Thursday, August 5, 2021
HomeInterviewsAndy Hillman - Soigneur to the WorldTour Stars

Andy Hillman – Soigneur to the WorldTour Stars


There are no palmarès to check for this guy, he’s one of cycle sport’s back room, the ‘unsung heroes’ – but he’s worked with some of the sport’s biggest names. Here, he takes us behind the scenes to look at the life of a soigneur in modern cycling. Mr. Andrew Hillman, aka ‘The Hillmanator.’

How did you get into cycling, Andy?

“My dad raced with the Polhill, he was a BLRC man back in the 50’s riding things like London-Battle-London.”

[British League of Racing Cyclists which pioneered road racing in the UK and was bitterly at odds with the ‘official’ body, the NCU, National Cyclists Union. ed.]

“He went over to see the Tour in 1953 which was a big inspiration to him.

“I raced in the 80’s and 90’s in the UK with forays to Belgium but in ’87 I decided to stay over there, lodging at Mrs. Deene’s famous guest house in Ghent.

“I could just about scrape a top 15 finish by the time I finished but there were always the combines to contend with.

“I actually got a job at the Het Volk newspaper in Ghent, I had been a printer back in the UK.

“My journey to becoming a soigneur started when I met John Herety and Gary Beckett [soigneur to Bradley Wiggins, World Tour teams such as Garmin and EF, and a fixture at the Six Days for many years, ed.] when I was coming back from Belgium, they were en route a British Cycling training camp.

“I got to chatting with them and I said that I’d love to do what they did; they suggested that I go to college and train as a physio and if I did that I would always get work with teams.

“So that’s what I did.”

Andy Hillman
Andy Hillman still enjoys the bike and works with training camps in Mallorca. Photo©supplied

You worked with the Navigators and Flanders teams initially?

“Yes, from my time in Belgium I had made contacts and Frankie Van Haesebroucke asked me if I would like to work with Navigators, I spent two months at Donoratico working with guys like Marty Nothstein.

“And yes, I worked for the late Frans Assez at the Flanders team out of Oudenaarde.

“I was a freelance, working from team to team as required.

“I was bit ahead of the game at that time, I had gels for the guys – and I remember riders saying to me; ‘what are those things?

“I think my big break was 2006 when Tony Harding asked me if I’d like to work with the South African team at the Junior Worlds.

“That led to me working at the Senior Worlds with the team – which included a young Chris Froome.

“It all moved on from there.”

Which is your favourite of the big races you’ve worked?

“Milan-Sanremo, which I did with Unibet.

“That was a turbulent time mind, with the team denied a ride in Grand Tours because of wrangles with race organisers ASO and RCS over ‘advertising a gambling company,’ despite Lotto and FDJ being lotteries.” 

Who’s chattiest on the massage table?

“Jez Hunt and Baden Cooke were probably the most outgoing but the masseur’s golden rule is only to speak when spoken to, you don’t want to be one of those who prattles on if the guys want to lay quietly on the table.”

Andy Hillman
Andy Hillman works with the TrainSharp coaching setup. Photo©supplied

And who’s quiet?

Daryl Impey is a quiet guy, Beppu the Japanese rider too.

“Rigoberto Uran used to be quiet when he was with Unibet but now he’s an absolute extrovert.

“Rigo is a legend back home in Colombia, he has a company called ‘Go Rigo Go’ which employs about 80 people selling bikes and designing and marketing clothing through his shops.” 

Andy Hillman
Andy Hillman at work in his ‘office’. Photo©supplied

Who has the biggest legs?

“Two people.

“Jimmy Casper the French sprinter who won a lot of races in his time, including a Tour stage, had massive thighs but they were like putty.

“Steffen Wesemann, the German ‘rouleur’ who won the Tour of Flanders had huge thighs too.

“The thing is with both of those riders, they only liked light massage.”

Rigo Uran, pictured at the end of the 2015 Giro d’Italia. Photo©Martin Williamson

What about climbers’ legs?

“The climbers tend to have better definition, Rigo’s legs for example are very well defined but you have to spend as much time on their legs as you do on the guys with the big legs.

“And some guys have their quirks, Luis Pasamontes the Spanish climber who was second in the Tour of Britain one year and who I worked with at Unibet liked a 30 minute rub but only the backs of his legs, he didn’t want the fronts touched.”

Andy Hillman
Andy Hillman (r) with renowned WorldTour DS Sean Yates and the TrainSharp crew. Photo©supplied

What about sport directors, who’s most laid back?

“Without doubt, Dirk Demol as a DS he had respect as a Paris-Roubaix winner but he was of the ‘firm but fair’ school.” 

And the ‘sergeant majors’?

“Hilaire Van Der Schueren, who’s at Wanty for sure was strict.

“Tom Breschel – who’s Matti’s dad – was in charge at the Danish  Caprinordic team, and Jacques Hanegraaf at Unibet, he was a stickler and no one messed with him.”

Andy Hillman
Andy Hillman worked with Team RadioShack at the Spring classics. Photo©supplied

You worked with RadioShack – did you encounter Mr. Armstrong?

“No, I used to do the Tour of Austria which ran concurrently with the Tour de France.

“I was with them on races like Gent-Wevelgem and De Panne but our paths never crossed.”

Andy Hillman
Andy Hillman passes Mathieu Van Der Poel a bottle. Photo©supplied

And you’ve worked with Mathieu Van Der Poel a fair bit.

“I moved back to England in 2010 but Christophe Roodhooft at Beobank Correndon asked me over to work at training camps and races with the team in 2016.

“Everything moved up a gear in 2017 and I wasn’t sure I wanted to make the commitment to be on the road so much.

“But Mathieu is a lovely guy, very calm, relaxed, I never saw him once get angry about anything – he had fantastic legs to work on.”

Andy Hillman
Andy Hillman in typical position – behind and supporting the stars. Photo©supplied

What’s the commonest problem you have to work on?

“Apart from crashes, lower back and shoulders in stage races, repetitive strain problems – and a lot of guys like their feet to get worked on.”

Which team were you happiest at?

Unibet in 2007, the team was like a big family, I was a bit of a rarity back then, an English guy on a World Tour Team.”

Andy Hillman
Andy Hillman with Marcel Wüst at a training camp in Mallorca. Photo©supplied

But you’ve defected to football now?

“Yes, Notts County.

“Some days I was traveling 270 days, which is too much, from training camps in Benicassim in January through the Tour Down Under right up until October.

“The football means I’m based in England, and – like cycling – there’s a lot of history to the sport that you’re not aware of until you’re ‘on the inside’.

“And I have to say that as a staffer, you get better treatment in football than you do in cycling.”

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

Related Articles

Pierrot de Wit – Bradley Wiggins’ and Eddy Merckx’s Soigneur

If you look at those sharp black and white cycling pictures from the 70’s and 80’s on social media, beside or behind the featured star rider there’s often an uncredited figure – as likely as not that’ll be the rider’s soigneur. And in the case of some of the biggest stars of the eras from Eddy Merckx to Bradley Wiggins that soigneur is liable to be the gentleman we’re about to present to you; Mr. Pierrot de Wit from Brussels.

Cherie Pridham – DS with Israel Start-Up Nation for season 2021

‘Glass ceilings;’ they’re there to be broken through. England’s Cherie Pridham becomes the first female sport director in the World Tour; she’ll be with Israel Start-Up Nation for season 2021.

Robyn Taylor – CSC Soigneuse

So what brings a surfer dudette to West Flanders? The smart answer would be-ha! The team car! Robyn Taylor is a CSC soigneuse, she comes from Brisbane and has arrived in the male dominated world of pro cycling via water polo, surfing, The AIS (Australian Institute of Sport), and the now-defunct Team Fakta. Robyn found a few minutes to talk to us between stages at the 2006 de Panne 3 Day.

Shelley Verses – Pro Cycling’s First Female Soigneuse

Soigneurs; they shouldn’t be too young – they have to have lived a bit; they should be mysterious; surrounded by an aura of camphor and early season changing rooms; of few, gruff words; have hands like shovels... but blonde, cute, smiling, chatty, cheerful, Californian – and a woman? That was – and is – Ms. Shelley Verses, the first female to break into the closed world of pro cycling as a soigneur with Motorola, La Vie Claire, Toshiba and TVM.

Steve Taylor – Hanging out the ANC team car roof at the Tour

The legend of the ANC team and participation in the 1987 Tour de France - the story continues. Our man in Shropshire, Martyn Frank said to us recently; ‘you should speak to Steve Taylor, he was a mechanic with ANC.’

At Random

Le Tour de France 2012 – Stage 3: Orchies – Boulogne-sur-Mer, 197 km

ASO's copy writer put it this way; 'THE SUPER SAGAN SHOW CONTINUES.' There's not much else to say, save he made the world's best riders look ordinary, again. As Dan Fleeman said: 'Quality rider; not so sure on the funky chicken or running man celebrations!'

Berlin Six Day 2013 – Golden Night

Any talk of decline appears to have been, thankfully, premature as 25,000 people had visited the 102nd Berlin Six Day over the first two days. Tonight was ‘Golden Night’ and another massive crowd of around 13,000 trudged through the ice and snow in temperatures of around -13 to cheer and, in Berlin’s inimitable style, whistle the riders around the 250 metre track.

Le Tour de France 2009 – Stage 20: Montélimar > Mont Ventoux, 167km

Today was the famous Mont Ventoux stage... It's 9:00 pm and we're headed for the A7 "Autoroute du Soleil," and the drive north to Paris.

Philip Hindes – Team GB’s Sprint Team ‘Man One’

Sometimes even we get it wrong with interviews, take this one with London Olympics team sprint champion, Philip Hindes. We caught up with Philip prior to the Worlds In Paris and thought we’d be clever, holding on to the piece ‘til post Paris so as we could announce the interview as with; ‘recent Worlds medallist, Philip Hindes.’

World Famous Photographer John Pierce’s Favourite British Track Stars

He’s at it again – more pictures! This time John Pierce has sent us some of his favourite images of British track stars of the present and recent past; we hope you like them as much as we do.

Aidan Duff – Part Two; Moving from Riding to Selling to Manufacturing with Fifty One Bikes

In Part One of our interview with Irish rider Aidan Duff we heard about his six years based in Nantes, three of them riding for Jean Rene Bernadeau's top flight Vendee U squad, his experiences riding with Thomas Voeckler in the team, and his wins in the Herald Sun Tour and Tour of Brittany.  We continue our chat by asking Aidan why he stopped racing and how he moved into the business side of the game, as well as the unusual methods involved in producing his custom-sized carbon fibre frames and bike builds...