At the finish line preparing to see the riders come through, congratulating them and handing them a cold drink. Everyone was watching the race on a jumbotron just off course. 

Traveling the world as a sports massage therapist sounds like a dream for many people who want a challenge, adventure and excitement. I travel the world with a professional cycling team, working with some of the best athletes in the world.

Within all professional cycling teams there are what are called soigneurs, from the French, meaning “to look after, care for, nurse or treat.” Soigneurs are riders’ massage therapists, and they also assist with almost anything else a rider needs.

The job steps outside of your typical day-to-day massage clinic or private practice daily tasks. The job requirements form an endless list that includes airport pick-ups and drop-offs, logistic plan implementation, food shopping, meal preparation, prepping water bottles, spotlessly cleaning, going to “feed zones,” meeting riders at the finish line, and doing laundry.

Soigneurs are often the first ones in the team up in the morning, and among the last to go to bed. Days can start at 6:00 a.m. and not finish until 10:00 p.m. Being able to manage, prepare and organize yourself is of utmost importance. Above all, after sometimes very long days, you have to be able to focus and provide high quality massage for the riders.

When teams find good soigneurs, they try to keep them around.

Daunting Challenges

In 2022, I traveled with my team to five different countries and four different states for cycling races in four different disciplines. The challenges of getting set up and working can be daunting, but you have your supplies and your team to support you.

Traveling with a professional cycling team of any discipline—road, mountain bike, gravel, cyclocross or track—requires almost the same tasks and skills. You could be dropped into any country or state and the job is nearly the same. The events can be short with small bursts of required energy or very long-drawn-out days that require organization and, of course, providing massage.

Cycling events take place all over the world. Where the team goes, you go. You might be in a hotel doing massage and preparing for an event in a small village in rural Italy or waiting for the riders on the finish line in a major metropolitan city like Madrid, Spain.

You must be resilient. Being able to roll with changes and adaptations to the daily schedule is skill you need to have. Cycling events can be in multiple countries and span long distances. You may have to drive vehicles, negotiate logistics and maps, and coordinate with colleagues to make the team successful. A key quality of a soigneur is reliability. Whatever is needed to be done that relates to riders or the team, you need to have ability to do.

Planning may mean you carve out a little time to do some shopping for any supplies or organize and inventory your supplies you have so you are ready to go. Being able to see what tasks you have been given by your team and do them well is important.

Of course, doing appropriate and high-quality massage for the riders is paramount.

You might find yourself performing massage in a small French hotel room where you had to take out all furniture from the room, flip the beds and rearrange everything to get the massage table to fit. Even with that, you could only work on one side of the table, and then must move the table to the side to work on the other side.

Out of a 12–15-hour day, the most-important hours are those during which you provide massage.

The peloton passing through the feed zone where you can hand up bottles or musette bags. Always a place to have razor-sharp attention and focus.

Beyond Massage

The endless tasks outside of just doing massage can feel never ending. Typically, you will have assistance from your colleagues, and everyone has their divided jobs and tasks.

The work environment is intense and demanding. You may be traveling with (at large races) with up to 18 staff members and six to eight bicyclists. For example, there are staff members that oversee the bus, a chef, mechanics, strategists and a medical doctor.

While the riders are under huge amounts of pressure, stress and fatigue, the soigneurs need to remain calm and collected when working. The environment you and the other staff members of the team is key for their success.

One high-pressure environment is when soigneurs are in what is called the feed zones. We must hand up, while riders are at speed, bottles, or musette bags (small bags with a long handle filled with typically two bottles, one gel and one energy bar). It is a very dangerous place alongside of the course where you need to know what you are doing and pay close attention.

The work environment can change every day in a longer-stage race, as you move to the next city, region and hotel. You may be along the course in frigid temperatures one day and then sweltering heat awaits the riders at the finish line.

Within a team there are transfer staff. This is one or two soigneurs and mechanics. These staff members get to the next hotel in advance, start preparing bottles for next day, making rice cakes, catching up on laundry and shopping.

Laundry alone could be upwards of 30 bags per day.

This team has a physically demanding job when doing the hotel transfer. They move 20 to 30 pieces of luggage, along with three to five massage tables into the hotel rooms. They collect the room keys and communicate with the hotel staff.

Strong Boundaries

Like your private or clinic practice, your clients may open up about other things in their lives. You discuss the race, the high, and the lows with the riders. Trust is key in the relationship between the two, and for many riders their soigneur is a confidant, a person they talk to about anything going on in their lives.

Often it has nothing to do with cycling. Holding solid boundaries and applying any techniques you would within your private practice are keys in this area.

Nevertheless, while a soigneur’s hours may be long and the job specification never ending, it’s clear why people get into the role. You feel like you helped a rider do well, get that result, get that medal, and stand on that top winner’s step!

Jim Anderson

About the Author

Jim Anderson, LMT, has been working with professional athletes for several years in North America and Europe. When he is not traveling 150 days a year, he lives and work in Portland, Oregon. He has worked with professional cycling teams, including Hagens Berman-Axeon and Alpecin-Decuninick, and provide massage therapy, race-day support and logistics for athletes at events throughout North America and Europe. He recently worked as a therapist for Team USA at the 2021 UCI Road World Cycling Championships in Belgium.