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16-05-2024 | Frank Jansen

You can learn to be a soigneur: 7 tips

Providing water bottles at a gran fondo: it seems simple, but there’s more to it than you might think. Here are my seven best tips.

A soigneur gives a water bottle to a rider during a gran fondo

1. Do your research

Effective support starts with thorough research beforehand. What does the course look like? Is it car-free? If so, from what time will the roads be closed, and when will they reopen? Is there a mandatory supply zone (often the case at UCI races) or can you choose your spot? If you plan to support at several points on a car-free course, you'll need a well-thought-out plan because you'll have to wait until the road is reopened. Renting an e-bike can be a good option in this case!

If you can choose your spot, always position yourself on a slope, which makes handing off supplies easier than on flat terrain. If the course is not car-free, you can follow the course after providing the water bottle, catch up with the riders, and support them further down the road.

2. Bring more bottles and food than necessary

Always bring extra water bottles and nutrition; these almost always come in handy. For instance, if the rider you are supporting drops one, or you might be able to assist someone else. This is a great way to make friends in the peloton! It's better to bring too much than too little. Transport the water bottles in a cooler, especially in warm weather. If it's very hot, bringing an ice pack will definitely be appreciated.

The rider should also carry more than necessary, as they might miss feed stations for various reasons.

3. Don't forget yourself

Make sure you have something to eat and drink, wear a hat to protect yourself from the sun, and apply sunscreen generously. A camping chair, a power bank, and something to read are essential, as you might have to wait a long time as a soigneur.

A soigneur waits with water bottles and nutrition during a gran fondo
Photo: At my post during the UCI World Gran Fondo Championship in Trento. Thanks to using an e-bike, I was able to bike down after handing out the last water bottle and witness the finish.

4. Consider tools and spare parts

A basic set of tools and some tires (or even a complete set of wheels) often come in handy, along with a first aid kit.

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5. More than one bottle? Then opt for a musette

Providing one water bottle, possibly with one or two gels attached, is fairly easy. It gets trickier if you are alone and want to hand out two water bottles. A nutrition bag, or musette, is the solution. Handing out a musette (and especially handling it) is slightly more difficult than a water bottle. Practice this well beforehand!

A musette bag used for carrying nutrition and water during cycling events.
Photo: a musette.

6. Multiple riders? Make a plan

One soigneur can often provide several riders with food and drink. The important thing is not to lose track. The easiest solution is to give everyone the same water bottles and food. If that's not feasible, have the riders clearly mark their water bottles with a piece of maskingt tape and their name. Arrange the bottles in order of the riders' expected arrival.

Recognizing the riders can be challenging. Agree that they shout their name loudly when they see you. Ensure that you are easily recognizable, for example by wearing a distinctive vest or shirt. Make sure that you are clearly visible.

7. Use live tracking (if possible)

Does your rider carry a phone? Have them share their location via WhatsApp or a similar app. This way, you'll know exactly when to be ready.

With thanks to Frank Minnaert.

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