With 12 years of experience looking after cyclists, Matthias Lukas breaks down the many different roles of a carer and tells us what it takes to be a great one.
Of all the roles we play, for me it’s hard to pinpoint which is the most important. We are like their mother and father all wrapped into one! Everybody has to help each other towards the common goal: making sure our riders don’t need to worry about anything. They just have to focus on themselves and their body. Eat well, sleep well, recover well – then go out there and train or race at the top of their game. It’s our job to think about everything else.
Here we will unlock the 7 secrets of being a great carer:
Here we will unlock the 7 secrets of being a great carer:
1. Working practices
You need to be really flexible. It’s about finding solutions in crazy situations and keeping on going. It’s like being in the entertainment business – the show must go on!
On a race team morale is key. No one can be happy 24/7, but if you can give a boost to the team, help pick people up at times, help relax them at others, all while working quickly – this is really important.
When you see Carers, from the outside we must look like Speedy Gonzalez. We are always running around, but if you’re not efficient enough in this job you would be working 24/7 and you’d never sleep. We already sleep less than everyone else, but if you don’t work fast, it’s impossible to do this job. Fast doesn’t mean it’s bad quality. It has to be high quality work, done fast, and always in a hygienic way.
This time is important for the riders, particularly during a Grand Tour. Obviously we need to give them a good massage, so we are there to help them recover physically, but also mentally we can be there for them.
In the race it’s stressful, you’re not always talking, maybe you’re even angry. It’s nice to be able to get a physio or a massage and be able to chat about everything - it’s good for the mind.
One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in the sport is that modern riders don’t have as much time for themselves. They have to prepare, they have meetings – their day is completely planned out with a time schedule. They don’t get much time for themselves, so during a massage this is a key time to relax and a time to enjoy.
3. Food prep
Especially in this team – you count every gram. Carbs, protein, fructose – you need to be accurate when it comes to what the guys eat during a race.
We have all the protocols set out by the nutrition team and we follow them when we make the race food. Because I’m from Germany I like this precise work!
The food has to be fresh, but for something like rice cakes it’s no problem to prepare it the day before. If you have to prepare it in the morning of the stage it’s actually too late – everyone would have to wake up at 3am!
The team has always worked to a high standard when it comes to hygiene and the results are proven.
The riders are not missing many days due to illness and you can see other teams have adopted some of our strategies.
Disinfecting of the hands is just second nature now and we’re lucky that we have the INEOS Sport and INEOS Hygienics products [GET YOURS HERE] on races and training camps. We always carry it with us wherever we go, whether it’s the feed zone, or helping the guys at the finish line. Being able to clip it on to our bag too with the carabiner it’s super useful.
Obviously in COVID times everything has stepped up to a new level. It’s our job to clean the rooms, all surfaces and touch points. It’s a lot more work from our side and we’re effectively doubling up on the job that the hotel staff do everywhere we go. But it helps us, it helps the riders, and it comes back to them only having to worry about riding the bike. They know their room is clean.
5. Feed zone
For me I like to be out on the race. Your job is done for a few moments, you just have to wait for the riders and you can enjoy the nature and atmosphere of the race.
You hope everything goes well in the feed zones and that nobody crashes. It’s even more difficult now with the new rules around the green zones, you get 50 bottles on the head as the riders need to also get rid of items in this area.
The important thing is that you’re not too nervous with the musette. Just hold the arm out, don’t jump around and stay in one point. If you’re jumping around it’s super dangerous. Hold it up at the top and give the guys plenty to grab on to. It can depend on the point in the race too – if it’s uphill it’s much easier to give something. If it’s on a straight road with a tail wind of course it’s more difficult. But most of the time the team is clever and they put you in a good position. It helps everyone.
6. Driving and navigation
Driving is a massive part of the job. If you don’t like driving. Don’t be a carer! As carers it’s our job to know where everything is, whether it’s a petrol station or a supermarket – definitely the airport.
Finding your way around a bike race can be stressful, especially when you are starting out.
It depends on the race. If you’re in a Grand Tour everything is well planned. You have the meetings before, you know where to go – it’s no problem, and having programmes like Veloviewer helps a lot with planning and information on the stages.
By far the most stressful is the Classics. You’re sometimes in three or four places in a day. There are so many fans that they often block off the parking places, and you’re always up against it to be at the different points.
7. Finish line
The finish can be a stressful and crazy place. Everything happens quickly but you need to stay focused.
Especially on this team you need to be thinking about the GC riders in those key moments. If somebody needs to go to the podium, whether it’s for a jersey or a win, we always need to take the Wahoo KICKR with us.
Drinks are key obviously, plus we need to bring enough recovery food with us, prepared by our chefs. We also have the bag with us to change clothes. You have to help the guys with everything as fast as possible. Everybody wants something from you. You have to go to the doping control, you have to go to the press office. It can be stressful.
After the stage the riders have the same food, whether it’s on the podium or back at the bus. Every day it’s something different – maybe chicken, beef – plus some carbs. It’s always nice food, designed to help the muscles recover as fast as possible and protect the guys.
Final thoughts and advice if anyone wants to become a carer
As you can imagine it’s not a 9 to 5 job and you spend a lot of time away from home. You have to be really flexible and motivated. It’s an unbelievable job – seeing all these amazing countries, epic atmospheres at the races – all the while working with elite sportspeople and everyone around you is the best at what they do.
To be a good carer also takes time and experience. Many people come from within the sport, but I was never a professional rider. I was a trained physio, working in hospitals to start with, but there are many sports massage courses out there. I worked for third category domestic cycling teams and then for me I was always fighting upwards, trying to improve every year. You have to show that you want to work and helping out at the lower levels of the sport is a great place to start. Like a lot of things in life it can be about making connections and being in the right place at the right time.