The Garmin-Cervélo teamwork that fans saw at Paris-Roubaix was impressive. From Johan Van Summeren taking the directors’ advice to throttle it at the Carrefour de l’Arbe, to Thor Hushovd frustrating Cancellera’s efforts to bridge, the team rode as an orchestrated whole.
But that teamwork starts long before the tubulars hit the road, and it involves more than riders and their directors.
Take, for instance, the marvelous fact that every morning when the riders sit down to breakfast, a soigneur shows up with bags of freshly cleaned laundry.
For anyone who has watched precious hours of their life drip away waiting for clothes to dry in a laundromat, this daily occurrence is a thing of wonder indeed.
We asked team soigneur Sophie Roullois to walk us through the process. (A soigneur, by the way is a massage therapist, but also a jack of all trades who does everything from preparing race food and drink, to driving team cars from one race to another, to picking up riders and VIPs at airports. About the only thing they don’t work on is bikes; that’s the mechanics’ bailiwick.)
The kit cleaning process starts after the riders complete a training ride or race. If they are racing, they strip off their kit in the team bus and put it in a nylon mesh bag. Each bag has a big tag on it marked with the rider’s name.
Once the bus returns to the team hotel, the riders deliver their dirty clothes to one of the soigneurs.
The soigneur then puts up to four of these bags at a time into a washing machine. There is usually one washing machine on the team bus, and another on the team’s equipment truck.
So the riders’ clothes don’t get mixed up with one another, they stay in the laundry bags while being washed.
However, if it’s a particularly full load, soigneur Alyssa Morahan says she sometimes pulls the riders’ Castelli bib shorts out of the bags before washing them. Before tossing them in the washing machine, she makes sure that the rider’s name is also on their shorts.
According to Roullois, it takes about 45 minutes to run the clothes washing cycle, after which the bags are transferred, with clothes still inside, to a clothes drier on the bus. When the clothes are dry—which can take up to 90 minutes—she pulls them out, bags them and delivers them to the riders the next morning at breakfast.
There are typically eight riders at a race, and Roullois says the laundry duty is assigned to one of three soigneurs each night. “Two swannies do three massages, and one swannie does two massages. The one who does two massages is in charge of the laundry.” The schedule rotates so laundry and massage therapy duties are shared.
For all of this nifty system’s elegance, sometimes circumstances conspire against washing salt and road grime out of the riders’ clothes.
Like when the power goes out. “Sometimes you have electricity problems,” Roullois explains. For instance, when multiple teams plug into a small, antiquated hotel’s power supply, fuses can blow, forcing everyone to unplug. “It’s all about the electricity,” she explains. “When there is electricity, all goes well. “
When the bus can’t plug into an external power source, the clothes washing and drying machines rely on an on-board generator.
But because the team mechanics are also using this generator to run power washers, it means that the laundry has to wait until the bike cleaning is done before it can start, otherwise the generator gets overloaded. And this means the clothes washing and drying can go on late into the night.
Getting water for the clothes washers is generally not a problem. The bus and truck simply hook up hoses to a hotel faucet. However, Roullois adds, during the early season races cold can be a problem. “When it’s really cold outside, sometimes if you don’t change hoses, the hose gets frozen and in the morning you are like, ‘Oh! No water!’”
And when that happens, Roullois says with a laugh, they find a laundromat.
In 2011 Mark Johnson is writing and photographing a book on Garmin-Cervélo to be published by VeloPress in early 2012. You can follow his travels with the team on Twitter @argylearmada