Behind the Race: Super Swanny's And Mechanics

As Cycling fans we go to see the races for several different reasons. Many go to just see their favorite rider, others go for the excitement of the race or maybe the play of team tactics in a deciding move. I have heard some explain that just the physical feats that the riders are capable of leave them stunned and only want to witness it live. Of course you also have the rabid fans who go for the roadside parties that go along with a large spectacle like a professional race. Witness the Dutch corner or even more recently the continually developing Tanner Flats in the Tour Of Utah. Last year it was a fan giving a hotdog to a rider, this year the menu included: Powdered donuts, raw steak, pizza slices and even a whole pickle along with of course the ever popular beer. Personally and from the people that I have talked to it is not common knowledge what goes into that rider being were they are performing like they do. The behind the scenes work that gives us this great sport we love, Professional Cycling.

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Special Chair made for Stephanie by Team Jamis-Sutterhome

 

Soigneurs and Mechanics are the lifeblood of any professional race. During the Tour Of Utah I had he opportunity to watch several in action and interview them to see a little bit of what it is like and how they make it work race after race in what is for most of them a part time job.

 

The day for soigneurs (swanny's) starts early, 5am and they are up getting ready for the day. 1st job is getting ready for the days feed zones and in race refueling of the riders. A large stack of bottles is waiting to be filled. Not just water but at least half with a "Mix" the mix may vary from team to team but for the most part is a nutrient and vitamin enriched powder mixed with water. A long ride for the day may see well over a hundred of these bottles used. People who have not been following cycling for very long may be amazed at how many calories a riders consumes during one of these races. Figures of up to 7000 calories are regularly used to describe the long Tour stages. What this means for any racer is that they must keep a constant supply of food intake to offset the calories burned. A swanny will spend a lot of time every morning making panini's. Panini's are small sandwiches that are easily unwrapped and eaten on the move, contents can vary depending on team preferences and country of origin but a typical one for Team Jamis-Sutterhome at the Tour Of Utah consisted of Nutella and Bananas. These along with power bars and gels form the bulk of fuel for the cyclists day of racing. Besides getting the fuel ready for the riders a swanny is also responsible for getting the team setup at the start and finish lines. Ice has to be loaded in every cooler, fresh cokes iced down, power bars and gels resupplied form the team trailer, chairs and shade are always a priority, as the team arrives for the race last minute rubdowns are given, bottles loaded for each bike, towels to each riders. Each rider is made as comfortable and ready to ride as possible. This flurry of activity continues until the riders leave for the start line and then the real rush kicks in. Everything has to loaded up and the team van headed out to the feed-zone as quick as possible. They have to leave before the riders and there is always a little competition amongst the teams for favorite spots in the feed zone. Once in the feed-zone they begin building musette bags that will contain a couple of bottles, a panini or two and several gels and or power bars. A bag for each rider is made as well as several extras that will be handed to the team car as it goes through the feed zone in case more is required during the race. As it happens some times they then have a pause for breath while they wait for the race to reach them.

 

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During Stage 1 Jennifer Woodward hands a musette to Roman Van Uden of Pure Black Racing

 

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Stage 5 Feedzone - Chaos but it goes off smoothly almost every time.

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                          Stephanie and Larry enjoy a rest while waiting on the riders in the feed-zone of Stage 1

A brief respite in a hectic day. The swanny's swap stories and gossip among each other as they wait. Most have known each other for a long time and in a lot cases even worked together. The nature of the job is such that swanny's will often work for several different teams during the year as there own schedule makes them available or not and teams race schedule has them in different places or parts of the world. How about a part time job that has you in China one month and then in Rio a few months later with trips to Japan, Australia and Rwanda along the way?

 

The gossip among the swanny's ebbs and swells with a common theme, who is in the break? Which team needs to ready to feed the break and who has only the peloton to worry about. Are there riders off the back that will need food as well? This all comes to a head as the group comes into view. If the race has been planned correctly the feed-zone will be on a rise so the riders will naturally be slowed down making it easier to grab the musettes safely. The swanny's space themselves out as much as possible. Usually two per team to give everyone a chance to work their way to the edge of the pack to grab a musette. Swoosh in a crazy minute all the riders are gone and the swanny's rush back to the vans to race around and ahead of the peloton to get to the finish line. They have to be there to great the riders with recovery drinks and towels as they finish. In some cases on really tough stages they may even help the riders to the van as they left it all out on the road. Of Course they also have to dodge the fans along the road as they go as well.

 

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A Utah racing staple, Slyfox Moonwillow, hops the realcyclist.com team van as it goes by.

 

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Stephanie Roussos hands a drink to Jamey Driscoll after a tough stage 4

 

Then the long evening begins. The most important part of a swanny's job begins as they return to the hotel. Every rider gets a massage to help get the toxins built up during the days racing out of their system. A vital piece to their recovery in order to be able to turnaround and do it all again.

 

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A Swanny hands Jeff Louder a towel to clean off after he leaves is all on the road to Snowbird

 

 

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Sometimes a swanny can only watch as medical treats one of their riders, Peter Stetina took a bad spill on stage 2

 

 

A good 15-20 minutes on each rider occupies a large portion of the evening. Massages finished and it is time to do laundry, towels and rider kits must be ready for the next day. Bottles set aside and cleaned, feed-zones for the next day located on the maps and feed plans made with the team director. Sometime along the way dinner might be had but usually it is very late when it does and tiredness becomes more important than hunger. Tomorrow is another day. In the words of the Super Swanny "Groundhog Day"

 

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Hugo Pratissoli of Team Jamis-Sutterhome unloads bikes at the start of Stage 1

Mechanics face much the same stress and hours as the swanny's. Their performance can be more on display as they are frequently seen replacing wheels or adjusting bikes on the fly during the race. The down time for them is actually during the race. Despite a certain tension not knowing when or if something might happen to a rider on their teams bike it is often the only way to get a short break. Bikes must be perfectly adjusted before each race, brakes and gearing checked and rechecked to insure optimum efficiency. As the swanny's are getting the riders ready for every days race the mech's must make the bikes perfect. Loading them for transport to the start, unloading them staging them not only for the riders but for the fans to see as well. Most teams have a bike sponsor and as a result must make a display of them for all to see before the race. Last minute adjustments are made and then spares are loaded atop the team car for the race with spare wheels crammed inside. Once the race begins it is a dichotomy of speeding close calls along with slow progress in the caravan for the mechanics. All the while poised in case an emergency comes up. A lightning quick wheel change for a flat or the catastrophic failure requiring a bike swap. All done on the run and with time the most important factor. How important is it to have prompt mechanical help? Just ask this poor Gobernacion rider who spent over 2 minutes watching as his rear tire was changed.

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Carlos Alberto Ospina Hernades of Gobernacion De Antioquia-Indeportes Antioquia watches as he goes from the break to the pack in a two minute wheel change.

 

 

When the race is over every bike is washed, lubed and cleaned. Every wheel gets the same treatment. Each team car is washed and cleaned as well. Feedback from riders is often given and bikes need to be checked for excess wear and adjustments. The race starts all over for them tomorrow as well.

 

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One of many bike displays everyday in the team areas of the race.

 

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Team cars have to washed every day as well.

 

How do these Soigneurs and Mechanics end up in this hectic lifestyle? For most cycling is in their blood. For example among the six that I interviewed for this story you have: Argentinian Road Champion, Fitchburg Longjo's Classic Champion, World Messenger Championships Goldsprints Champion and a cross rider with an encyclopedic knowledge of Latin cyclists. Over 50 years of cycling experience at work.

 

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Stephanie Roussos shows off her new chair.

 

Team Jamis-Sutterhome has the team proclaimed "Super Swanny" Stephanie Roussos. While juggling a successful massage therapy practice at home she has managed to support races across the world for almost 20 years. Stephanie has worked with almost all the major US domestic and pro teams at one point or another. Researching this piece I came across several instances where riders have referred to her as a "Rock Star". A self proclaimed worrier she has gotten to the point that it is not about the race. It is about making sure "her guys" are taken care of. Very little else matters during the race. The long days can get to her but it is obviously worth it as soon it will be on to the next race. As an in demand swanny she is usually working races from January through November in various corners of the world. She squeezes in clients at home in between the races. This makes personal recovery time hard to find as the time away creates a backlog to work through immediately upon returning from each race.

 

Stephanie made the transition into being a Soigneur in what appears to be a common method among Mechanics and Swanny's. From riding in college (exercise science) and massage school in Boston it was a natural progression utilizing contacts made while racing to working in the business. Since 1994 she has been keeping the riders going race after race.

 

Stephanie has been in the biz for almost 20 years and has worked for such legendary teams as 7up and US Postal.

 

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Larry Foss waits for riders to finish Stage 1

Larry Foss is the other half of the swanny team for Jamis-Sutterhome for this race. A larger UCI race such as the Tour Of Utah requires 2 swanny's and 2 Mechanics for each team. Larry has an Endurance training business with his wife back in Minnesota that occupies most of his time. In a reverse of the usual his years of being a fulltime swanny dating back to the late 90's led to his current business. He now only is a soigneur on the rare occasions like this when teams have to pick up a second to help out.

 

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A shirtless Hugo Pratissoli gets Team Jamis-Sutterhomes bikes ready for the day.

 

Hugo Pratissoli is the head mechanic for Team Jamis-Sutterhome. A prolevel rider in his own right at one time Hugo was the Argentinian National Road Champion. Described in one magazine as the best rider ever from Pergamino he is revered when the team travels to south america for races. Andy Guptill says "The fans great him as a rock star every where we go down there". A common theme this rock star business. Hugo is a quiet unassuming hard worker that will attempt to converse with you although his english is not the best. Always good to have a translator with you when you want to talk. Not much of a problem with the team though as most are native south americans or speak spanish. Hugo is another example of racing morphed by contacts into the current job. As head mechanic Hugo stays with Team Jamis-Sutterhome all year long, supporting races wherever they may be.

 

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Sam Elenes begins to unload Pure Black Racing's bikes before Stage 5

 

Sam Elenes is the Head Mechanic of Pure Black Racing. Sam has been a mechanic for a couple of years. In a slight change Sam fell into it accidentally, working as an independent production contractor he went to a race and was asked to help out one time when circumstances had him there with extra time and they needed help. From there it snowballed, now he balances his independent contracting with teams that need his skills. PBR is a Kiwi based team in the states for the season but not a full schedule that some of the larger teams have had. As a result he has worked for couple of domestic teams this year filling in when others are unavailable. On a couple of occasions during random conversations it was always enlightening to hear the depth of knowledge Sam possessed on Latin riders. While most of the Tour Of Utah was learning about the Columbian Team Gobernacion De Antioquia-Indeportes Antioquia. Sam could give you notes on several of their riders as well as the other Columbian team headed to the US Pro Challenge.

 

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Jennifer Woodward (black cap) waits for the next Pure Black Racing rider in Stage 6's feed-zone

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Jennifer Greenberg laughs along with riders from Pure Black Racing before Stage 5

 

Pure Black Racing had a pair of Jennifers working for them as Swanny's: Jennifer Woodward working on her 4th year as a swanny came into it a little differently than the others. A massage therapist in the real world and with a boss that is a masters class racer she submitted resumes to every team in Tour of California several years ago. Slipstream sports picked her up and she did her first race with them at the Tour Of Missouri. Jennifer Greenberg came about the usual way, a long time Rider/Courier (Goldpsrints Champion 2007) turned racer and currently with Team Kenda as well as a college student, forced time off for an illness has her using college early. The Tour Of Utah is her 4th race this year as a swanny. Tough to watch instead of racing but wouldn't miss it for anything is her description of being a swanny instead of racing.

 

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Thank You Stephanie, Hugo, Larry, Sam, Jennifer and Jennifer I appreciate all that you do!

 

To a person all the swanny's and mechanics will tell you that there are many times during the race when they say to themselves "Why do I put myself through this?" as the days are so long and the work can drag on forever. They also will all admit that when it is over and they are home they miss it every time. There is a unique quality to the adrenalin needed to make every day come off without a hitch as well as a deep love of the sport that cannot be denied. I for one am very happy they do it as it makes the sport I love happen around the world. Without them it would fail and someday I hope that when you get the chance to see a race you will take the time to think about all that went into getting your favorite rider to the line for you to watch. If you happen to go to the race make sure to stop by the team areas to thank the swanny's and mechanics for all they do.

 

Gallery of other Swanny and Mechanic Photos

 

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