hire more for himself. They are expected to provide a range of services – from treating major injuries to getting the WiFi password of the team hotels.
In short, they are the ultimate sidekicks. The Robins to the riders’… Batmans (Batmen?). The Sams to the Frodos. The John Watsons to the Sherlock Holmes’.
First to rise and last to hit the sack, the days are long and weary for a swanny. While no two days are ever the same, there is a general routine.
6:00am: Quick breakfast and preparing the meal for the riders which usually includes soya milk, rice cakes and muesli soaked overnight. The team chef prepares omelettes and pasta.
6:30am: A trip to the Service Course where the maintenance takes place. Vehicles are unloaded and cleaned, and items (nutrition products, medical kits, laundry, coolers etc) are inventoried and re-stocked.
7:30am: Preparation of post-race sandwiches and drinks for the staff and riders. The ‘musettes’ (cloth sack handed to the rider during the race) are prepared and usually contain two energy bars, two gels, muesli bar, cakes and bread with Nutella and drinks. Extensive medical kits are also packed.
9:30am: Riders are helped to get ready. legs are massaged with special lotions and potions to warm up the muscles. Their suitcases, with washed and dried clothing are loaded in the truck and transferred to the next hotel.
10:30am: The team bus drives to the start of the stage. The soigneurs reach the feedzone thirty minutes before the stage starts and inform the team directors of the wind speed, the rain and the crowd assembled.
1:00pm: The exciting bit! The peloton zooms in at 50kmph and snatches the musettes from their swannies. Let go too late and the bags can tangle or whip around, resulting in a crash.
4.30pm: Getting the bus ready for the finish. A quick high-carb meal (white rice with honey or peanut butter) and a high-protein recovery drink (chocolate/almond milk with spiced honey) are prepared.
5:30pm: The frantic finish. The riders are greeted with a cold towel and a quick first aid for anything that needs attention. For those on podium, a change of clothes is provided.
7:00pm: Back at the base, the laundry is taken care of and the riders are given a massage. Various techniques (from regular sports massage to laser treatment and acupuncture) are used and the focus is on the muscle groups used most - lower back, glutes, and legs. The ointments and creams used are thoroughly checked by the team doctor.
9:00pm: A well-earned dinner.
10:00pm: Cleaning the bottles and preparing food for the next day.