Jacopo Guarnieri: How we rode the perfect Giro d'Italia
‘There have been three sprints so far and we’ve won four of them.’ Jacopo Guarnieri, Arnaud Demare's top lead-out rider, looks back on a dream Giro d'Italia for Groupama-FDJ
"Let's remember this moment. It doesn't happen every year."
Arnaud Demare, Ignatas Konovalovas and I were sitting in our hotel room in Brindisi, after winning our third Giro d'Italia stage from just seven days of racing.
No, this doesn't happen every year.
I think back to what we said at the beginning of the season: "We want to win as much as possible, no matter the race."
We can now say that we kept our word.
Even so, to take four stages in a Grand Tour, to win 100% of the stages we’d targeted? Well, that's something extra special.
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At the start of our second Giro together, we were in the best of moods. For two months Arnaud had been almost untouchable. Morale was very high, indeed. Sometimes being the favorite does not help, however. All of your opponents’ eyes are on you and you have your own high expectations to manage.
But at this Giro they were not misplaced. Everyone was in great shape and we showed up fit, and aggressive but, above all, hungry. Despite all that we had already won, the Giro was the big goal of our season, our most important moment. We could not make a mistake.
We used the first day, won by Ulissi, as a warm-up for our legs. With four kilometres to go we were on the front, even though we knew that the arrival was too demanding for Arnaud. He ended up getting dropped but on the bus we were all smiling.
What for many journalists had been invisible was to us a small test, and we had passed it.
The first real opportunity, albeit a difficult one, given the long climb in the middle, came on day four, the stage to Villafranca. Of course Bora attacked uphill, but they couldn’t drop us. In the sprint, Arnaud managed to take the first one. By barely a millimetre, but a victory nonetheless.
Then came Matera, the unexpected day. The wind favoured us and we played our hand smartly as a throw-in. This time the photo finish was not necessary. Not necessary at all.
The following day was a short, flat stage with a lot of wind. From kilometre zero we were ahead, as aggressive as ever, ready to throw ourselves into the fans.
The real difference with other years was that when we played, we played at 100%. All in, full gas, no economy, whenever there was a chance.
We built something special between us, in the understanding that we were able to create inside Arnaud's lead-out. In the race we don't need to talk too much, there is a collective consciousness and everyone knows what to do. Mentally we were ready for any challenges or adjustments we may need to make. It was incredible! Never before have I come to a race where the whole team was so fit and so eager to win.
Our fourth victory, which came in the Rimini stage, was the most beautiful. Everyone was as happy as if it had been the first of the year. We had a plan that we executed perfectly, without smudging. We were, I admit, panicking a bit between eight and three kilometres from the finish. The corners were much slower than we’d expected and the subsequent accelerations really hurt our legs. Then the road opened and at -2 we took the lead. After that it was like a video game: CRAZY! I was screaming as I crossed the line, as if we hadn't won for months. The reality is that it’s never enough, we always want more.
Arnaud Demare is all smiles following his fourth victory of the race. In the background, our author embraces Ignatas Konovalovas
The key factors in our success this season have been humility and ambition. We got back into the game, changed bad habits, both in physical preparation and in our mental approach to sprints. And we had the ambition to never be satisfied with less, to aim for the maximum result possible. Every time.
"It doesn't happen every year."
Which is why we give 100% to allow it to happen when we can.
Jacopo Guarnieri rides for Groupama-FDJ