Tour de France: 'The first openly LGBTQ+ rider will have my support,' says Jacopo Guarnieri

The Italian heaps praise on Tao Geoghegan Hart for speaking out on racism and homophobia as a top rider in the peloton

Jacopo Guarnieri
(Image credit: Getty)

Scrolling through the Twitter and Instagram accounts of the 184 riders of this year's Tour de France, there is something unique that it's easy to miss.

Groupama-FDJ's Jacopo Guarnieri, the 33-year-old Italian who's raced five Tours de France, seems to be the only one with the rainbow flag in his bio.

The rainbow flag generally indicates either allyship with the LGBT+ community or that the person identifies as an LGBTQ+ person.

Guarnieri doesn't remember when he put it in his bio, but when he did it was because of the flags origins as a sign of peace and co-operation, not aware of its significance in terms of allyship with the LGBTQ+ community. But when he learned of this meaning, he just kept it.

Currently, there are no riders who openly identify as LGBTQ+ in the male professional peloton, but just because Guarnieri is the only one with the flag in his social media bio, it doesn't mean he feels he's a lone voice.

>>> Why is the peloton hiding its true colours?

"I'm maybe the only one with a flag, but many riders engage with the topic. So I don't feel alone in this, definitely not," Guarnieri told Cycling Weekly.

"I always [used to] give my opinions about a lot of things, I'm not like, a politician or anything but a certain amount of people are following me [now on social media] and I can share my ideas with them which are usually quite simple and positive."

The Italian suggests maybe it's easier for him, being a domestique rather than a leader, to share his personal opinions on social issues but that he would happily suffer the consequences if supporting something like LGBTQ+ rights cost him contracts or sponsorship in cycling.

"I mean, for a pro in my position I'm not a leader. So yeah I wouldn't say because I'm expressing these feelings that I may lose something or I don't know," he explained.

"I'm more free because I've never felt that kind of pressure but for sure, and I don't think it is the case but, if I lose any contract possibility or whatever, because of this, then I cannot be anything different."

Estimates on the proportion of UK and US people who are gay or bisexual range from about three to seven per cent, as reported in a recent Cycling Weekly investigation into the absence of openly LGBTQ+ riders in the professional ranks.

Those estimates suggest there should be between five and 12 LGBTQ+ riders currently riding the Tour de France. Of all 978 riders in WorldTour squads, the chances that they are all straight is one in ten trillion.

"The whole peloton, the whole cycling family, will have to face it when somebody will feels comfortable enough to declare [they are LGBTQ+]," Guarnieri says of how the more homophobic elements of the sport will have to catch up quickly when the first pro rider decides to come out. "And I'm pretty sure once the door will be open then it's going to be much easier for eveyone else.

Jacopo Guarnieri

(Image credit: Getty)

"The person who does will have me backing them up," Guarnieri adds. "Once you open the door then you can never close it again. So it will happen sooner or later. I read like a couple of days ago about the NFL guy, that's good. I mean people think things like yeah, this job is too hard for a homosexual person. It's kind of funny, I don't think it has anything to do with sexuality. If a guy from NFL can do that I think a cyclist can too."

Whether the peloton has become more accepting of LGBTQ+ people depends on the specific group, Guarnieri says.

"I was seeing this way more when I was surrounded by Italians, that doesn't mean that Italians are that way. I don't know, maybe when you're with with people from the same country as you then you feel like you can share these kind of jokes. Since, I joined Katusha, which was really international, and now with Groupama-FDJ, a more French team but getting more international, I don't feel like they do these kind of jokes, especially sexist," he says.

As for the differences between the male and female peloton, the latter further ahead in the fact that it has a number of openly LGBTQ+ athletes, Guarnieri says the sexist jokes are "more of a male thing" and so he would assume that this reflect "the same problems come from a similar mindset".

Guarnieri then turns the spotlight on himself and his own experiences, that when you're young you can be stupid, making jokes to maybe just fit in with what everyone else is saying before you grow up and think "I was a f****** moron," he says. 

Since reaching the WorldTour, he's become much more introspective on who he is as a person, and he says, how he behaves as someone who is male. 

"I was thinking like, 'yeah I'm good', but then also I think sometimes I'm not good either. It's good like to put yourself under criticism to get better because you can always do mistakes. You can always get better."

Guarnieri is 33, his remaining years in the professional peloton are numbered.

"Also, I'm a rouleur, I'm not the most exposed guy in the pro peloton," he continues at the end of our phone call but he wants to talk about Tao Geoghegan Hart.

Tao Geoghegan Hart

(Image credit: Getty)

"Tao, strong guy, winning races, at least, more races than me. He is exposing himself to this kind of topic and I was paying attention because there are not many pro riders doing it, but it's doing a lot. I'm pretty sure we're gonna have way more guys like him and it's good because I'm not gonna continue for so many years."

So, to the younger generation. Tao Geoghegan Hart said before the start of the race that he doesn't know why more riders haven't followed him in speaking out on issues, although says it's not responsible for him to wonder why this could be, but that his generation, in particular, are seeing the good they can achieve from their social media followings.

"Amongst the professional sporting community you're seeing a generation with a greater level of social awareness, or perhaps just the platform that they have to create change or spread messages that they believe in that will bring positivity in not just their sport, which is often about entertainment. I think people see they can deliver much more than just inspiring the next generation in sport," Geoghegan Hart said.

"When I look around the likes of Dina Asher-Smith or Marcus Rashford who are engaged with the local areas they were brought up in, that resonates the most.

"I think there’s a lot of strength to be taken from that and it is perspective to take from that as sportspeople, to do what we do and in my case have the very tiny ability and power.

"But you still have that chance so why wouldn’t you take it?"

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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.

Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).

I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.