Robert C. Giannini, aka the Don, ripped a hole in the fabric of Athens cycling when he high-stepped through the Classic City from 2002 – 2011, capturing both the WBL Overall Title and the Alto World Cup in 2008. He was an accomplished rider when he rolled into town, but he was also an academic and a scholar. The Don, as he would come to be known because of his cold-blooded, suave assassin’s style, came to Athens to earn his PhD in finance, and while he was pedaling out 100-mile rides on some days, he was working out complex equations on others, considering probabilities, designing algorithms, and building elaborate models, all in pursuit of his ultimate goal. After earning his PhD in 2011 from the University of Georgia, Don married and has lived both at home and abroad since, and he continues working in his field, as he explains in the interview below. The Don left a permanent mark in Athens cycling not only because of his ability to handle himself on a bike, but also because of his kind smile, affable spirit, and generous personality. We checked in with Don to see how life is for he and his family, who now live in the cold weather clime of Connecticut.

Humble Chronicler: How are, Don? Tell the folks a little about where you and your family live.

Rob Giannini: I live in Darien, Connecticut outside of New York City. I'm a family man with my wife Millie and two kids (5 and 2 years old), so I spend most of my time just chasing them around! Connecticut is nice, but a bit cold in the winter! The riding here is not bad with nice rolling hills and tree covered roads, even though this is a highly populated area of the country. The area where we live is fairly wooded, so we all like to get out in the woods for hikes and to ride bikes around the neighborhood. A couple downsides are the cold winters and the entitled drivers who might just run a cyclist off the road in their 4-ton, gas-guzzling leviathans if they are late for their kids’ soccer games. But I digress. [Editor’s interlude: You’re not fooling anyone, it’s cold as hale there in the winter!]

H.C.: How did you meet Millie and where are the different places you and she have lived.

Don G: I met my wife Millie in Asheville NC. The wily Ashevillian Jeff Stewart introduced us when I was in North Carolina for a conference. We met again at the Athens Twilight Criterium a few months later and we hit it off and eventually married. We have lived a few places since then: Asheville, New York City, Switzerland, France, and now Connecticut.

H.C.: Switzerland! How the hale did you land a gig in Switzerland?

Don G: I headed over to Switzerland when I landed a job for a hedge fund called BlueCrest Capital doing quantitative trading and research, which is what I still do. Quant trading is basically building processes and systems around data and prediction models, and with the growth of data and computing power in the last 10 years it is a fun field to work in. {Editor’s interlude: Don is putting into simpleton’s terms, so you and I can understand, what is otherwise a complex field inhabited by a limited few.]

H.C.: You work in Manhattan now and ride the train to work? What is it like commuting on the train from the burbs of Connecticut into the heart of the Big Apple?

Don G: I do take the train line to work in NYC, at least, before Covid I did. The train goes into Grand Central Terminal and then I can walk from there to my office. I guess I’m one of those people that you see in the movies running through Grand Central with a briefcase trying to catch a train. It always amazes me how many people ride the train at all times of the day. Sometimes if I have an early meeting or if I’m getting breakfast in the city, I might take a 5 AM train and one might think that because this is super-early the train will be empty, but that’s dead wrong. Even trains departing at 4:30 - 5AM are standing room only. There are waves of different trains with traders and construction workers on the early trains, then the regular worker-manager types that work more standard hours, and the later trains are filled mainly with lawyers since they start the workday later but work until late into the night.

H.C.: What is one of your favorite amenities of NYC?

Don G: One of the great benefits of the City are the interesting and delicious food trucks and food carts that move around. The varieties of different cuisine are amazing, as is the food itself. Food trucks have been around a while here so many are established and have a huge following, but most move around so sometimes you must track a particular one down if you’re looking for it. Sometimes the line for a particular food truck or cart stretches down the street and around the corner. Also the little coffee carts always have delicious fresh coffee, so the availability of a wide variety of interesting foods from all over the world is one of my favorite perks of working in NYC.

H.C.: When did you live in Athens and what led you here?

Don G: I was in Athens from approximately 2007-11 working on my PhD in the Finance Program at the University of Georgia. Although I am from the North, I had previously lived in Georgia when I went to undergrad at Emory. When I was in Georgia I always loved Athens and rode in the WBL a number of times. When I went back to grad school I had the chance to make Athens my home for a few years and I jumped at the opportunity. My college roommate at Emory was John Best, who is also a cyclist, and he was also studying at UGA at the time so it worked out really well.

H.C.: What did you think of the southern dialect?

Don G: When I first came to Atlanta in 2004, it did take me a few months to fully understand the southern accent, but once my ears dialed it in, I was good to go. I have even used “yall” in casual conversation back in the north and found it is an especially useful word.

H.C.: That is exceedingly kind of you and on behalf of all Southerners, I thank you. Tell us when you raced and how you were led to road cycling.

Don G: I started racing mountain bikes as a teenager in Connecticut and I raced from about 1995-2011, so around 16 years. I started on the NORBA mountain bike scene in my junior years and I raced for the teams DEVO and Sobe HeadShock. In those days the NORBA National Series was the hot ticket and I had a lot of fun raging on the dirt. When I moved down to Atlanta to attend Emory when I was 18, I began riding on the road a lot more since the mountain biking in ATL was not that great. I began racing on the road for Sakonnet Technologies and had success so when I came down to U.G.A. and lived in Athens I was lucky enough to hook up with Jeff Stewart, who was then in Athens, and Micah Morlock and race for Team Locos along with folks like Ty and Casey Magner and Parker Smith. We had a killer fun team back then and we had a lot of memorable times and plenty of good results with Locos. Ty Magner was already a terrific sprinter and I think the most fun we had was lining up to give him leadouts—Parker and Poppa Bear Casey Magner would simply give people the hip and move them out of the way so Ty could have a clear shot at the line. We became proficient at it.

H.C.: What years did you ride the WBL and what do you remember about you first rides?

Don G: I think the first WBL that I rode was in 2002 and I rode them regularly until about 2011. I do remember my first ride since I had the most epic bonk of my life. My friend, Drew Deters, brought me to a ride called Alto and I had no idea how big of a bite I was taking, or that this ride was truly an EPIC. I just rolled up to the start with 1 granola bar and a water bottle—about 6 hours later I was curled up in a ditch on the side of the road bonking and praying I could get back to town before dark. But I loved it so much I had to move to Athens to try to win Alto and about 6 years later I did manage to win Alto in 2008 and it still feels sweet to have my name on the esteemed list of winners. Despite the start of my WBL career, I was hooked after the first ride. There is no better group ride in the country, the routes are always different and interesting, the pace is manageable, and most importantly, the Zealots are the best. I have so many great memories from riding in the WBL.

H.C.: Who were some of the others riding the WBL regularly? You won the Overall in 2008 – what do you remember about that winter?

Don G: As I mentioned I rode my first WBL in 2002 when I was attending Emory and I came over to Athens as often as I could for the WBL, but I did ride the WBL every weekend for 4 years, from 2008-11 when I was in Athens, and there was a great crew of riders around. A lot of them are still regulars at the WBL while some like myself have moved away but come back and join a ride whenever we have a chance. Some of the regulars during my era were Big Watts Matt Whatley, Parker Smith, John Murphy, Nick Reistad, Brendan Cornett, Thomas Brown, Ryan Wolfe, Jamie and Brent Bookwalter, Casey, Ty and Bret Magner, Frank Travieso, Andy Guptill, Joey Rosskopf, Oscar Clark, Jordan Heimer, Erin Winter, Jeff Shirey, Cal Hooten, Dalford England, Hunter Garrison, Whit Clifford, Phil Southerland, Damien Dunn, Clark Hurst and many, many more. In 2008, the year I won the Overall, I was just excited to be in Athens and riding on amazing rural roads with great people and strong riders who knew how to train properly. I was new to Athens at the time, so I think I had the bug to prove myself, so that probably helped me win the Overall. It was just such a pleasure to be able to ride from my house to a group ride that covered 100 miles and then handed you cash and prizes at the end and there is no entry fee—there is no other ride that does that.

H.C.: It looks like it would be very cool to ride in Central Park though it’s only allowed at certain times. Have you ever ridden there?

Don G: Yes, I used to race in Central Park in the CRCA races. CRCA is an old club in the NYC area that organizes all of the races and they are run VERY early in the morning before the crowds come out. So, if you wanted to race one of these it was usually a 3:30AM wake-up call! The loop in the park is nice and it is similar to the Stone Mountain loop, relatively closed to cars and there are a few decent hills but nothing too large.

H.C.: Do you still ride?

Don G: I do still ride a bit, but usually I head out solo and hammer hard for an hour or so. I do a bit of running as well since I get a good bang for my buck for the time it takes. I like to ride the MTB on the road since I can go as hard as I want yet never go very fast. And, of course, if you see a good berm on the side of the road you can always give it a rip.

H.C.: What’s the most epic, insane ride you ever done?

Don G: That’s easy, the most epic, insane ride I have is done is the Tour Divide with Parker Smith in in 2010. The Tour Divide is a mountain bike ride/race that runs from Canada to the Mexican border by way of the Rocky Mountains. It’s about 2,745 miles and was an extreme undertaking to say the least, but we were both looking for a challenge and an adventure. We rode as a 2-person team and rode for 16 hours a day through the high mountains out west. We packed and carried all our supplies from tents to food to duct tape. It was a once-in-a-lifetime epic quest.

H.C.: Do you ever come back to the South?

Don G: I still travel to the South fairly regularly. My wife is from Vidalia, Georgia so we come down to visit the family a few times a year. I also try to make it down every year for the Twilight Criterium in Athens and the Bookwalter Binge in Asheville, but, of course, had to miss those last year. [Editor’s interlude: There is no need to add “Georgia” after Vidalia since there is only one.]

H.C.: Thanks very much for taking the time to share a little about your life and it has been great checking in, and many blessings for 2021. In parting, do you have any words of advice to newcomers at the WBL

Don G: Yes, just get out there and give it a go and don’t be intimidated by the big miles and average speeds, people will help you along the way. Also, the most important thing is to make friends along the way! The best part about winning a WBL is the beer you get to share with friends afterwards—you will forget about the suffering, but the good memories will stick with you.

Humble C
(2021 headed for the light)