Bart Verholen is a Dedicated Team Carer for team AG Insurance – Soudal Quick-Step. Here, the Belgian former runner and triathlete, gives a fascinating insight into his essential role within the team structure and his highlight moments from working with the Women’s squad.
“In my role as a soigneur with the cycling team, everything revolves around taking care of the riders and other team members so that they can fully focus on their core tasks. We take on all other responsibilities for them and essentially act as the team’s ‘household helpers’.
A typical workday during a cycling race often begins a day or even days in advance with tasks like picking up riders at the airport and grocery shopping. On the race day itself, we ensure the riders have breakfast and prepare water bottles and recovery meals. We accompany the riders to the start and assist them with preparations, such as warming up on the rollers. Shortly before the start, we provide them with water bottles for the race and then head to the feeding zones to supply them with additional water bottles and, if needed, ice packs or energy gels. Then the race to the finish line begins, where we await the riders with water, soft drinks and a recovery shake.
After the riders have freshened up, we take them to the hotel, where they can have their recovery meal. In the hotel, we also provide massages, launder their clothing, do the grocery shopping for the next day and clean the vehicles. We then take a moment to have our own meal.
One of our most important responsibilities is ensuring that the riders can recover optimally after a race, especially in stage races. Massages play a crucial role, not only for physical recovery but also as a mental relaxation moment for the riders, who spend the entire day in a hectic environment. Additionally, we ensure that the riders receive the right sports nutrition, ranging from advising on product usage at the beginning of the season, to preparing recovery meals during the race season. We also offer advice on clothing and care, such as adjusting clothing for weather conditions. In the spring, we also ensure that the correct massage and protection products are available, as massage creams come in different ‘heat levels’.
Collaborating with the riders and the coaching team is essential to optimise their performance. We primarily focus on nutrition, especially during races. It can happen that some riders consume too few carbohydrates during races, and after the race, all caregivers review what each rider has consumed. This allows us to communicate to the sports director which riders may need extra attention. In very hot conditions, we implement a Heat Protocol, using ice vests and ice socks to cool the riders before, during, and after the race. We also receive feedback on injuries from riders, physiotherapists, or doctors, so we can pay extra attention to those areas during a massage.
To be a good soigneur, no spectacular skills are required, but rather versatility in various tasks. Key skills include massaging, providing water bottles, and being comfortable with various vehicles, from passenger cars to vans and campers. Good navigation skills and the ability to travel abroad are also important. We must manage the budget efficiently while shopping and be willing to work with less sleep, as long days often extend into late evenings. Patience is also a virtue, especially when waiting for riders who enjoy a chat.
For massages and care, we use products from QM Sportscare, and we tailor the technique to the individual preferences of the riders. During the Tour de France Femmes, we used ice baths immediately after the race to cool the riders, spending 10 minutes in water at a temperature of 5 degrees Celsius. Regarding nutrition, we rely on 6D, with riders receiving a recovery shake within 30 minutes after the race, especially in stage races, supplemented with Cherry Juice.
Dealing with the physical and mental challenges of long and demanding races varies for each soigneur. Personally, I try to ensure that I get enough sleep, especially during stage races in hot conditions when sleeping can be more difficult. People are often surprised by the long working days, but for me, this is a passion and doesn’t feel like work. It’s more like a ‘paid hobby’. Good preparation also helps me go to the race with confidence, especially with all the information we receive from the sports directors about travel times and locations, which I store in my phone in advance.
Working with a cycling team certainly creates special memories. Mireia’s Spanish time trial title and the moment when Romy, in the fourth stage, dropped back from the leading group to assist Ashleigh, who was facing a difficult moment, in the Tour de France Femmes are moments that give me goosebumps and of which I am proud.
The most rewarding aspect of my role as a soigneur is the gratitude from the riders and the team. Moreover, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to turn our hobby into a profession. It doesn’t feel like work because we are in such a fun environment, with diverse races, riders, hotels, and locations.
There have certainly been challenges and unexpected situations, such as Anya’s severe crash during the Classique Morbihan. In such cases, we must quickly adapt to support the rider and the other caregivers take on additional tasks. I always try to imagine how grateful I would be if someone took care of my daughter in an Australian hospital.
I joined the team in 2018 when I accidentally became involved in women’s cycling. I initially worked as a coach, which I had been doing for several years with junior male riders. A little later, I started working as a soigneur for a Dutch team when they were looking for a soigneur for the Lotto Belgium Tour. I enjoyed it so much that I continued the next year. A few years later, I occasionally helped out as a caregiver for NXTG, and this year, I had the opportunity to turn my hobby into my profession, which I enthusiastically embraced. A job in which I enthusiastically look forward to the future, as well as the adventures I will experience together with this team!