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 a swanny for years. He says it’s about temperament.
“You have to be a giver not a taker. You have to put others before yourself, always.”
On the first day I met him, Hogemann gave me his lunch and went hungry himself – so I know from personal experience he really does believe in putting others first. Even press officers.
Most people know swannies as the people who give pro cyclists their massage after a race. What many folks don’t appreciate is just how much more there is to the job.
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 brain-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.
Tour of Britain stage 4 results
1 Wout Van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma 5:04:22
2 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-QuickStep
3 Michael Woods (Can) Israel Start-up Nation 0:00:01
4 Mikkel Honoré (Den) Deceuninck-QuickStep 0:00:04
5 Ethan Hayter (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers 0:00:08
6 Daniel Martin (Irl) Israel Start-up Nation 0:00:13
7 Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) Alpecin-Fenix 0:00:16
8 Simon Clarke (Aus) Team Qhubeka Assos
9 Sergio Roman Martin Galan (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA 0:00:27
10 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team DSM 0:00:29
11 Maximilian Stedman (GBr) Canyon DHB Sungod
12 Carlos Rodriguez Cano (Spa) Ineos Grenadiers
13 Maxime Bouet (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic 0:00:35
14 Mark Donovan (GBr) Team DSM 0:00:37
15 Oliver Stockwell (GBr) Great Britain 0:00:41
16 Xandro Meurisse (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
17 Joel Nicolau Beltran (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
18 Connor Swift (GBr) Team Arkea-Samsic 0:00:44
19 Gavin Mannion (USA) Rally Cycling
26 Robin Carpenter (USA) Rally Cycling 0:01:13
GC standings after stage 4
1 Wout Van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma 14:44:49
2 Ethan Hayter (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers 0:00:02
3 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-QuickStep 0:00:11
4 Mikkel Honoré (Den) Deceuninck-QuickStep 0:00:21
5 Michael Woods (Can) Israel Start-up Nation 0:00:40
6 Rohan Dennis (Aus) Ineos Grenadiers 0:00:44
7 Daniel Martin (Irl) Israel Start-up Nation 0:00:56
8 Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) Alpecin-Fenix 0:01:13
9 Mark Donovan (GBr) Team DSM 0:01:34
10 Xandro Meurisse (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix 0:01:38
17 Robin Carpenter (USA) Rally Cycling 0:02:13
18 Gavin Mannion (USA) Rally Cycling 0:02:28
Stage 5 of the Tour of Britain kicks off on Thursday at 6:30 am EDT, with television pictures on GCN+ from 8 am EDT.
— Tom Owen to rallycycling.com