As they cross the finish line on Market Street, it may seem like the cyclists competing in the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road & Time Trial National Championships are riding by themselves. In reality, each one is supported by a support staff, without whom the race would be even more challenging.
Micah Rice, a former pro cycling team manager and USA Cycling’s vice president of national events, explains that, although the machines involved may be comparatively less complicated, a cycling team’s support staff can be just as crucial to success as a motorsport pit crew.
“The idea is to make sure that the riders are doing nothing but racing their bikes, eating, lying down watching TV or sleeping,” Rice says. “If you can keep the riders doing only those four things and not having to worry about anything else, that’s one more bit of mental and physical energy they need for the race.”
The riders may be the most visible member of a cycling team, but here’s Rice’s rundown of the other team members operating behind the scenes:
*What they do: Directors are like the ringmaster of the cycling team circus. Many duties fall under their umbrella, from driving the team car in the caravan, scouting the course and developing a team’s plan of attack to organizing other auxiliary staff members and, in some cases, making travel arrangements for riders and equipment.
*What they bring with them: Team directors carry very little in the way of physical gear. During an event, their most crucial piece of their kit is the technical guide, which details everything from the event schedule and course map to where to pick up race packets.
*The challenges they face: Keeping all the gears spinning together. Managers must arrange to deliver everything to the event on time, including bikes and spare equipment, and most manage and share crucial information about the event with the other team members.
*What they do: Mechanics manage every piece of equipment and fix or replace anything that goes wrong, before and during the event. Before the race, mechanics ensure every bike is clean, its nuts tightened and chains lubricated. During the event, they will ride in the follow vehicle for on-the-fly repairs.
*What they bring with them: In addition to a belt of tools for quickly tackling simple repairs, mechanics manage the replacement parts for every piece of equipment, from spare bikes and wheels to helmets and clothing.
*The challenges they face: It’s called a race for a reason, so mechanics tend to perform repairs at a feverish pace. If a rider breaks a cleat, a replacement can be fitted while the rider is still coasting. The most common repair, a wheel change, forces a rider to stop. Some mechanics can complete one in as little as eight seconds, Rice says, and afterward, the mechanic must push the rider back up to speed.
*What they do: If the mechanic is in charge of keeping the equipment functioning at optimal efficiency, the soigneur — it means “healer” in French — fills the same role for the riders. A soigneur’s responsibilities are diverse, including managing the riders’ nutrition, providing first aid and taking care of the team’s laundry and grocery shopping.
*What they bring with them: Primarily, a soigneur’s equipment during an event is the riders’ bottles of water or energy drink and food bags, which they fill with fitness gels and bars.
*The challenges they face: A soigneur’s day is long and begins well before the race. A typical schedule may begin with cleaning the team vehicle(s), preparing breakfast and then moving riders’ luggage for transport to the event. During the race, they are stationed at the feed zones to hand off feed bags to riders, at speed. After the event, they massage the riders, prepare dinner and clean the riders’ clothes.