“I think the swannies are like domestiques in the peloton,” lead soigneur José Sousa says as he briskly prepares a salad for the riders. “They are massage therapists, they prepare food for the race, prepare clothing, food for the staff during the race, take care of laundry and then also during massage time, it’s like mental care of the rider so they are an all-rounder, just like a domestique for the others, that is the best designation you can make.”
From bus driving to laundry runs and meal planning to staff organisation, José is one of the life forces for Human Powered Health’s race-day operations. The Portuguese has been with the program for over eleven years and has refined the artform of the human Swiss Army knife.
The first to get up and the last to go to bed, José’s selflessness is impressive to witness first-hand. It has made him a legendary figure of sorts within the team.
We caught up with Human Powered Health’s behind-the-scenes ringmaster at the Tour de Suisse.
Wide-eyed and still brushing the sleep out of our eyes, we meet José in his hotel room at 7 am, where he has already been up for an hour or so, checking emails, digesting team director Alex Sans Vega’s daily plan and drinking coffee to his relaxed playlist.
Staying on the road for extended periods of time can take its toll. With long workdays, exhausting drives and a different hotel every night, it can be tricky to stay on top of a plan, but exercise is a crucial component of José’s new 2022 routine. He makes sure he gets in as much as possible in the early hours with simple core and strength routines.
“You miss it. If you don’t do exercise you feel weird and your body feels strange,” he explains. “I feel better since I started to follow this exercise program.
“After meeting with Thorne I’ve tried to follow a little program. It’s not easy when you’re on the road every day,” José adds.
After a health check at the beginning of the year where high blood pressure and concentration struggles were recorded, Thorne sent José diet ideas and a supplementation plan.
Thorne helped by suggesting three dietary supplements –
Metabolic Health – which helps to maintain a happy weight by supporting fat metabolism as well as support optimal cholesterol and blood sugar levels
Relora Plus – a blend of botanical and plus B vitamins to reduce stress-eating and anxious feelings.
ResveraCel® which nicotinamide riboside and a host of complementary ingredients that support your body’s natural aging process and cellular metabolism
“It’s something that I never really thought about but it all makes sense. The vegetables, the fruits, nuts, the wholegrains. I feel better, I sleep better, I have lost five kilos in three months,” José explains.
José believes that it’s increasingly important for the younger generation to have an education in a healthy lifestyle.
“It’s like going to school. When you’re young you go to school to learn the language and math and then here it’s the same thing, we just need to start early to follow a plan and then they will have a better future.”
From there it’s on to a briefing with the rest of the soigneur crew over breakfast and then in the time it takes to drink a cold cappuccino, José is out at the bus, GPS coordinates in hand and ferrying the team to the start town.
After the relative carnival-like atmosphere of a WorldTour start town, we catch back up with him at the finish where he is preparing salad, rice and chicken curry as a post-race meal while assistant soigneur Paulo Silva makes up Thorne recovery shakes.
Once everyone has come over the line and is tucking into the meal, José and his staff are still working – they’re off cleaning coolers that have been in the team car.
“I’d call José the MVP, I think we’d be completely lost without him,” says US road champion Joey Rosskopf. “He is the true personification of a caretaker. Everything you can imagine has José’s touch making sure it runs smoothly. Whether it’s logistics in and out of the hotel or the nutrition side of the sport.”
“He’s just got a handle on everything and he brings a neverending positive attitude with it which is just unbelievable to watch him always show up, stay motivated and keep bringing that positivity, especially when you start to realise how many things he has a hand in and how much work he’s putting into this team. We would really be a shell of a team without his efforts,” Rosskopf added.
A final task awaits after driving the bus along to the next hotel – washing up the bowls, utensils and shaker bottles stained with chocolatey recovery drink used during the post-race meal
After long hours, arguably the most impressive thing about José is his ability to adapt to the moment and always stay cheerful, even when that includes being tailed all day by the media guy – minus spraying them with water.
“It’s always good when you have a good environment and people get along so I’m proud to be part of this huge family that is Human Powered Health.”
You can follow Human Powered Health every day at the Tour de Suisse via our social media channels and by tuning in to FloBikes in North America and GCN+/Eurosport in Europe.