Brent Botha’s alarm goes off. The South African soigneur from Israel – Premier Tech wakes up before the sun in Turkey: it is five o’clock in the morning. It is the opening stage of the Tour of Turkey.
For Botha, the race did not start today. His Tour of Turkey started four days ago, way ahead of the actual start sign for the riders. On day -1, Botha bought groceries for the staff and riders, did the laundry, prepared the food and drinks for the first stage, filled bottles and musettes for the feed zones, prepared the cars, and gave massages to all the riders until late in the afternoon. He just made it in time for dinner, before he went to bed for a night’s rest of around five hours.
A soigneur’s race starts way earlier
The day before that (day -2), Botha was the person responsible for the travel from Girona to Bodrum, starting at 5:30 am, bringing bikes, massage tables, nutrition, and much more. The day before that (day -3) Botha spent the whole day in the service course, packing all the necessities for a ‘travel race’. On day -4, Botha came back from another race, heading straight away to the service course to prepare everything for Turkey.
Luckily, he is not the only one in Bodrum. Botha has two colleagues: Estefan Guillem and Pedro Claudino. In Turkey, they also receive help from a translator, Hakan.
“We do not race the bikes, fix them or decide the race tactics, but for anything else, riders can come to us,” Botha says. His colleague Claudino continues, “We are committed to giving the riders the best possible conditions to perform. They come to us for their massages, for their bottles, but also if they want to have a conversation, whether that is about cycling or about a different topic.” Guillem adds, “I would not call us more important than anyone else in the team, neither would I call us the busiest ones – everyone has his own importance and responsibility – but we soigneurs are the most multitasking.”
21 days in a row
During the Tour of Turkey, the days will feel rather identical. Botha will go from hotel to hotel, to load and unload all the suitcases, and prepare the rooms and the breakfast and dinner boxes. The other two join the race, assisting riders and staff in the start area, then drive to the different feed zones to give out bottles and musettes, and to the finish to assist the riders after the race. The time spent in those feed zones is described as their ‘free time’, Guillem says.
He continues, “I can really enjoy these times. Every time it is a surprise where the feed zone is. Some of them are in beautiful places. Other times they are in places that I realize that I am happy that I can leave after the race has passed.”
Straight after the race, he drives the riders to the hotel, where the soigneurs clean the cars and prepare them for the next stage. There is not much time for that, as massages await. After those, the soigneurs again prepare the food and drinks for riders and staff for the next stage and fight against time to get enough hours of sleep. During Grand Tours, they’ll go through all these same motions 21 days in a row.
‘Travel races are the best’
Claudino: “You can say that we do the ‘dirty work’, but I do not agree with that. It is important work. Every single person who goes to a race with Israel – Premier Tech has a reason to be there, and so do we, even though 99% of our work is behind the scenes.”
The Tour of Turkey is a special case, according to Claudino, as teams travel by plane and not by team bus and team car. “That requires additional preparation. Basically, because we cannot bring everything we would like to on the plane. We have to make decisions and the luxury of having a bus is missing.”
Either way, Botha loves the travel races most. “I like an additional challenge, of not speaking the language, or not quite knowing where to go for groceries. In races like these, one can really feel the team feeling, especially if the teamwork pays off with good results. I am excited to be in Turkey.”