On tour with Sophie Chavanel: Tales from Down Under

Here’s our first behind-the-scenes report from Sophie Chavanel, physiotherapist at French WorldTour team FDJ, who has kindly agreed to share her experiences and insights when she’s on tour with the team.

Hi everyone, I’m back from Australia after 20 days. Here’s a summary of how I lived through the race.

Ready, steady, go

The first issue of this sort of race is the preparation: we have no truck or bus so we have to take all we will need with us. You have to be organised and make an efficient list! It’s easier when you have experience of this sort of race. So, on Friday 11th January all the staff were at the service course to pack everything in four big boxes and the bike bags. We were limited with weight, so we had to bring just the minimum.

That's a mighty long list ...

That’s a mighty long list …

We took the flight on Saturday 12th and arrived in Adelaide on Monday 14th. The trip is very, very long … business class for the riders and directors, economy for the support staff. Big difference!

The problems start

The first difficulties for the riders were the jet lag and the heat but fortunately we arrived one week before the race. Some of them needed five days to find a good sleep to recover from 9½ hours of jet lag. Not easy for everybody but for me no problem … I was so happy to be there! I never have problems sleeping – I don’t know why, perhaps I’m a good traveller! The second difficulty was the heat. Some days we had temperatures of 44°C and the day after only 24º. It was very strange and not easy to acclimatise.

Enjoying the weather

Enjoying the weather

The first week was for us a bit like a training camp. The riders trained every morning and we massaged them every afternoon. The first issues were things like knee pain, but not tendonitis, just little muscle problems, ankle pain after an old sprain and, of course, sunburn.

The first race, the first symptoms

Sunday 20th January was the first race: a 50km criterium in Adelaide [the People’s Choice Classic – Ed]. The race is very well organised. Even without our truck or bus we had all we needed. Each team had a little covered stand with a fridge, drinks, water bottles, room for the bikes, compressor, a car for the directeur sportif and a small van for us. A car with a steering wheel on the right – and driving on the left! We have to always concentrate!

It’s not the usual set up for WorldTour teams. We were all together on the stand and all together in the same hotel for two weeks. So it was easier to communicate and to share with the other teams. Typically during the year we are all in our own bus or truck and we don’t speak so much with the other teams. Here it’s really more friendly.

Sophie and her boys

Sophie and her boys

After the first race it was a rest day on the Monday. Riders were suffering with pain because of the stress of the race, a criterium with a sprint finish and lots of nervousness.

Sheltering in the shade

Sheltering in the shade

From the Tuesday to the following Sunday it was the Santos Tour Down Under. We worked in very nice conditions, always sunny, well organised, nice and friendly people. But during the day we were busy. We began at 7am to prepare everything for the race and we finished massaging the riders at 8pm. After dinner, we worked on the stand to clean everything and to prepare for the following day. During these days there were still some neck problems and also some pelvic ones. I even had to treat a physio from another team for tendonitis of the wrist. First massages of the year create some problems too.

Racing balance sheet

For my team the results at the Tour Down Under were mixed. We had a second place on the first stage with Arnaud Demare. Overall Jussi Veikkanen finished 10th and Kenny Elissonde 11th. So we won some WorldTour points, which are so important for us for both the overall classification and to place the car during the next races! [The order of the support cars is determined by the latest WorldTour rankings, meaning the more highly ranked teams are in a better position to move to a rider’s aid – Ed.] The others made a good job too but unfortunately Arnaud Courteille crashed and broke his collarbone and sustained a little line fracture on the knee. It’s hard to be injured so far from home …

Girls on duty

Girls on duty

On balance

For me it was a really good experience. It was the second time for me at the Tour Down Under. I love Australia! In spite of the racing I can discover a new country, I can meet new people, speak English with them. It was very interesting.

I have learnt during these races, far from Europe, that cycling is really developed in this country. Today cycling is not only in Europe. It’s incredible how much Australians love cycling. Their enthusiasm and passion for our wonderful sport is impressive there!

It's a big thumbs up for the Tour Down Under

It’s a big thumbs up for the Tour Down Under

I love Australia and hope to be back next year!


(All images are courtesy of Sophie Chavanel.)

One thought on “On tour with Sophie Chavanel: Tales from Down Under

Leave a Reply