Behind the scenes with our early risers and multitaskers
A swanny – or a soigneur if you want to use the proper French – is a human Swiss Army knife. They do everything they can to keep a bike racing team on the road.
What does it take to be a good swanny? Patrique Hogemann has been doing the job for nearly two decades. He says it’s about temperament.
“You have to be a giver not a taker. You have to put others before yourself, always.”
After an hour in the car with them chasing around the various feeding points of a stage in the Tour of Britain, one might think their most frequently used skill is cursing. Swannies can curse in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch – plus probably a handful of other languages – with the fluency of sailors, all the while navigating the narrow country roads of Britain with a kind of courageous confidence.
And speaking of finding their way, swannies must make use of at least three different mapping systems to find their way from the parcours to the off-route path then battle their way back on to the parcours further along, before the peloton races by. If they miss, the riders might not get a feed, or a vital bidon of mix. They have to plan, execute and recalibrate 15 times a day.
It’s high-stress and often high-stakes. But this is only the racing part of the day.
For the swannies on Rally Cycling the days begin early and finish late.
In fact, it’s difficult to communicate just how much they do, day-in day-out, to help the riders perform. Cooking, massage, paying tolls, filling out expense receipts, driving the bus, driving the cars, filling the team vehicles with gas, supporting the riders as soon as they cross the line, and giving directions back to wherever they parked the bus.
They must fill musettes with food they have prepared, while at the same time keeping an eye on the load of laundry currently running in the team truck. In fact, every one of these tasks must be accomplished concurrently with others – so it takes galaxy level organization skills.
Haring through downtowns of cities they’ve never visited, looking desperately for the finish line, they are part getaway driver, part mafia fixer, part explorer.
If the finish is on top of a climb and the parking is not, guess who is hiking up to the line with an enormous backpack full of drinks and spare clothing.
And on the best days, they’re also the first ones to celebrate a victory with the riders.
Hogemann says good swannies are at the center of everything, too.
“The swannie is like the spider in the web. They have to see everything, plan for everything.”
When you boil it down, the job has a simple purpose.
“You have to remove every obstacle to the riders’ performance. If I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day and say I truly did everything to help the team, that is enough.”
Even when it means giving your lunch to the press officer.
Words: Tom Owen
Images: Matt Grayson
Location: Exeter, UK, September 2021