For anyone that frequents professional bicycle racing, Sophie Roullois is a familiar face. Much appreciated for her happy-go-lucky spirit, she has a bubbly personality that’s only preceded by her overflowing smile. A massage therapist with the Cannondale-Drapac team since 2008, she has worked with many of the team’s riders and most of their stars over the years. Peloton Magazine caught up with Roullois at the Critérium du Dauphiné where the team was preparing for the upcoming Tour de France.
Words and Image by James Startt, European Associate to Peloton
Peloton Magazine: Sophie, I’ve seen you around forever it seems. How long have you been with the Slipstream operation?
Sophie Roullois: It’s been 10 years already. Hard to believe I know!
Peloton: Wow! I remember that you were one of the first French staff members to join the team. How did you hook up with this team?
Roullois: Well, I was working first with the BigMat team [a the modest French team] and I knew some of the staff when this team was still TIAA-CREF and that is how I came on board.
Peloton: And how did you get into massage therapy in cycling in the first place?
Roullois: My papa cycled. It was all his fault! He was just an amateur cyclist in Brittany but every weekend I would accompany him to the races. It’s funny because I’ve never once riden a bike myself, not even to ride 300 meters. But I still fell in love with the sport. I love it. Today, I am on the road about 175 days a year, but I love traveling so I am really in my element with the cycling lifestyle. I even left my native Brittany to move do Girona, Spain, so that I could be closer to the team. But I’m not complaining. Far from it. For one, the weather is a lot better in Spain than in Brittany. And it’s given me the chance to learn Spanish too! I just love everything about my job.
Peloton: Professional cyclists tend to have their favorites when it comes to massage. Who have you worked with the most closely over the years?
Roullois: Yes, people just gravitate toward one another. I worked a lot with Ryder Hesjedal, Johan Vansummeren and Tyler Farrar, and now I work almost entirely with Andrew Talansky.
Peloton: One always gets the impression that massage therapists have a unique relationship with the riders. You are the only ones with the cyclists in the rare moments of downtime in the middle of a bike race.
Roullois: Oh yeah, for sure. When the riders are not racing we just spend so much time with them. I see the riders more than I see my own family when it comes down to it!
Peloton: Can you tell when I rider has good or bad legs?
Roullois: More or less, although it can be tricky. Okay, if a rider has bad legs you know it, because they are full of knots. And there is not much you can do about that. Physically, I can tell when a rider has good legs, but if the head isn’t there, well it’s just like having bad legs. So it can be tricky.
Peloton: Were there any riders that just never seemed to have bad legs?
Roullois: Yeah, Ryder Hesjedal was one. For some riders, the longer the race, the worse the legs recover. A lot of riders just have to ride the third week of a grand tour on courage, because the legs just aren’t there any more. But with Ryder, the longer the race continued, the better his legs got it seemed. Andrew is like that too. He just has an amazing capacity to recover. Andrew’s legs are as fresh the last week of a grand tour as they are the first week.
Peloton: What is an average day like for you?
Roullois: Well, in the morning, we prepare sandwiches and lunch for the staff during the race. Then we prepare the food for the riders, what they will get in their musette bags at the feed zone and what they will have during the race. Then we get the suitcases into the truck that will take them to the next hotel at the end of the stage. And then we head off to the race. Once started, we go straight to the feed zone. You always have to know what is going on in the race. You have to know if you have a rider in the breakaway for example. And as soon as the race passes, we’ve got to make the cut-off to get to the finish. It can be pretty crazy. And then, after the race, we start the massages. They are pretty long days!
Peloton: What’s the hardest thing about your job?
Roullois: The hardest thing? Hmm, I would say carrying suitcases. Boy, I sure don’t like that!
Peloton: And the best thing about your job?
Roullois: When the guys win! It’s class! We are always with them. We understand everything that the riders have done to get to victory. It’s just so satisfying. I’ll never forget the day when Vansummeren won Paris–Roubaix. I gave him massages all the time. He had become a good friend and he still is today. I’ll never forget that day!