“Was it Saturday or Sunday?” Andy Evans, soigneur this year to the Madison Genesis team, is trying to recall the most recent example of the most rewarding aspect of his job. “I had a lovely text from Mr Stannard to say thank-you for his back and his legs after Niewsblad.”
The Team Sky rider – and winner of the 69th edition of the Belgian semi-Classic, Omloop Het Niewsblad, née Volk – is a patient at Evans’ clinic in Manchester, and an occasional fixture on his bumper for motor pacing sessions. ‘Yogi’ is one of a host of top British riders the seemingly irrepressible Evans has worked with over the years, and it’s helping others to achieve their goals that he identifies as the most rewarding aspect of an immensely varied role in which hard graft appears to be the only consistent factor.
Need your cleat position assessed? See Andy. Who can drive a 7.5 tonne converted horsebox from Milton Keynes to Mallorca, via France and Spain? Andy’s your man. Need 120 bottles prepared for tomorrow’s race? Andy’s on it. No prizes for guessing who Keith Flory, now performance director at Australian Pro Continental team, Drapac, called when he worked for the UCI and needed a training programme written for soigneurs.
The soigneur’s life isn’t for everybody. You either enjoy it or you don’t – Andy Evans
From nutrition to treatment, post-ride massage to protecting the riders on the road, there isn’t much that isn’t required of the ‘swanny’, and Evans has experienced it all, from consoling the heartbroken rider too injured or exhausted to climb back on the bike for the following day’s stage to watching his charges return from Olympic Games and world championships bearing gold medals and rainbow jerseys.
On the road
“It’s not for everybody,” Evans says of life as a soigneur. “You either enjoy it or you don’t.” While the riders and press flew to the Madison Genesis pre-season training camp in Mallorca, Evans drove the team’s 7.5 tonne converted horsebox the 1,000 or so miles from Milton Keynes. A six-hour training ride for the team means a six-hour drive in the support car for Evans. And when the riders have finished their day, his is just beginning: sterilisation of bottles, massage, and preparing supplies for the following day’s expedition will be on his post-ride ‘to do’ list.
If this sounds like all work and no play, the job is not without its pleasantries. Evans’ ‘workmates’ have included some of Britain’s most talented riders, the aforementioned Stannard and Ed Clancy among them. Driving the mountainous roads of Mallorca is a serious business, especially with a cyclist travelling at 60mph two inches from your bumper, but there are worse commutes. And watching a rider step on to a podium knowing that it is the hard work of an entire team, riders and management alike, who have helped to put him there is likely to rank highly among factors to deliver job satisfaction.
The younger riders here are not that far removed from my eldest son’s age. I’d like to think that if he was in a team like this that there would be people looking out for him – Andy Evans
And then there is the inescapable sense that the work is worthwhile. Anyone who has watched a cycling team at close quarters will have witnessed the immense physical demands placed upon the riders, many of whom, racing at the Continental level at which Evans plies his trade, have little experience of life, much less of the demands of professional sport. “The younger riders here are not that far removed from my eldest son’s age,” Evans says. “I’d like to think that if he was in a team like this that there would be people looking out for him.”
Evans came to cycling through friendship with a former patient and top-tier cyclist, Martin Earley, an Irishman who raced in the 1980s in service of two of the greats, his countrymen, Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche. A rugby man (winger, then scrum-half, and finally loose-head prop) the tactical aspect of cycling initially confused Evans. Accustomed to watching every player of a victorious rugby team receive a medal for their efforts, the notion that only one rider would pull on a jersey at the end of a day’s effort from all his team-mates seemed unusual. He has arrived at the definition ‘individual team sport’ to describe the shared effort and sole recognition afforded to cycling teams and their leaders.
Training camps, race days, and managing relationships
Race days are long for the soigneur. Evans typically starts work at 6.30am and finishes some 18 hours later. Along the way, he will have prepared between 80 and 120 bottles, along with sandwiches and other fresh food for the riders, and driven to the feed zone. When the riders roll into view several hours later, he will hand over the precious musettes, without which the rider will have little chance of finishing the race, climb back into the team car or van, and drive to the finish, there to meet the riders with more food and clothing. Massage and any injury treatments made necessary by crashes or the otherwise grueling nature of professional bike racing follow, and finally preparation for the next stage, making the soigneur’s day among the longest on the team.
The atmosphere at the training camp is more relaxed and provides a more appropriate environment in which to build the strong working relationships on which the team will depend. For the soigneur, frequently the recipient of confidences from the massage bench and occasionally mediator between rider and directeur, managing those relationships demands sensitivity and a clear sense of position in the team hierarchy. “It’s like good cop, bad cop,” Evans says. “While I’m their friend, I’m still on the side of the team management.”
When the Madison Genesis riders arrive at their first race in April, Mallorca will seem far distant. Evans will be at their side as they roll out, and waiting in the feed zone as they roll past. When they cross the line, he will be among the first to greet them, offering more tangible support than congratulations or commiserations. The bonds formed over the many hundreds of miles of training rides and at the team hotel will be tested. Evans, now in his fourth decade as a soigneur, will have seen it all before. The riders are likely to be grateful for his experience.