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For professional athletes, plying your trade can be a tough balancing act at times.
By Sadhbh O’Shea
Athletes need an extreme focus to be at the top of their game, but there are also trade-offs as they try to enjoy and live life away from the sport.
Jacopo Guarnieri, who is a lead-out man for Arnaud Démare at Groupama-FDJ, has to balance his career as a professional rider along with being a single parent. It’s a fine line to tread as he tries to ensure he can put in the hours he needs to be in peak shape, while not losing any time he has with his four-year-old daughter.
We arrange our call for the Monday afternoon before the Tour de France rolls out in Brittany, but we have to delay it a little as Guarnieri is putting his daughter down for a nap. She’s had a busy day of running around and playing at school, and the wheels have finally come off and she’s tired.
“They have so much energy, like, I don’t know where they find energy. They’re really impressive,” Guarnieri said. “It’s not always easy and I’m a single parent so it can be really hard for me. When I go to races it is really like a rest for me. Especially as I don’t want to give up any fun with my daughter because of my job or because I’m away.
“My problem is, also, I’m not like a real early guy for training. You know, it’s really hard for me to leave before 11. So sometimes I just came back, you know, like at three o’clock and in one hour, I need to shower to eat and rest a little bit and then pick her up and then when you have her and she asks “what do we do?”, but sometimes you’re really tired.
“I’m lucky because she’s, she likes books. So, if I try sometimes to lie on the couch and read some books, and she’s like, ‘okay’. Maybe it doesn’t last super long but for half an hour, it can be good.”
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Guarnieri’s daughter stays with her mother when he is away competing at races. As many parents will know, leaving your children for an extended period of time can be tough.
Weeklong races are hard, but manageable, while grand tours are at a different level. It can also be particularly hard when trying to balance the focus needed at a grand tour with missing home.
“It’s not nice,” Guarnieri said. “For one week. I can see like she’s ok. But, maybe after four or five days when you’re calling, she’s asking when do you come back home, dad? But, obviously, grand tours are way harder.
“We are in our bubble mentally. You know, we are really focused on what we’re doing. But then when you call home, she can deal with it and she understands, but you see that they’re really missing you. Sometimes you kind of worry that they suffer too much.”
Moving fast and going places
At 4, Guarnieri’s daughter knows what her dad does for a job, but she’s not yet brushed up on the finer details of racing tactics. Child logic means she also assumes that Guarnieri must know every person on a bicycle that they pass. Why not?
“She likes cycling. When she’s on the bike, she really feels like she can move really fast somewhere, but I don’t think she’s watching the race. I’m fine with that it can be boring,” Guarnieri said. “When we go around, you know she will see a cyclist and ask ‘are they a friend of yours?’ I say: ‘Yeah, definitely a friend of mine.'”
“When I came back from the Route du Sud and I said to her ‘you know, we won a stage’. She says, ‘oh nice, but did you win?’ I said ‘actually no I didn’t, but I helped a friend.’ She said ‘ah, so you pushed him?’ Yeah, something like that.
“I was at the Italian championship, and I said, ‘I didn’t win,’ and she said, ‘why didn’t you win, did nobody push you?’ I said ‘yeah, I had nobody to push me,’” he laughed.
— Équipe Cycliste Groupama-FDJ (@GroupamaFDJ) July 1, 2021
Guarnieri is happy that his daughter loves being active and wouldn’t be totally averse to her picking up cycling competitively, but he does worry about the safety of the Italian roads.
“I mean, won’t stop her, if she wants to. It’s not like we’re crazy for that but if she feels like she wants to try, why not? She can be free to do whatever she wants,” Guarnieri said. “We are lucky, because I moved from where I grew up, but not much like 40km, let’s say. When I started cycling, it was in the city. And here there is a really nice bike path, which is pretty wide. And it’s totally closed, you know, the traffic. So, if she would like to start, that would be the place to be.
“You should have a safe environment. With that, I’m sure you’re going to find somebody’s going to love it but on this side we’re [Italy] really, really fucking bad.”
Guarnieri is back at the Tour de France this year after guiding Démare around the Giro d’Italia in the last two years. It’s his fifth appearance in total at the French grand tour, after making his debut with Katusha back in 2015, and his third with the Groupama-FDJ team.
The team has not had much luck in the opening days, with Démare getting caught up in at least one of the big crashes during the final kilometers of stage 3. There are still opportunities for the team to deliver a win, which is all the more important as it is their home race.
“What happens in the Tour is always like, two times compared to other races. So, if you do a good job to get a win with your team, or your captain, in the Tour it is always like huge,” Guarnieri said. “We’re a French team with a French leader. Yeah, if we can get some, some glory in the Tour de France that’s going to be great.”