Former pro Stijn Vandenbergh (38) is back with The Wolfpack these days, the team he raced with for five years. This week he can be found along the roads of the Tour de Wallonie, not in the bunch anymore, but in the same helping role.
“Biking for a living was a really beautiful period in my life. I saw a lot of countries, like Japan, China or Australia. This week mechanic Dirk Tyteca reminded me of the first time he met me, he saw me fifteen minutes before the start of a race and I was still sleeping outside on the terrace. Dirk woke me up to tell me the race almost started. I didn’t have a lot of stress as a rider”, Stijn smiles.
“That’s why I also shared the room with Tom Boonen, for example, I’m a calm person and not a big talker and I also instilled some calmness in him. Riding for Quick-Step for five years was really special, having a lot of Belgian riders in the ranks and Belgian staff made it even more special. I had the most beautiful period as a professional rider in this team, we won a lot so that was good for the atmosphere but also the feeling that everyone helped everyone.”
Love for massage
“My most beautiful memory is my first pro win, in my very first year as a pro I won in Ireland, back in 2007. But also my fourth place in the 2014 Ronde van Vlaanderen is something I’ll never forget. For myself personally it was a really beautiful result. I was a pro for fourteen years, I could find a balance by sometimes letting go of the strict life, for example eating wise, meaning that after the Classics I took it a bit easier so that I could be able to build up then for the second part of the season. It’s important to keep finding pleasure in what you do. Being away from home wasn’t that difficult for me, only when my daughter Victoria was born it became a bit harder.”
“I stopped racing in 2020, now I work in the cycling school in Oudenaarde, where I can ride my bike as I did in the past, but now giving education to the younger generation. Honestly, I was always really happy to get a massage in the past when I was a rider, it seemed interesting to also be able to give a massage. This winter I followed a course in Gent for twelve weeks, the nice thing was that you were also a test person, so you also got a massage from others. Now being here with Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl as a freelance soigneur is very nice. I missed the part of being away, I still love to go abroad and here I know everyone on the staff and also 80% of the riders I still have raced with. It’s beautiful to be back in the world I’ve already known my whole career.”
“As a rider I also had a helping function and as a soigneur it’s the same, so this role suits me. Next to the massage, there are a lot of other tasks. Preparing the bottles in the morning, then we go to the start and we do a feed zone stop and give bottles on the road. I also go to the finish, if it’s warm then a rider really craves for a cold drink so it’s pleasant that then you don’t have to wait for that. Also the breakfast I remember as a rider I thought it was important that everything was there, so every morning I also check that.”
“Being a colleague now with soigneurs who were one of my soigneurs in the past doesn’t feel different, for me everyone in the team is the same and everyone works towards the same goal together. But I get a lot of tips from my colleagues, I’m happy to hear and learn from their experience. As a rider you’re just busy with racing, resting and eating. Actually, you don’t see what’s behind it all, but I remember I tried to thank the staff on a regular basis, for example the soigneur after massage. Now, the days go really fast, I’m also physically fit as I still ride my bike and go to fitness, but nothing will ever be that physically hard for me as riding my bike was.”
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele / Getty Images