EF has an in-house swordsman

Meet Will Girling, a cycling team nutritionist with a love of cinema and swordplay.

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 21.07.2023 Photography by
Gruber Images
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At the Tour de France, all focus is – quite rightfully – on the eight riders of each of the 22 teams in the race. But working behind the scenes at each of those outfits is a much bigger number of team staff – calling the shots, repairing the bikes, massaging legs, handing out bottles, and (quite literally) putting food on the table.

All of those people have backstories and lives outside of the sport, but over at EF Education-EasyPost there’s a true original. The team’s full-time nutritionist – a tall, imposing Englishman called Will Girling, who looks like a Viking but with a gently-spoken, expert grasp on calorie intake – is also a stuntperson, with credits in TV shows including House of the Dragon.

From a carpark outside of a bull-fighting ring in Dax, amidst the hubbub of the stage 4 sign-on, here’s an interview with EF’s in-house stuntperson.

Escape Collective: You are Will Girling. You are a stuntman. You are a nutritionist. How does this happen? 

Will Girling: I am indeed. How does this happen? It was more of an accident, if I’m honest – not the nutritionist part, that was completely intended! – but the stuntman stuff was more because it was a hobby, and when I wasn’t full-time [at EF], I just joined an extras company because I love movies – I love movies so much.

And then I got on a couple of really cool sets like The Witcher, House of the Dragon … then I was like “oh this is super cool. I’m just gonna start training to do this stuff,” because I love to train and I’ve trained for a long time. 

I started just doing sword training, and weapons training and stage combat training and all this. And then started doing stunts, high falls, wire work, all of it. And it was super fun.

Are there specialisations within the stuntperson industry? Like, are people specifically a longsword guy? Are there different areas that people do? 

Yeah for sure. Currently I don’t take any work on at the moment unless it’s on the weekend, because that’s my time off – because [work at EF] is front and foremost, my main job. I did a lot more of it before I was full-time with the team.

But in terms of the roles you can get, there’s something called SPACT work [an abbreviation of ‘Special Action’], which is more your kind of fighting in the background of a battle. And that’ll be sword-work – I mainly specialise in pole-axe and something called a montante which is like a six-foot long or greater sword, can also just be called a greatsword. And then for the stunts, you need to be on the stunt register to really get that kind of work. And that takes a very long time.

So is it heavily unionised – you have to work your way into the system?  

Exactly – you’ve gotta get registered on the British Stunt Register, and you have to be qualified in six different disciplines to do that. Whether I get down there is another story. At the moment, it’s just a lot of fun and training and doing these things.

So there is a formal training process, and accreditation. 

In the UK there is – not so much in other countries like America, not so much. There’s just stunt training schools … there’s one in France, a very good one. There are certain agencies where if they know you have the skill set and you can deliver it and you’re insured, they will hire you to do certain things. 

You’ve got extras and you’ve got the stars, and presumably there’s stunt people filling in for particular stars. Are you covering for the big stars?

No, not at the moment. You’ve got a kind of tiered system. So you’ve got SA – that’s a supporting artist, which is just your extras, your background characters. Then you have SPACT, which is the next level up from that, which is like an action performer, but not a stuntman.

And then you have the stunt men and women that might do stunt doubling as a replacement for an actor. I know a lot of them have their own dedicated people that obviously look kind of similar or have a skill set and they fill in for them, consistently. 

You’re a pretty big, strong-looking guy. Is there an actor that you’re angling for? 

No, there’s not one I’m angling for. [laughter] No. I mean, I think it’s definitely more about the kind of movie I want to be in, and that’d definitely be fantasy movies. It’d be stuff like Lord of the Rings.

Whatever that kind of brings, but for me right now, I think it’s just enjoying doing the activity – it’s a bit like going to the gym, or going for a bike ride. 

Is your off season from EF when you do more of the stunt work?

No, so now I’m full-time with EF all my time is spent working with the team – this takes full priority. In terms of the SA work and stuff like this, sometimes roles come in that are on the weekend and I might take those. 

Girling and Neilson Powless at the 2021 Tour de France.

What does a day in the life of being a nutritionist for EF look like?

Very busy. [laughs] At the Tour, it’s a mixture of things – because obviously whilst we’ve got the guys here, there’s also still a number at home … another 23 riders or more that are still going to camps; we’ve got a bunch of guys that are going to [a training camp in] Livigno at the moment. 

So right now it’s not only organising and working with these guys [at the Tour] – making sure they’re recovered, setting out the feeds, making sure the feeds are accurate and represent the day that we have ahead, both in terms of intensity but also temperature and humidity.

It’s also making sure that those guys that have races coming up are still in the position that they need to be to perform their best and win. 

The team travels with a kitchen in the back of a camper. Here’s one of the team chefs at work.

Is there a team of nutritionists, or are you it? 

It’s just me! I manage all 31 riders that we have and everything else nutrition-based. So from what the chef delivers – we have two chefs – and then also supplements, stock, everything. 

So you come up with recipes too? Yesterday we were at the EF hotel sitting next to the dining room and we looked in through the window and saw Magnus Cort eating a glass full of something brownish-orange – maybe a soup, maybe a sorbet. What was that on the menu last night?

We had a gazpacho – I can’t remember the name exactly, but it’s a slightly different one that has bread in it – a carbed-up version. Salmarejo, that’s it.

Glad we got to the bottom of that. Is there anything else I’ve failed to ask that you would like to get off your chest about the stuntman industry? 

Not at all. [laughs] It’s definitely an enjoyable thing to do on the side. And it’s nice to have these different disciplines that we can train in. You know, when we look across our team – we’ve got people that do mountain biking, people that do marathons, they do all their different types of training. This is just like a different one of those from the rest.

Is there a way that these two things could ever intersect? Does EF ever have a need a stuntperson, some high-production team reveal video you could do?

[laughs] I got mistaken for security earlier …

Like a team bouncer, keeping the Rigo fans at bay? 

Yeah, exactly. [laughs] I was standing by the door with my arms crossed and they’re like, “Oh, you’re security!”

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