Portuguese soigneur José Sousa is proof that ‘teamwork’ transcends the riders in Rally Cycling jerseys. Keen gravel grinder and friend to all, Sousa tells us about the emotional edge of bike racing, the importance of good relationships, and what makes a good soigneur in our latest “Things With” interview.
Everyone chips in at Rally Cycling. Between races, instead of staying in hotels, we always try to be in a house where we can share ideas and spend time with the guys. Everyone does a bit of everything – the cooking, the cleaning of the house, and playing games. It really brings us all together.
Good team relationships are vital. During the year you spend more time with your roommate than with your family, and our riders are nearly always a very long way from home. We, the team directors and staff, have been learning each season about how to handle being on the road, to create a good environment, and be there for each other.
Rally Cycling is a big family. It’s amazing how Jonas [Carney] picks every individual for each job and he makes the team better each year. I remember when we had Sepp Kuss, Colin Joyce, and Adam de Vos on the team, and the three of them together couldn’t stop laughing all the time. I think it’s the good environment on the team that makes it grow bigger and bigger.
You become the people you surround yourself with. I’ve learned a lot from the people I work with. From Bob Gregorio, a legend in road cycling and mountain biking, and even Brad Huff, all the people that keep you going. I think you learn from others and become a bit like them.
It’s the emotion we’re going to remember. It won’t matter so much who won the race on a specific day, but we’ll remember what happened in the team, if we had a crash, or we had a nice meal, or we had a nice talk. We’ll remember some bits from the race, but we’ll remember more the emotions that were created in the moment.
I started racing my bicycle at six-years-old and won my first national title when I was seven. But it wasn’t until I turned 20 that I signed my first professional contract. It was 1995 which was the same year I won the under-23 national road title. I wouldn’t say there are any particular top moments from my racing career, they were all top moments because I was on the bike which is what I love, and I was suffering with my teammates.
In life, I don’t believe we should choose what we want to be but be chosen. For me, cycling was that special thing, but I always commit 110 percent to everything that I do. I enjoy being part of a team and using my life experience to help others.
Smaller races are my favorite because they’re more intimate. At races like the Tour de France or Paris-Roubaix, you’re not so close to the riders because they race, they sleep, they race, and you only see them for one hour of the day. I like going to races like the Tour of Belize where it’s just me, Jonas and Bob, and six riders. At smaller races, you can be part of all the things going on at the same time. I just want to be everywhere.
Being able to adapt is the key to being a good soigneur. Adapting to where you are, and the riders and directors you’re with. Every soigneur, or ‘swanny’, has to do the small jobs, but we all have that individual something inside of us that we do best and some things that aren’t so good. So we need to push the good and let others do what they’re best at, do more massage, or more cooking, or handling bottles on a climb, whatever it is.
Improvisation is an important tool. At the Tour of California one year, I was alone in the feed zone with all the guys to feed. We had a lot of stuff to pass them, so I had this random guy helping me from the crowd. Sometimes a guy doesn’t catch the bottle, so you make a commissaire stop and give him a few bottles to give to the riders. You just have to improvise when things don’t work, get things done for the guys.
Going for a ride is a good way to reset. I thought I was tired of cycling, but it only takes one ride to realize that it’s what keeps you going. If you’re having trouble with some work, you can go out for a bike ride, and when you get back you can do it in five minutes. When I’m on the road, I just focus on what I’m doing, I don’t think of anything else.
I’m really getting into gravel biking. I love road and mountain biking, then last year I talked a lot with Rob Britton, a real gravel lover. He’s an amazing guy, I’ve learned a lot. I want to go on more and more big rides, just take a tent, sleep on the road, and do crazy stuff.
I love the simplicity of races like L’Eroica. It’s something that everyone should do once in their lifetime. You wake up in the morning, put on a vintage jersey and kit, then get on the vintage bike all day long. If you break a cable, it doesn’t matter, it’s just part of the day. Stop, fix it, then hit the road. And then there are all the wonderful people – it’s like living life, you have ups and downs, you just need to adjust and keep moving forward.
This year’s Tour of Portugal was an emotional rollercoaster. I only did two days of the race, but I loved being there for the first time with the team. My kid is an under-23 rider and he was also racing with one of the domestic teams. I wanted to be there with Rally, but also to see my kid at the finish. But then what happened to Nigel Ellsay was horrible. He’s out of the hospital and he’s walking now – the kid is recovering super fast. That was a very human and emotional experience. I just want to send big love to Nigel.