The Swanny

Coppi gets the treatment from his blind soigneur, Biagio Cavanna (Photo: Olympya/Olycom)

Behind every great rider, there’s a great soigneur. The right hand man, the go-to guy, who tends every whim of his rider, feeding, watering, mending and massaging. Behind the humble Velominatus Regularus, however, there’s a string of injuries, tight muscles, bad posture and aching guns. We are our own soigneurs, and if you’re like me, that’s not a great thing.

Heading towards a half century on the earth and most of that on two wheels, you’d think an old dog would pick up plenty of tricks along the way. Basics like stretching and self-massage, drinking plenty of water, and not as much beer are learned early, but virtually ignored totally. I never stretch; no matter how many times I’ve been advised to, I just seem to lack whatever disciplinary gene that encourages me to put aside half an hour after a ride or whenever I feel tight (ie always) to roll around on the floor and pull a few limbs into strange positions. After particularly long or hard rides, I might give the hammys a cursory tweak in the shower or rub the legs a bit once out. I have one of those trigger-point rollers, but it hardly sees out from under the bed. It feels good and no doubt helps, but it’s just way too easy to flop on the couch with a beer and zone out on the idiot box.

As I increasingly find it harder to get out of bed, or walk up the stairs (there’s about a hundred to my house) it seems the only time I’m comfortable is when I’m on the bike. As soon as I dismount, I’m like a foal with a hunchback trying to take its first steps. But it’s about time to get real and help prolong an injury-free riding life. I see guys my age or even younger nursing injuries and think maybe I’m just lucky, and surely my time will come if I continue my lax routine. The same care that goes into my bikes needs to go into myself. Stretching every day, maybe some core exercises, self massage after rides, might even try some yoga.

And my own swanny.

My friend Josh, a recently graduated massage therapist, has offered to try and ‘sort me out’ with a round of treatments over the next month or so. When he asked what area needed work, I replied ‘everywhere’. As he’s been gently reminding me for years that I need to stretch, he knows what sort of state I’m in and what I put myself through on the bike. It’ll be interesting to see what regular massage can do for a regular Cyclist, even if it’s once a week rather than the everyday luxury of the Pro. And if nothing else, I hear there are some pretty good looking women at the yoga place…

I’ll keep you posted over the next few weeks as to my progress. What sort of self-soigneur techniques do you all employ, if any?



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87 Replies to “The Swanny”

  1. FWIW I also go to Yoga once a week with my SO. It’s a great preventative form of physical maintenance, though now it’s winter I’m not clocking the miles I have been so there’s that as well, and I’m also doing more in the weight room than on the bike. Now that I live 2 blocks from a velodrome the volume of riding I do is going right down.

  2. @brett


    Also, can’t do yoga, risk of farting in public is too high for my self esteem to handle

    Oh great, there’s a fart risk?

    Yep, depends upon your diet I suppose. I doubt people eating few vege’s do much of yoga (therefore with little risk of that sort of thing). Also wanted to steer the conversation away from controversy.

  3. I joined a yoga class because my self discipline for stretching was so pathetic. I needed some structure to make it happen. The rare 10 minute efforts after a ride were largely useless. Like many here (I guess) a 2 hour time opportunity results in a 2 hour ride rather than a 90 minute ride with a 30 minute stretch. It was such a good thing for me. I discovered some really big problems and learned about some strengths I’d never considered. I was very surprised how muscle sore I’d be afterwards – in the quads too! A recent schedule change has forced me the cut the class and I’m missing it!

  4. Me like many cyclists (in the amateur area) have done nothing for my legs or whatever for ages. Then I’ve started 2 years ago to stretch my calves every day, every morning. No more then 5 or 6 minutes in all, but it really changed the shape of my legs…

  5. A few basic stretches after each ride and a single 30 minutes foam rolling session per week.

  6. For those of you who haven’t read “Breaking the Chain” by Willy Voet I can thoroughly recommend it for the insight it provides into the extent of institutionalized doping at that time. As a writer he’s no Bobet but the translation represents his affable character well and the odd turn of phrase entertains nicely. The anecdotes are the real page turners. 30 years in and around pro-cycling at that time – there’s not much that those soigneurs missed. Many stories of riders in big races – the preparations and results. He includes a bunch of stories of his own drug use as he bares all about what substances were used and what they did for the individual riders. He was completely dedicated to his metier – knowing the physiological effects, how to prepare properly and avoid positive tests, not to mention the knowledge of riders, parcours, tactics and sports psychology. His comments on his relationship with Virenque reveal so much. Oh and massage – he did give massages, I think.

    After reading this I can’t condemn anyone from that era. The jet-fuelled EPO days were the logical progression of the methods used forever. The modern swanny has it easy!

  7. @Harminator

    I guess I’ll have to read that just to hear what he said about Virenque. It is a fascinating subject, because it seems insane. Pot Belge et al. Thanks for the recommendation.

  8. Rub down the legs in the shower, and let plenty of hot water run down my back and neck. I rarely stretch before a ride, and I probably should try to stretch more often

  9. Thanks all for the memorable welcome, especially Marko for “women…have steeper hills to climb and don’t need your fat ass sucking their wheels.” The most perfect sub-20-word statement I’ve heard since a college mate came out with “apathy and procrastination save time and effort in the long run”.

    Anyway, a handy exercise after doing pretty much anything including riding is to stand with your feet about a foot apart, keep your knees relaxed, straighten yourself up, look ahead then start to drop your head very slowly forward and down, letting its weight pull your spine down vertebra by vertebra until you’re bent at the waist and the entire length of your spine is dangling loose. Dangle around for a while, wiggling your spine wherever it feels tight, then very slowly do the opposite to get back up to standing, feeling your vertebra stacking back one on top of the other until the very final one at the base of your skull goes back in place. Feels very satisfying (as does watching the end of the women’s Tour of Britain despite the annoyingly flat route).

  10. Oh, and to get the full benefit while your fat ass is pointing skywards, don’t forget to wriggle your shoulder and neck muscles loose too.

  11. Keepers: thanks for making sure we stay focused on the important stuff in life- Cycling.

  12. @Harminator Not far off, but I had to stop reading as I was keeping my wife awake with the constant muttering of ‘Oh my god’.  Not that anything is surprising exactly, having read other people’s stories published since, but it’s riveting all the same.  And there’s the fun of working out who he’s talking about in some anecdotes (second year pro who won the Vuelta clean?  Has to be Èric Caritoux).

    I am going to stay on my high horse and condemn the dopers, though, if only for the sake of the clean riders Voet names, also explaining how they could have had ‘better’ careers.  The choice was still there.

    @yogacyclist For a first year event, I think the Women’s Tour did pretty well with the route, though more climbing would have been good.  In terms of exposure for the sponsors and riders happy with the organisations and safety (compared to something like the Giro when the final stage was boycotted), I think they close to guaranteed they’ll be able to run the event again and be able to be more adventurous next time out.

  13. This may be slightly off-topic, but I assume that most of you are aware that you can actually do some forms of mild but beneficial stretching while actually riding your bike? This could include coming out of the saddle and, while standing on the pedals with the cranks horizontal, dipping the heel of a clipped-in shoe down towards the tarmac to stretch the calf muscle. You can also unclip one foot while coasting (e.g. on a mild downward slope), grab it by the instep and pull it back and up until the heel touches the buttock, stretching the quad. Another one, also done while coasting, is getting out of the saddle and arching the back the opposite way – i.e. moving the pelvic area all the way towards the handlebars and making the spine go ‘hollow’ (This one is, admittedly, best performed without an audience: to the uninitiated, it might look a bit as if you’re taking Chris Froome’s appreciation of the handlebar stem to a whole new and dubious level…)

    And then there’s the old classic: provided you’re comfortable with riding ‘no-hands’, you can sit up, put both palms on your lower back with the fingers pointing down and ‘push’ the lower part of your spine forward while arching the shoulder blades backwards and towards each other. Sheer bliss on a long ride… (I suppose you can deduct from all this that I do most of my riding alone – and on quiet roads.)

    For post-ride hamstring stretching, I highly recommend sitting with your back pressed against a wall, flat on your butt with your legs stretched out in front of you (for starters, you may want to put a book or pillow under the backs of your knees. Relax and try to let the backs of your knees ease down and touch the floor. You can read a book, watch TV and/or drink beer while doing this and you can almost feel your hammies unclenching as the minutes go by.

  14. As I increasingly find it harder to get out of bed, or walk up the stairs…

    Not to mention those mornings when, sat on the edge of the bed, the thought of being able to reach your toes to pull your socks on seems more than just a little daunting.

  15. @BMack Serious yes. And realize that the deep work over can feel a bit harsh, so with even with the massage HTFU. Thanx

  16. That’s not Coppi, that’s Mr. Bean. It’s a well-known fact that he used to race in Italy before he became a telly star.

  17. Try Tom Danielson’s “Core Advantage” book. I bought it last year and started in on it, but faded as time went on. This year I made a concerted effort since the first week of January to stick with it. It has made a huge difference on my bike this year. 15 to 20 minutes 4 or 5 days a week. Sweet Merckx, I even found out I have some abs underneath what was a middle age gut.  Also, I purchased a Marc Pro EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) device for post ride. It’s the shit, folks. Pricy, yes, but it really helps the recovery. Grab a beer, hook up and relax, and watch those guns twitch. Well worth it after six hours doing the hills in western Dane County.

  18. @frank

    @minion The description of yourself is somewhat different from how I had pictured you.

    Flattered but i’m not a climber, I’m built more like the normal sprinter

  19. Well reeled in people.  We were at risk of looking like a  forum.

    Stretching sadly only when the damage is done this end, but regular fortnightly visits to the chiro for the smashed C6 and C7 Vert.

    Start Pilates this week so looking forward to that !   Case of have to for the long term I think.

  20. Well, here I was thinking I was the only one who can go out and ride for hours, but can’t seem to find the time for ten minutes of stretching. I know I should, I just can’t every really make it a regular habit. I’m pretty good about doing light movement exercises with a stretch band or light weights a few times a day. I don’t mind those.

    And yes! I can feel great on the bike, but like an achey old man off of it. So damn weird.

    Cycling actually makes me feel great. Running on an artificial surface for two hours twice a week at futbol, now that does not make me feel great. I do usually have trouble getting out of bed the next morning. Alas, the post-practice recovery ales don’t help.

    Nate – yup, desk life. I have the worst fucking posture from sitting at a desk all day. My only actual consistent pain is in my neck. Monitor neck. Long rides seem to bother it as well. But, I crushed a vertebrae playing college sports, so that might just be a life-long rough spot.

  21. I find the best post ride muscle relaxant is beer. Or wine. And a good hearty protein filled meal. And avoiding stairs. I had a down stairs shower room built last year because walking down stairs REALLY hurts after a big ride. Best thing I ever did.

    A friend once commented “You never see a lion stretch before chasing down a gazelle”.

    And that is my moto every time I climb on the bike.

  22. @VeloJello Cheers – and I hope you’ll find the sitting-up-against-a-wall stretch beneficial.

    FYI: In case your hamstrings are a lot more supple than mine and you find that you can bring the backs of your knees to the floor without any strain whatsoever, you could try carefully to rotate your feet and ‘tip’ your toes towards you, to stretch the back of the leg a tad more – or even, while keeping the lower back firmly against the wall, lower the upper torso slightly forward towards your knees.

  23. Blimey – that was a controversial article – I had to walk away in disgust and take a few breaths to compose myself…..

    ……middle-aged men doing yoga – disgusting!

  24. The one thing that’s helped the most has been getting a new bike and ignoring any pro fit bs. 1.5cm shorter I  the top tube, about a cm higher bars, and I can get my back flatter and more aero, and  an stay there for longer. Its backwards to think that going higher would lead to that position, but thats also partly from a piss poor fit on my previous bike

  25. So we’ve done a TTT event this morning and we’re just chatting afterwards over coffee with some of the other riders we know, and we’re all stretching a bit in that sort of “ooohh, bit stiff” way you do when you have to stay in position for an hour.

    When suddenly one of them starts doing this:

    Now that’s flexibility. I think it would cripple me.

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