It’s hard to believe Interbike is just three days away and that the domestic road season is over. I wish I could recount every memory from the past eight months, but it would probably fill the space of a novel. I could tell you about Kenda/5-Hour Energy’s amateur barbershop hour right before the time trial at Joe Martin Stage Race. Or the time the juniors from Monster Media Racing tried to set me up with one of their friends in Las Vegas during team camp. I can boast about the Kenda Pro Cycling crit squad winning 8 out of the 11 stages at Tour of America’s Dairyland, and can even talk about Monster Media Racing giving me a fitting gift by winning the first night of Tulsa Tough on my birthday. But I’ll save that for another day when I decide to write my tell-all memoir. (Joking)For those of you wondering who I am, and what exactly it is I do, let me introduce myself. My name is Paige. Southern California readers who follow local racing have likely seen me around. I’m the girl with the fiery read hair, now blonde, with the race-day attitude to match while man handling canopies at 5 AM or screaming time gaps on crit courses for Monster Media Racing presented by MRI Performance. I work behind the scenes as a soigneur, a staff member of a cycling team with a list of responsibilities longer than your mother’s monthly grocery shopping list. I look after riders so they can perform at their highest abilities without having to worry about things like not having water on their bikes or if there’s a wet towel to wipe down with post race. To the juniors I’m a foster mother on the road, taking care of them like they’re my own. One even calls me “mom” from time to time because he thinks it’s hilarious.
Approaching the end of my second year as a soigneur, I had the chance to work a couple of NRC races with Kenda 5-Hour Energy presented by Geargrinder, and learned that it takes a certain personality type to survive the demanding needs of the role. Extreme organization, a keen sense of time management, thick skin, and caring about the riders I’ll be spending the next eight months with are all key. Handling sleep deprivation well is another skill to add to the soigneur arsenal. It’s a good thing most riders consume prodigious amounts of caffeine, because there’s normally a fresh pot of good coffee brewing at our host housing. Outside observers might think being a soigneur is just working the feed zone and giving post-race massages, but it’s much more than that. If it was, it wouldn’t be ranked ninth on USA Today’s “Top Ten Worst Jobs in Sports”.
An early morning race day with Kenda Pro Cycling typically starts before the sun, and riders, are up. My beakfast is usually quick, or in most cases, forgotten. Bottles I filled with CarboRocket and water the night before are stocked in the coolers and then loaded into team vehicles. If I got around to doing laundry the previous night, post-race wipedown towels are folded and bagged in the team van. For road races, I fill a musette bag with bars, gels, and 5 hour energy and hang it from the head rest in the team car so either our director or mechanic can hand them to riders who come back into the caravan. While I’m prepping for the day, our mechanic is doing likewise. He’s loading up vehicles with wheels, trainers and other bike-related bits we might need for the race.
When we arrive to the start of the race, I get out and unload everything. Everything isn’t just an exageration, as I pull the chairs, canopy, coolers, and boxes filled with nutrition and Chamois Butt’r out of the van. While the riders are getting dressed, I put full water bottles on their bikes, and if it’s raining I also apply embrocation cream or oil to their legs. When they’re ready to hit the road, I pack up the van, throw the riders’ bags in, and head to the feed zone. I’ve made it a habit of following Bissell or BMC-Hincapie to the feed zone, they always seem to know where they’re going.
The feed zone is my home, and it’s where I’m most comfortable. It takes a lot of guts to stand on the side of the road with 120 cyclists charging at you, and I have to be quick. The best piece of advice I can offer to any feed zone first timers is to stand still, and let the riders come to you. I’ve even been told by a few people that I have a certain “feed zone swag”. I didn’t know I could have swag in the feed zone, but I’ll take it. I’ve also learned that I have no time to second guess anything and I have to be confident in my every move. Otherwise, bottles get dropped, or even worse, stolen by a different team’s rider. The actual feed gets my blood pumping, my adrenaline going – and nothing makes me feel better than a successful feed.
Maybe I lied, because the team crossing the finish line first makes my day complete. Which leads to the finish. Usually, this means bypassing or cutting the course to get to the finish before the peloton so I can quickly setup the team area. I unload chairs, riders’ bags, towels, and make sure the cooler filled with Coke and water is sitting in the middle of what will soon be chaos. If one, or more, of our riders podium, out comes the podium bag stuffed with clean bibs, short/long sleeve jersey, cap and hat. They get cleaned up, get on stage, and pose pretty for the cameras while the rest of the team changes into normal clothes and gets ready for the drive home. The van is packed, and we’re on our way.
Once we’re back at host housing, I give the guys some time to wind down from the day’s activities. This gives me time to load the dishwasher with bottles, clean out the van, and restock the nutrition box. When giving massages, I start with whoever is highest ranked in the general classification. With eight guys at the races, they’re on the massage table for roughly twenty minutes each. Which means rubs can take anywhere from 2 1/2 hrs to 4, depending on who is late and who makes me lose track of time. If we return late from a race, like a twilight crit, I’ll end up only working on a couple of the riders. After massages are done, I figure out my dinner situation and start filling bottles all over again. I will make anywhere from 50-100 bottles each night, depending what the following day will be like.
I try to get to bed as early as possible, which habitually ends up being between midnight-2am. Not on purpose, of course. If it’s not because of the time difference, it’s because my mind is usually racing with a million different things. I get caught up in checking email, reading the race bible for the tenth time, uploading photos from the day with race updates, and writing in my now-abandonded blog. I’m always on top of things when it comes to Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. The guys make fun of me for it, but it comes in handy.
While most people complain about their nine-to-five lives chained to a desk, after the last day of a week-long stage race, when the last bottle is washed, and the last load of laundry is done, I can say I love what I do. Some people say it’s a thankless job, which it might be, but I feel that it’s very rewarding for the most part. I know I still have much to learn, but that’s the beauty of the cycling community: we’re always there for each other when one of us needs help.