Katusha’s Jacopo Guarnieri Gets PEZ’d
Jacopo Guarnieri can talk and on any subject, but sprinting is his bread and butter and being Alexander Kristoff’s last pilot fish in the Katusha lead-out train puts him in the perfect position to know what he’s talking about. He also likes to talk about his love of Paris-Roubaix, doping and being a cycling sex god.
PEZ: How would you describe yourself as a rider?
Jacopo Guarnieri: You mean like a sprinter, in those terms? At one time I was thinking I would be one of the best sprinters in the World, when I turned Pro, because when I was younger I was really promising as a good rider. Then when I turned Pro it takes a while to get into the mood of professional cycling, so after a while I decided to re-invent myself as a lead-out man and now this is a role that really suits me and I’m really happy in this role and I hope to get even better. Maybe show more in the Classics, where I would like to perform better, with a bit of luck, because last year I was not really lucky in the Classics. But the role of a lead-out man and even the captain on the road is something I would like to take on in the Katusha team this season. That is more or less what I am and what I would like to be in cycling.
PEZ: You are normally the last man in front of Alexander Kristoff in the Katusha sprint train.
Yes, I’m a really quiet rider in the peloton, especially in the last kilometer and Alex likes this a lot. Many people can make short efforts, but you shouldn’t use them early. Alex likes a lot that we never ‘race’ and that it is very important when you are heading into a sprint that you are not wasting any energy on sprinting twenty times to get back to your position and so that is one of the best qualities I have. I have a good eye in the peloton, where to go and where to put my wheels. He trusts me a lot, in the lead-out he never says anything to me, he just follows me and lets me drive. This is really nice, I think it makes things easier when the guy behind you trusts you a lot in where you go (in the peloton). Of course you can’t go through a small hole that only I would fit, I try to find the space for both, he understands this and so doesn’t need to say anything to me. Where ever I go I know he is following me, so this is good.
PEZ: Do you think sprinting has changed in the last 5 years?
I could say when I turned Pro I was not scared, but I was more respectful towards the other guys. My first race was the Tour Down Under and I was breaking because I didn’t want to touch McEwen, now that is not happening any more. OK, that was eight years ago, not so long, but the young guys showed more respect towards the other riders, especially the older ones, now no one is afraid to go against and fight with Alex, before this would never happen. In my first year it was like; “I’m the old guy and you are the youngster.” Now it is not like this, but maybe we have gone too nice. Maybe they need to understand that there are people who have been in this sport for many years and you should respect them. We have so many new Nationalities in the peloton, which is nice, but they don’t have a cycling culture and I think that this is maybe why there is a lack of respect. You have the really young guys and they say “I don’t give a shit, I’m riding in the best team in the World and I don’t care, I can do whatever I want.” In some teams, the young guys, and I don’t want to say which teams, but the young guys are acting like they can do what ever they want. If someone touches you form another team, you don’t say anything, but someone from one of those teams you would be screaming, it’s something I really don’t like and it is stupid. They put themselves on a pedestal that doesn’t exist. So that is a big difference.
PEZ: Do you think there are more lead-out trains now?
No, not really. If you look back, like when I was really young there was Saeco with Cipollini and they started sprinting really far from the finish. Now it’s a bit different, we start maybe one kilometer or one and a half kilometers to go, so it’s a bit different. Before you had teams that were devoted to just one guy, but now, for example, our Tour de France team was split half for Alex and half for Purito, so that isn’t easy. Also to have eight guys keeping energy for the last five kilometers is not easy and sometimes you see the lead-out start with ten kilometers to go… and why? Wait. Wait till five. I think maybe the last kilometer is well organized, but the kilometer before, not so much
PEZ: What about the problem of the GC guys coming to the front for the finish?
In Italy we say “it’s a dog bites its own tail” because they are scared to crash and some guys are not respectful and so they have more crashes and so it’s a mix. Also the GC guys are maybe not so good at riding their bikes and obviously they want to stay at the front because they don’t want to loose the Tour de France due to a stupid crash.
PEZ: But they have the chance of crashing at the front.
Yeah, yeah, how many times? I think a good thing would be a neutralization, not just incase of a crash, but a secret agreement between the riders and the organizers. OK it’s neutralized but stay in the bunch please, don’t stop pushing, stay all together, but the time will not be counted.
PEZ: Years ago you never saw the GC guys at the front.
No, no, no. On one hand you can understand, but on the other, for example; Contador when he crashed at the Giro he was there at the front because he was scared and whatever, but he said “hey I was at the front” but maybe he would have been safer at the back. I think if they put it at five kilometers, then that is enough of a time cut, and then at three a complete neutralization, that would be better. They come all together and that would be it.
PEZ: It’s a new thing, the GC guys coming to the front because they are scared of losing 5 seconds.
You know, I think it’s because the level is the same, OK in the last Giro there was a big difference between first and second, but normally they are more or less all there, it’s not a matter of eight minutes or something, maybe one minute. Everybody has access to the best equipment, nutrition, training, materials, so the level is pretty similar for everybody, so even ten seconds can make a huge difference sometimes.
PEZ: What is your favorite race?
Paris-Roubaix. Absolutely it’s the best one. It is something that is so old fashioned, how can you ride on that, it shouldn’t be legal but it’s so nice. My dream as a rider would be to win this race. It really is a beautiful race and huge. Crazy but beautiful. It’s so fast, everything is fast and crazy, it’s the Hell of the North. Amazing, I can’t say anything else but, amazing.
PEZ: Did you watch Roubaix when you were young?
Yes, but not so much. It all started when I was in the Netherlands riding a stage race for the National team and there were plenty of cobbles, I had so much fun that after that I though that this was really fun. I remember seeing Servais Knaven win.
PEZ: When I was a kid it was Moser.
Yeah, that was nice. I remember the last year of Museeuw when he had two crashes and punctures, I was so pissed for him, I would have loved to have seen him win again and then he lost. It’s really nice because it isn’t just the legs, you need a lot of luck not to crash, everything can change even in the last kilometer, it’s a really open race and I like it.
PEZ: Riders have changed since then, there are no big strong guys like Meseeuw any more. Even the classics guys are thinner.
Yeah, but there is still Degenkolb, Terpstra. But if you think of Tony Martin, Roubaix is a race that would suit him.
PEZ: Except he hates cobbles. I asked him in an interview two years ago.
He would ride well there, but if he doesn’t like cobbles, that’s half the battle.
PEZ: Do you know your calendar for 2016 yet?
More or less it will be the same as Alex, so one they decide the calendar I will be with him. Normally he should be going to the Tour and I will go with him. Obviously I will need to be in shape, but if he goes there so will I. I saw it doesn’t start with a time trial, this I don’t really like because of the crashes, but for him it could be good to take the yellow jersey. Last year was my first Tour de France and they said it was the hardest, with not so many sprints, so I’m really looking forward to doing a Tour de France with more sprinter stages.
PEZ: What do you think of the Giro and Vuelta with all those hard summit finishes?
Especially the Vuelta, I did it two years ago, but it’s too hard. I think the sprinters are not really liked by the organizers, they seem to make everything much harder, look at Sanremo, they always want to put more climbs, for what? Maybe I’m wrong, but I think when we are allowed to put a live camera in the peloton, it will be a huge step forward for the sprinters. How boring will it be to see a live camera on a climb, what do you see? You think about the final 10 kilometers in a sprint, if you could swap between many cameras like in Formula 1. From the moto camera it can look like nothing is happening, but in the peloton it’s like a mishmash. So the live camera will help a lot in the sprint stages.
PEZ: But all these hard stages cuts down where you can do your job.
Obviously every kind of rider should have their chance, but they shouldn’t exaggerate for the climbers. The hardest thing about cycling… well, it’s like Usain Bolt has to compete with Mo Farrar, they are totally different kinds of athletes, but we have to compete together. It’s not easy, especially in a Grand Tour.
Pez: What is it like working with Alexander Kristoff?
He’s a really nice guy, he’s really quiet and polite to everyone, sometimes even too nice to everyone in the sprint. Like after you finish a sprint nobody says “Kristoff is an asshole”, nobody says that. He is very good to everyone and sometimes, in a sprint, you have to be a little bit…
PEZ: Do you think Michael Mørkøv coming to the Katusha sprint train will make a difference?
I think with him and Haller, us three will make a really good lead-out. We are really motivated and I think he will be really helpful for the team.
PEZ: What do you want form next year?
To repeat what we did last year with Alex, he had a lot of victories and maybe we can find a way to get some more. Normally my program will be the same as his and I will be with him to the Grand Tour and if we do the Tour de France we will be together to there and then I would like to focus on the World championships for Italy, to have a good performance there with the national team. So my main target for the year will be to help Alex in the sprints and find a good spot with the National team for the Worlds.
PEZ: You went from Liquigas to Astana, before Katusha, was that much of a change?
Yeah, especially when Nibali came there was a lot of riders and staff came to the team, so basically there were a lot of the same guys. I felt a bigger change coming here (Katusha) than from Liquigas to Astana. It was a big difference because for the first time I found myself in a team that was half built around a sprinter. In Liquigas we had sprinters with Sagan and Viviani, but it was not the same as here. We have a really well known sprinter here, not like a promising sprinter, and he has a big structure behind him. It’s good for me that we have our group and we go out (training) together here. All the sprinters are going to work for Alex and we spend a lot of time together, it’s a bit different and I like it this way. We prepare well for the Classics, they also did at Liquigas, but at Astana it was more for the Grand Tours. So this was a big change coming here from Astana.
PEZ: What was it like working with a young Peter Sagan?
He turned Pro when I was on my second year there, he was young, but already he was really strong, I think it was in Paris-Nice he started to win almost immediately, he has a big talent.
PEZ: I was told by someone (a woman) on Twitter that I should interview you because you are a good looking guy. Do you have a big fan club?
Yes, I have a fan club, but actually they are all old men. It would be nice if there were more women in it, I appreciate my fan club but it is made up of old men, they are nice guys. In Italy cycling isn’t as cool, maybe if you are American or English and you say you are a sportsperson; “oh, cool!” In Italy if I say I’m a cyclist, people will say “a cyclist! But what is your job?” They are not really into sports, they only care about football. Before it revolved around big personalities like Pantani and Cipollini, it was more about that, not about the scene of World cycling.
PEZ: Cipollini was a sex god!
Yeah, he was. But to be like him I need to win more, while I’m a domestique I can’t be a sex symbol. I could be the best looking domestique in the peloton! You have to start somewhere.
PEZ: Changing the subject slightly; Italian cycling has gone down a lot. There is only one WorldTour team and that is Lampre-Merida.
Yes, there isn’t the money anymore and Lampre is half owned Merida which is not Italian. I think now the balance in cycling is not Europe anymore, Belgium is still there, but you have more American, English and Australian and sadly most of the Italians don’t speak English and this cuts most of the big riders off. For the mainstream of cycling now, if you don’t speak English you are out, basically. Everybody should speak English.
Also there is this thought that we are all doped. They always say it’s the Italians, Italians, Italians. But when you see the new list of dopers by Nationality we are 6th or 7th. I heard that rugby isn’t in the Olympics because they don’t want that much doping control. In Italy I could be on the front page of La Gazzetta for doping, but if I am just a good rider I’ll never be there. It sucks because they give more space to these guys who have doped themselves than to a good rider, we need to bring the story of the rider, not the doped. Also the TV always talks about this shit, why don’t they talk about how many good riders we have from Italy in the peloton, speak about them, speak about the nice stories behind them. You sell more newspapers if you talk about doping.
We have a website in Italy who reported on a doping case in athletics to show that it is not just in cycling, why? It doesn’t show that they are idiots and we are better. Also when there is a case in cycling and other riders say “ah, look at this shit idiot” and why? You are not better because he is stupid. You are just better when you finish your career and say “see guys, I am a clean rider and I can do my job clean.” The facts do the talking, you don’t need to say this, just be professional and stop it.
Good luck in 2016 to Jacopo and maybe he will be a sex god one day!