with Jacopo Guarnieri

“Our shoulders are broad enough”

On Saturday in Monreale, Jacopo Guarnieri will be starting the Giro for the second time in his career. The Italian rider discovered the race only last year, and he is now looking forward to getting on board for the 2020 edition as part of a very ambitious Groupama-FDJ team. Lead-out man for Arnaud Démare since 2017, Jacopo Guarnieri sat down to talk about “his” Grand Tour as well as the great momentum the French champion and his train have been experiencing since the season restart.

Jacopo, what is your state of mind as you approach this Giro 2020?

First of all, it’s quite curious, because we are now entering a period when we usually go on vacation. From that perspective, it will be strange. We’re not used to get to the start of a three-week race in early October. But personally, as an Italian rider, I’m very excited to be here, especially as the team is doing very well and we know that we have the chance to do a really good Giro. We can’t wait to start this last race of the season! However, I am a little more concerned about the weather, which could have a major influence on the race. It’s going to be cold, that’s for sure. We must hope that it does not rain, and especially that it does not snow. Riding on a rainy day in October is not the most pleasant thing. That being said, we should start with nice temperatures in southern Italy, where summer is not completely over.

“If you want to win, you can’t be too sentimental”

Are you also worried about the health situation?

Honestly, things are going rather well in Italy at the moment. The daily number of positive cases is not extremely high, and I hope it will go on like this. Then, the Tour set an example. It started when the situation was not too serious, and it did go all the way despite increasing cases in France over the three weeks. We realized that it was possible to hold a Grand Tour despite the health context. I think it gave everyone optimism. It must also be said that the Giro is not only important for the organizers, it is also for the State and for the cities. The whole Italy is concerned. I doubt there will be any real problems once we get into the bubble. Once it is going to be underway, I think the Giro will go all the way until the end.

Were you still worried that it would be quite simply cancelled?

Yes, but as for the whole season. When we resumed in Burgos, it was still quite hesitating; the situation was not the best possible. We didn’t know how to handle it. It was a first of course, but at that point, we weren’t necessarily optimistic about the future. There were also doubts regarding the Tour de Wallonie, the Tour du Poitou-Charentes… Then, in late August, we understood that it was possible to “live” with the virus, and that is why we are more confident now.

Do you feel any enthusiasm regarding the Giro in Italy?

To be honest, I’m not reading sports newspapers every day, and I don’t even have TV. However, I don’t feel this is very different than usual. I feel that there is a real interest in seeing the Giro going underway within the cycling world for sure. In Italy, on the other hand, it is all about football. I don’t feel like the population was absolutely craving for the Giro to take place, although everyone will no doubt be happy to see a sporting event on TV, or close from home. I also think that the relationship between the Italians and the Giro is different from the one between French people and the Tour. In France, everyone shows up by the side of the road because the Tour is also a big party. In Italy, it is mostly cycling fans that come to see the race. For this reason, I think the passion for the event will be more or less similar than usual, since a fan is just as passionate in May as he is in October.

As an Italian rider, is it somehow a special feeling to be at the start?

It’s a bit special yes, but I actually approach this race like any other. Earlier this year, Arnaud said he wanted to win. No matter when and no matter where, he wanted to win. That mentality wasn’t just his, it was the whole group’s. I arrive on the Giro with a calm and serene state of mind. It’s obviously an important race, and we’re going to tackle it as such, but if you want to win, you can’t be too sentimental. You have to keep a cool head. We want to perform as well as possible, and letting ourselves be overwhelmed by emotions will only get us disturbed.

“Everyone is fulfilled in his role”

Do you feel a lot of excitement in the group?

For sure. We have actually kept in touch for the last ten days, although we weren’t together in the race. We arrive with a very high morale because we won everywhere, which is good, but now it’s the most important race of the year for us. Milan-San Remo is different as it is a one-day race. We’re coming with a lead-out train in very good shape and for sure we really want to enter the competition, to race against others. There were certainly good opponents in the previous, smaller races, but on a rider’ record, only the big races really count. The Giro is one of them. After San Remo, our goal was to get to the Giro d’Italia in the best possible conditions. That’s one of the reasons why we didn’t compete in Tirreno, which came too early, but the Tour de Luxembourg instead. We missed out on great races, great opportunities, but we did everything we could to be 100% in the Giro. We come here with ambition but also with positive pressure. Last season our approach was more complicated and we really needed to win. This year, we also really want to win, but we have the confidence we did not have last year. Over the past ten days, everyone has done what he had to do at home to be fully ready. It’s really nice to see how the group, and in particular the lead-out train’s riders, stimulated each other.

Some teams sent a B or a C squad on the Giro. Arnaud on the other hand will have a whole team working for him.

I believe that a lot of riders and teams feared that the season would stop quickly, so they wanted to gamble everything on the Tour. Our team kept the January’s plans, and our goal is quite clear when we see the group here: winning sprints. The other teams know this is what we’re here for, and there’s no doubt they’ll use it. Since we have the best equipped lead-out train, they will let us control the race, but we have broad enough shoulders to do it. Nowadays, many teams also target several objectives in the Grand Tours. We made a different choice and we stick to it. The fact that we have decided to ride most of the year together endorses that philosophy. It is only by racing a lot together that we can find habits. Riders from other teams and other trains come and tell us: “You are strong, and you are lucky enough to ride a lot together”. It plays a huge part. Of course, we won’t always be able to set up the perfect lead-out train, but we are putting everything in place to get there. All of this will help us a lot on the Giro. We know each other perfectly, there is a big solidarity within the group, and when we get together, it’s like a family reunion. Nothing has changed, and everything comes back very quickly.

How do you explain that the lead-out train is performing so well this year?

If the group around Arnaud is doing very well, it is partly due to our abilities, but also to the very effective preparation program the team put in place. Then, we are all used to riding for a leader, but when the group is so united, we necessarily want to give even more. Also, everyone knows his job, and above all everyone is fulfilled in his role. We take a lot of satisfaction out of our own performance, but when the leader eventually brings home the victory, it is even more fun. We all boost each other. If the other guy is going super great, you want to work harder to reach his level. When you see Arnaud’s legs this year, it leads everyone to do more. On the tactical side, we approach every sprint in a different way. If we have three guys at the flamme rouge that is perfect, but sometimes you also have to adapt to the scenario and the course. I think we did that well this year. In every briefing, we talk to each other about how we see the sprint. We have ideas, we share them, we exchange, and then we adjust according to how the race unfolds. I think that’s also what makes our train strong. Habits are a fundamental part of performance. In top-level cycling, no sprinter is far above the pack. That’s why the right decision and the right timing are as important as the legs. On top of that, we have decided to be more aggressive this year, to act rather than respond. Finally, we focused everything on the sprint. The training was almost all about that. Everyone has played along and I believe the results are there. The group has not changed, but the approach is different and that’s what has allowed us to perform well since the start of the year.

“We must not restrain ourselves”

Do your recent performances bring you even more respect from others in the sprint’s preparation?

We already had our place last year, even in 2018. We were always there among the best lead-out trains in the world. However, what changes when you are this strong and when you win is that the sprinters without train bet on you. We witnessed it in our first races. Some might have one or two riders to take them, they would still prefer to stay behind us. That could happen again in the Giro, and it will be up to us to make sure that we don’t roll out the red carpet for them. They are aware that we have a whole train dedicated to Arnaud and we will have to pay attention not to make any mistake

What is concretely the main goal that the group has set on this Giro?

To win stages. We started the season with the idea of ​​winning as much as possible and that’s what will continue to drive us on this Giro. Personally, I hope we can win several stages. We must not restrain ourselves by saying “with one or two, we will be happy”. We’re in good shape, there are a lot of opportunities, so why not go out there and get as much as possible. Then, if we happen to win, the cyclamen jersey will come just naturally and could become another objective.

As an Italian, do you also have a big brother/guide role to take on?

Obviously. After Burgos for example, I returned home while the others went directly to Milano-Torino. I advised them some places to have coffee, some spots to visit. I’m also one of the most experienced in the group, along with Kono. I like this role, I will gladly take it on again, and I will also try to bring my knowledge of the roads. I know that when I go to the Jura, even though the altimetry doesn’t look very complicated, the terrain surely is. There are the same kinds of places in Italy. There are areas where the courses are more demanding than what they appear on paper, others where the asphalt is more slippery. I don’t know all of Italy like the back of my hand, of course, but I can sometimes provide some useful information. In the team, Benji (Benjamin Thomas) also lives in Italy. Kono loves the country. Personally, I am very happy that we are starting from a beautiful region like Sicily. I think the guys are going to really enjoy the places we will be going through, especially in the first week. There are wonderful towns on the route, like Palermo, where we’ll start, or Matera. Everyone in the team loves coming to Italy, although they haven’t had a chance to ride there much lately, and I think they will have a blast in the next few weeks.

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