Giro d’Italia unsung heroes: Antoine Duchesne bouncing back from disappointment

The Canadian's passion for good food and wine gives him an outlet after a string of injuries and illnesses.

Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Throughout the Giro d’Italia, VeloNews will be talking to some of the unsung heroes in the peloton – those riders that battle on each day without the recognition the major GC favorites or sprint stars receive.

Age and glasses of wine should never be counted, according to an Italian proverb.

Italy is well noted for its wine production, and the Giro d’Italia regularly has a nominated ‘wine stage’ – this year it was the gravel extravaganza to Montalcino.

While it might not be possible – nor advisable — to put away too many glasses when you have three weeks of racing, the grand tour is an opportunity to sample a few varieties for Antoine Duchesne.

Also read: Giro d’Italia unsung heroes: Simon Pellaud the breakaway specialist

“When we’re in a good wine area, we try to see what’s on the menu. I asked all the riders to bring a good bottle of wine from their place to the Giro d’Italia so during the three weeks we can all taste some wine from every guy in the team and their regions,” Duchesne told VeloNews.

“I’ve always been a fan of wine and I’ve worked many years in wineries doing the harvest and all those things. Most of my friends are chefs or sommeliers. I’ve always been in that kind of industry; it’s my passion. I think that after my career I want to have some land and grow stuff or having a bed and breakfast, but maybe more of a diner and bed.”

While the Canadian likes tasting wine from all over the world, his favorites are a little closer to home. Knowing where it has come from and how it has been produced is part of the pleasure for Duchesne.

“I’m not really objective because my favorite wines are from my good friends at all the vineyards,” Duchesne said. “I’m a big fan of one of my friend’s wines. I think he is one of the best but it’s hard to say when you know the guy, you’ve worked his wine and you know the process. In the end, it’s what it’s all about when you know where it’s from and you enjoy it better.”

During his rare moments of downtime at the Giro d’Italia, Duchesne is reading a book called “The Third Plate,” by American chef Dan Barber.

The book looks at the sustainability of the food industry, and farming and eating habits. Agriculture and sustainability are something that Duchesne is interested in, but it can be difficult to balance that with the jet-set lifestyle of a professional cycling.

“It’s hard. At home, I have my garden and I buy locally, I don’t travel for nothing and I don’t have a big engine car and I try to do my part on a small scale as a person can do,” Duchesne said.

“It’s the only way we have to go now because if we don’t take that turn then we won’t have a future. It’s not really about being interested in it, it’s more about a duty that we should all have.”

Inspired by other people

Duchesne doesn’t just like drinking good wine and eating good food. When he is at home in Quebec, he also likes to spend his time off the bike getting stuck into helping his friends on the local vineyards, tending to the food that he grows in his own garden, and tasting local cuisine.

“It’s just relaxing, and I love to learn it. I’ve always been passionate about it. I love to learn new things, and this interests me a lot,” he said. “There is never any end to learning about it, you can always learn more.”

“I’ve been away from school for many years, so I love to learn other stuff by myself and to try and get other perspectives and meet people who know as much about other stuff as I know about cycling. It’s nice to be around other passionate people. For me, winery, chefs, and restaurants: They are all passion work, and it’s nice to be around people who are passionate about what they are doing. It’s inspiring.”

Having an interest in wine, food and agriculture gives Duchense an outlet and a diversion in recent years as his cycling career hit several major setbacks. This Giro is his first grand tour since the 2018 Vuelta a España due to illness and injury.

In 2019, he missed more than three months of racing after needing surgery to treat endofibrosis of iliac artery in his left leg. Last year, he was all set up to go to the Tour de France only to be pulled out at the final hour after he was diagnosed with mononucleosis.

His Groupama-FDJ team has done well with Attila Valter spending three days in the pink jersey, but being at the Giro d’Italia is a small victory in itself for Duchesne.

Also read: Giro d’Italia unsung heroes: Jan Tratnik the versatile all-rounder

“It’s the only thing that has helped me get through and take my mind off that and put things into perspective, and be able to understand what is happening,” Duchesne told VeloNews. “It’s not the end of life and I can just focus on other stuff and focus on coming back and eventually it comes back and here I am.”

“There have been a lot of disappointments, ups and downs, setbacks, sadness, and anger. It’s a been a rollercoaster of emotion and I have had a lot of questioning. After a while, you start questioning why you keep putting yourself through this and why you do it. It’s hard to see in your mind why you do it, why you love the sport and how you have to come back but that’s what I did. I had good people around me, and my wife supported me every day and she really helped me.”

Trending on Velo

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.