An interview with Giuseppe Guerini, January 26, 2007
Giuseppe Guerini joined Team Telekom for the 1999 season, hoping to help Jan Ullrich win the Tour de France and never dreaming he would stay with the German team until the end of his career. The Tour victory never happened, but Guerini is still with T-Mobile, and at 36-years-old, finds himself not only the rider with the most seniority on the team, but also the oldest. Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer caught up with him during the training camp on Mallorca.
How does it feel to be the oldest on the team? "That's not so funny, because I am the oldest," he said, laughing anyway. The youngest rider on the team, Gerald Ciolek, is only 20-years-old, or 16 years younger. "I saw him in training just two days ago and said to him, when I turned pro you were only six years old. Now here we are on the same team." Philosophically, he added, "It was strange, but that's life. So far I think that I am still young. But now I am the oldest."
Guerini is consistently called a nice guy, always polite and friendly. Team spokesman Stefan Wagner called him "a gentleman". Former teammate Udo Bölts, now a directeur sportif with Team Gerolsteiner, says he is "a nice and always friendly colleague. A hard worker, heart and soul."
He admitted he had never dreamed that he would stay with T-Mobile so long. "I am happy to stay on this team, I am very proud to stay on this team." Why did he stay? "I think it's because I never had any problems with the riders or with the team, I was always professional and I had some good results. I worked really hard to get some good results. But maybe you should ask the management why they always offered me a new contract!"
Guerini, who will turn 37 on Valentine's Day, started his pro career with the GS-II Team Navigare in 1993, before riding for Polti from 1996 to 1998. While there, he won a stage in the Giro d'Italia and finished third in the Giro in 1997 and 1998. To the surprise of many, he then transfered to Team Telekom.
He gave two main reasons for leaving Italy and signing with the German team. As a rider, he said, he knew that he could only develop himself further if he were to ride the Tour de France. Uncomfortable in the role of team leader, he was willing to serve as a domestique and do his part to help Jan Ullrich win the Tour de France again.
The second Tour win for Ullrich wasn't in the books, though. "I think that Jan was unlucky, because he had many bad crashes before the Tour and during the Tour" over the years. "And, ok, we were also up against the strongest guy of the time, Armstrong. But I was happy to come to the team to ride with Jan because I think I had a good feeling with him. Even if we never won the Tour."
How would he describe Ullrich as a person and as a cyclist? "I like him a lot. He helped me a lot with the team. I'm a friend of his. He is a good guy and really funny sometimes. I think he is a very nice person." Guerini confirms that he is still in touch with the German rider, who is currently looking for a new team. Professionally speaking, "Next to Armstrong, he is the strongest rider in the world. So very strong, and he made sure everyone knew how strong he was.
Cycling has changed a lot in his fifteen years as a pro. Back when he started riding, "there would be a group of maybe 20 riders who would really compete in a race. Now the races are open, everyone can attack and try to win. Fifteen years ago, only those 20 riders would try to win the race and the other riders were all working for them. So it's more open now and it's really better for the young riders, because they can try to win races in their first year."
Guerini's 2006 season came to an abrupt end in August during the Regio-Tour. He crashed on a descent, and although he finished the stage, it turned out that he had a hairline fracture in his left collarbone. The fracture is healed and presents no problems. Interestingly, that was his first major injury while riding for T-Mobile. "In my 15 years as a pro, I never had a very bad crash, although I had two as an amateur."
The slender Italian certainly owes a measure of his fame to one specific crash, though. In the Tour de France 1999 he broke away from the leading group as it wound its way up Alpe d'Huez, looking to be a sure bet to win the stage. But with less than a kilometer to go, a fan stepped into the road to take a photo. Instead, he collided with Guerini, bringing the rider down. He was able to get up again quickly and get back into the rhythm, and took the stage win, 21 seconds ahead of Mapei's Pavel Tonkov.
That was the first of his two Tour stage wins. The second came in 2005, in the nineteenth stage. Not a mountain stage, as might be expected from Guerini, but a rolling one. He got into a breakaway group only 35 km into the stage. As the group of four approached the final kilometer, Guerini realized his chances were virtually non-existent in a sprint finish, so he turned on his turbo early and attacked just before the Flame Rouge. His sudden flight caught his companions by surprise and they were slow to react -- allowing Guerini to claim his second Tour de France stage win, by 20 seconds over Sandy Casar of Francaise des Jeux.
Will there be a third Tour stage win in 2007? Guerini wouldn't object to that, and the possibility exists. "I hope to ride the Tour this year, and I expect to. If my form is good, I will ride it, and I will do my best to get good results there. I would like to finish my career with a good Tour."
And the Giro, the race in which he established his reputation as a climber? In all his time at T-Mobile, he has ridden the Giro only once, in 2001. Riding in support of Jan Ullrich and using the race as training for the Tour, he finished 44th overall, an hour and seventeen minutes down.
"I would like to ride the Giro," Guerini says. "I have always said that before I finish my career I would like to ride the Giro again, because I like it very much. I started my career with the Giro, so I would like to finish it with the Giro."
And when might that be? "This year it is not possible, so I either have to ride the Giro this year or I have to wait and ride the Giro next year."
He has a total of 19 Grand Tour starts under his belt: 10 Tours, six Giros and three Vueltas. That latter race holds no attractions for him. Of those three starts, he has never finished the race. "I have no real feelings for the Vuelta," he admits. "I like the Giro a lot becase it was the first big win of my career, and I love the Tour now, so normally at the end of the season, I always feel very tired." That doesn't leave much for the Spanish race.
The subject of ending his career comes up often in his answers. Asked outright, he says, "maybe this will be my last year? We'll see. I will stop this year or next year." He is already making plans for the time after his active career, actively pursuing various options.
But he's not gone yet, and is looking forward to a new team feeling this year. "This year the team has changed a lot because they changed so many riders and they changed the management. There is a whole new feeling on the team, and I think we will ride like a team, really like a team, this year."
Guerini wants to give something back, too. "I want to use my experience to help the younger riders," he said, knowing how helpful that can be. "When I turned pro, one of the veterans on our team helped me a lot. He worked with me -- what was better to do or not to do. That's what I would like to do with the young riders on this team, just try to explain how it is to be a pro cyclist."
He not only has a lot of experiences to share with those young riders, he can also serve as an outstanding role model. Last fall, Bob Stapleton took over as manager of the T-Mobile team. When asked who his favorite rider was, he answered, "It's one you might not expect. And that's Giuseppe Guerini. Here's a guy who wins stages at the Tour many years apart, a tireless worker, a good character, a real role model and a great teammate. I'm glad that we have athletes like him." The modest Italian's reaction to that was simple: "That was a very big surprise. I didn't expect that. It made me proud."
Read another interview with Guerini from July 19, 2005.
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