The Waiting Game: Diary of a quarantined cyclist


The world around Italian pro cycling is moving really fast. Every morning, what was true the previous day is modified or expanded. To face this challenge, we Italians are changing our lifestyle.

Since I came back from the UAE two weeks ago, I have only seen my parents once. I went to get some things and we said goodbye through the window. I was outside and they were inside. What if I was infected and passed it on to them?

Every day I act like I am infected. Fear of being infected does not lead to anything good, it’s just selfishness. Whereas being afraid of infecting others, of being the person who can bring disease to others, who might be less strong, is the only way for me to survive here.

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For me, it all started two months ago. I was in Australia for the Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Race when the first news of Covid-19 exploded. There was already talk of an epidemic, but it seemed rather limited to China. At that moment my main concern was being able to get back to Italy. To be honest, I thought it would all end quickly and fairly painlessly.

Fast forward three weeks and I’m in my hotel room in Abu Dhabi with five stages of the UAE Tour in my legs. The day’s racing had been eventful, as my Groupama-FDJ team had a great desire to try to form some echelons. We were already smiling for the following day: 160km, two corners and a lot of wind.

Instead, at midnight a message told us that everything is suspended because of two suspected cases of Covid-19.

Empty streets for the passage of the 2020 Paris-Nice

Okay, I haven’t touched anyone, I’ve always washed my hands, I’m fine. Nobody’s really panicking, we’ll do the tests and go home. At five in the morning, the test is done, so we head back to our beds.

After a few hours, we are free to walk around the hotel. All tests negative, one might think. We spend 24 hours without information and finally the peloton gets the green light to leave – all but three teams, including mine. Shit!

My alarm was still set early in the morning to catch my flight. It rings, I wake up. I ask the DS what to do and he replies “you can leave”. Without understanding why, I get on the bus and go to the airport, convinced that my team-mates will leave shortly thereafter.

They won’t. They stay there for another eight days.

If the coronavirus started to only ruin the season a few days before the Strade Bianche for everyone else, well, for me and my team-mates stuck there, that happened a few days in advance. I was at home, in excellent health, ready to leave for Tirreno-Adriatico, but my leader Arnaud Démare was stuck in the Middle East. What am I going to do without my sprinter? And as for Sanremo, what the hell will we do?

Quarantine life
Then the situation at home began to worsen: first a red area, where it was forbidden to leave. Then the yellow areas, including my hometown of Castell’Arquato [a village in Emilia-Romagna, 100 kilometres south of Milan] on March 8. The number of infected went up and so a choice was made that seemed inevitable: all events must stop, be they sporting, religious, musical etc.

The moment I realised that the racing program I had in mind wouldn’t take place was almost painless. It was a crescendo, not out of the blue. The fear of not returning from Australia, the hypothesis of two weeks of quarantine in the UAE while chaos exploded in Italy. It was as if my brain was ready, expecting it.

Ghost town: no public allowed at the finish, stage 2 of Paris-Nice

In these 12 years as a professional cyclist, there was always a road, with some deviations from time to time, which led to being fit for the spring Classics, Sanremo up to Roubaix. A few years did not go as I wanted, a few years did. But this is different – now there are no races at all. And when will they take place? Are they even taking place anywhere?

Opinion: Is it selfish of us to feel sorrow over bike race cancellations during a global crisis? Or simply human?

But I am also surprised by my reaction: I can change focus from one goal to another, further away, quickly. When they postponed Tirreno and Sanremo, I thought ‘okay, we will pass through Nokere and Denain and then full gas for Flanders, no problem.’

I just needed a day off, to draw a line that divides the before from the after. Is it called experience? Wisdom? I am happy to be able to see everything from a human point of view rather than a cyclist’s one.

So, I don’t miss hugs with friends, because something more important makes me move them forward in time. If I can do Milano-Sanremo in September, then I can wait a month to thank my 80-year-old neighbour who leaves eggs at my door, to share a beer with friends or just walk around town. Patience: that’s the best of the lessons that cycling could have given to me.

Read more Rouleur articles by Groupama-FDJ pro cyclist Jacopo Guarnieri’s here


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