Behind the Scenes with Luuk van den Meijdenberg
My name is Luuk van den Meijdenberg, physiotherapist, manual therapist and movement scientist MSc. I have my own physiotherapy practice in the Netherlands. For the past two years I have been affiliated with the CST PostNL Bafang Mountainbike Racing Team. I have been a mountain biker since childhood and I have also ridden competitions in the distant past. Nowadays I like to ride marathon stage races with some friends…I could never keep up with the fast guys, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
Now that I am part of the team, it feels even more like I have been able to turn my hobby into my job. In my role as a therapist I can now make a contribution to the highest level of the beautiful mountain bike sport.
What do the days before a World Cup race look like from the perspective of the physiotherapist / soigneur?
The truck with the tent and all the equipment arrives on Tuesday and the riders, team management, mechanics, physio's / soigneurs, filmmaker and photographer usually arrive on the following day.
Then the work for the therapists begins. The athletes often arrive from another race, a training camp or from home and usually have not seen a therapist for several days. They would then like to be treated to loosen up the body or to have an injury examined.
The team's therapists have mutual contact in advance about any areas of interest per rider. The team uses a system with which we monitor the physical condition of all riders, among other things. In this way, all therapists involved know in advance how the riders are doing.
As a manual therapist, I usually do a general physical checkup that first day, in consultation with the rider. How do the back, neck, shoulders, hips, etc. function? Have they crashed? How do the legs feel? The rider generally knows very well how to indicate his / her physical condition, so this is generally investigated in detail.
On Thursdays before the racing starts, there is often an extensive treatment, usually in combination with a massage of the legs and back. The riders have normally been on the bike in the morning and are therefore perfectly able to indicate how the body feels.
The short race is late Friday afternoon. Depending on what happens during that race, they will or will not be treated that evening. On Saturday, the day before the big race, there is usually no extensive treatment.
Because there are various therapists work within the team, we have masseurs, physiotherapists and manual therapists. Each therapist has their own treatment methods, which means that the total care offered within the team is well rounded. Depending on the need, it is discussed in consultation with the riders which rider will be treated by which therapist.
Apart from taking care of the riders in a physical way, another important task of the soigneurs is to put food on the table. And food is a very important factor for a professional athlete. Fortunately, with Ekoplaza as sponsor of the team, we always have a lot of high-quality food with us. We often take the long-life products with us from the Netherlands. The truck has a fully equipped kitchen on board with a fridge that is always well stocked. All fresh products are bought on site.
We ensure that every meal has a wide choice of food, always considering the amount of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, taking into account the dietary requirements of the individual riders.
Dinner is always an opportunity for the whole team to be together, where the day is reviewed and the plan for the next day is made.
The days surrounding the race are quite hectic for the riders. There are course checks, material choices, photo shoots, interviews, etc. The moments when the riders are on the table with the therapist are also moments of rest. Here they are able to discuss some things quietly without distraction. Sometimes we listen to music, sometimes there is a need for silence. A therapist / masseur is therefore often also a trust person. An athlete must be able to trust that a therapist knows what he or she is doing. The body is the instrument of the rider and should be handled with care. And yes they can take a beating…
The relationship of trust is also reflected on the race days. As a therapist / soigneur you are with the rider until the last moment before the start and after the finish you are the first person to take care of the rider again. Sometimes in great joy, sometimes in deep sorrow.
During the race, the rider must be able to rely on the perfect execution of the race plan. What food at what moment for example? Fortunately, with a sponsor like Cadence, we are assured of the best nutritional products. The nutrition plan is carefully followed before, during and after the competition.
And anyone who ever uses sports nutrition during exercise knows that taste is also very important and Cadence is well liked amongst our riders.
The day when everything must come together. The mechanics have done their job, the equipment is functioning perfectly, the right tyres are at the right pressure and the forks and dampers are adjusted to perform optimally on the track. The soigneurs / therapists have prepared the riders' bodies so that they can perform at the cutting edge. Diet plan for the days before the race is followed. Nutritional plan during the race has been discussed.
There is tension in the team tent. The riders leave for their warm-up and report to the starting boxes 15 to 20 minutes before the start, where the soigneurs are waiting for them. Last phase of the warming-up on the rollers, starting bottle, pre-race nutrition gel, handing over clothes and last words of encouragement. Countdown… and off they go! Riders rush off, mechanics and soigneurs hurry to the tech feed zone. Here, everything is organised to prepare for what's to come. The soigneurs have arranged the bottles or gels and the mechanics have set up their mobile workshop.
Good thing, because in Albstadt for example, Marikse Strauss had a mechanical failure at the start. The mechanics saw her running and immediately knew what to do. The new chain was already prepared, custom-made in advance for her bicycle. The repair was a matter of seconds, but the peloton had already left for over 2 minutes. The original game plan can immediately be placed in the trash, which requires flexibility from the rider and the team.
Once riders finish their race they ride straight into the arms of the soigneurs. First emotions are shared and riders immediately receive their recovery nutrition, whether they like it or not ... After a few minutes the riders have regained their breath and the evaluation of the race starts; what went well, what did not go well, what should we do differently next time? At such a moment it becomes clear that mountain biking is really a team sport. The riders must show it during races but the machine behind it is constantly running.
The mechanics start cleaning and breaking down the team area. The soigneurs ensure that there is food on the table and make sure that there is time to massage some sore legs and backs. A good recovery is a good start for the upcoming race week.
Sunday evening in Albstadt, the end of the race weekend. On Monday morning the whole circus travels to Nové Město na Moravě. That's where the story starts all over again.Different place but the goal remains the same. Perform as well as possible, as a team!