It’s a demanding job, soigneur. Your working day starts before everyone wakes up, and ends after everyone else has gone to bed, making the hours pretty brutal. But imbued with a team spirit, and an enviable proximity to the action, “soigneur” still carriers with it enough prestige to make it an appealing job, and the riders, no doubt, readily show their appreciation.
All of which must be repeated like a mantra on those tiresome days when your assignment is to stand at the side of the road, with bidons and musette bags, waiting for your Fortuneo-Oscaro boys to ride by at a gingerly 40 kmh.
Without complaint you take your position among the crowds 85 km from the finish line, somewhere in the French countryside, in blazing 30-degree heat, wearing a team shirt designed for a man two sizes smaller than you, and who doesn’t share your fondness for rich food.
The hours pass by until finally, having got word your rider Maxime Bouet is in the breakaway, you take a step into the road and hold out a food bag ready for delivery.
Here they come. You see the riders. Your man Bouet is third in line, taking what looks like the last toots from a bottle as he approaches. And then, as you hold out a musette bag at arms length, he uses the bottle to squirt water directly into your face.
Bouet rode on quite contently, having declined the option of lunch. We didn’t see the reaction of the loyal soigneur.
But if he’d suddenly descended into a raging bad mood it was nothing compared to the race commissaire in the red Skoda, driving along behind the break.
Also following the break, for the 20 yards he was able to keep up, was a small boy in a Direct Energie shirt, running as fast as he could to give his hero Thomas Voeckler all the encouragement he could muster. The commissaire though was having none of it, and drew up alongside the boy. An arm emerged from the rear window, and pointed in no uncertain terms at the boy, warning him to keep back.
The kid shrugged, and ran back to where he’d started. We didn’t see the reaction of the commissaire.