What I learned by playing soigneur for a week
I really didn’t want to race Cascade Cycling Classic this year. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic race. Held in and around beautiful Bend, Oregon, this event is the longest running stage race in North America and a favorite for American domestic pro teams. It’s beautiful but also hot and very hilly, and after getting dropped the last two years, I decided this race simply doesn’t suit me.
Conveniently, I have my own small physical therapy practice in Portland and things were starting to thrive, so explaining I had to work was a valid excuse. Crisis averted.
I had my week all planned out until I get a text from my buddy, Beth Ann Orton (Visit Dallas Cycling p/b Noise4Good).
“Heyyyy Fishies, how do you feel about being our team soigneur?” it read.
At first, I was mildly offended “Dude, whatever, I’m not about to be your feed zone bitch!” I thought. Instead of responding I sat on it for a couple days.
Another text, “Hey Fishies, let me know as soon as possible, we will even pay you.”
I felt a transition from road cycling coming. Road racing was hard this year (but seriously, when is it not?). I had moved to Portland and opened up a new physical therapy practice. I was able to manage the training prescribed, but my performance suffered from the lack of rest and admittedly my mental toughness. And lets be real, I like margaritas and mochas. A lot.
“Alright buddy, I’m in,” I texted. (include some absurd emoticon)
“REALLY? YOU ARE?!” she responded. (another ridiculous emoticon)
“yes, dude, you better pay me A LOT,” I said jokingly.
“Oh you’ll love it…or really, you’ll hate it.”
“Regardless of what happens this week we are still friends?”
I drove down to Bend in a minivan chock full of bikes, bags and tequila. When I arrive at the Visit Dallas team’s row of host housing, I’m greeted by Beth Ann and team manager Scott Warren, both of whom have huge grins on their face.
Beth Ann says, “Regardless of what happens this week we are still friends?”
She has been saying stuff like this ever since I committed to this gig. Scott chats to me a bit and shows me the massage table. I quickly learn that most soigneurs are massage therapists. Despite having a degree in physical therapy, I am not a massage therapist and I worried that my skillset would not suit the needs of the riders.
Riders start to trickle down and the first rider hops on the table and asks , “Shall I take my pants off?” I chuckle and respond, “Maybe we shall wait till the second or third meeting?” The joke is returned with a laugh.
For the remainder of the evening, I focus on each individual rider’s ailments and find myself putting a lot of physical and mental energy into it. By the time the last riders hops off the table it’s 10:30 p.m. and I am worked! Scott says to me, “Sleep in, you’re going to need it,” and I go to my host house with a deep feeling of fatigue. My gawd, it’s only day one!
The rest of the week goes something like this: Perfecting the filling of bottles for each stage. Making ice socks and cold towels. Manage the coolers and count the bottles. Do my best to keep the riders happy and injury free. This included many “flushes”. Wash the bottles. Wash the towels. Repeat. Every. Day.
Another big role of the soigneur is managing the feed zone. In my first attempt at being the “feed zone bitch,” all four bottles were dropped. I was seriously distraught. Did everyone else get their riders bottles? Did I hold on too long? I tried to shake it off and asked the veteran feedzoners about tips and techniques.
The week of racing consistent of five races and five attempts for me to improve my skills. When the riders did well, I was celebrated. When they struggled, I did what I could to make their life easier. I took my job of caring for them seriously. And by the last feed I was five for five. Boom!
The team ended the week with a stage win, smiles and podium shots. I had a well-respected rider tell me, “You may have found your calling!”
In a time of my life when racing felt like such a struggle, it felt really good to be able to contribute to the sport I love. I might go back to racing next year, or not, but I know the bike will somehow be there for me.
After playing soigneur for a week here’s what I learned:
- Playing soigneur is not for your rest week.
- Feedzone stress almost equates to pre-race jitters.
- Turn off heat dry setting on dishwasher when washing bottles.
- Tequila tastes better after a stage win.
- Visit Dallas Cycling p/b Noise4Good has some damn classy riders.
Annalisa Fish is the owner of ENDURANCE Cycling Studio + Physical Therapy. She holds a clinical doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Washington. She is a competitive Cat 2 cyclist who competes in road and cyclocross racing while maintaining a thriving practice. She loves everything bikes, particularly when they involve the rad people of the Portland cycling community and beyond.